Old age is the revenge of the ugly ones is a French proverb; one that I first heard at the very advanced age of 15 upon my arrival in Paris. I had spent five years in the ugly bin at school in Sweden, and had only recently been upgraded to beautiful. My ego was still fragile and my mind still pumped full of highbrow arty self-education and nerdy jokes, which is how one gets by when one is ugly. Which of course, I promptly realized, is exactly what will pay off as one ages: beauty fades, but a mind constantly energized will shine even brighter with age. I immediately took the proverb as my own personal motto and patted myself on the back with satisfaction. I will continue to be intelligent, I vowed, no matter how beautiful I become. And then, at, like, the old age of 35, I'll be an incredibly smart and kinda attractive old lady.
In interviews I gave at the wise age of 17 and 18, I pontificated about the beauty of age and wisdom, and blabber on about how I look forward to my first wrinkle. What an idiot I was.
My first recognition of age setting in was exactly on my 36th birthday. I have no idea why, on this day of all days, I looked in the mirror and realized my face no longer looked young. I didn't look bad: only, the freshness had somehow disappeared. I immediately became hyper-conscious of my looks and went out and bought the most expensive cream on the market. (For your information, it did nothing.) And I began the battle of acceptance, something I have to do now almost every time I face a mirror.
"Oh sure, Miss Supermodel, it must be hard for you," you may think, pityingly. (I have also heard it spoken aloud more than once, although, oddly enough, the tone wasn't so much pitying as sarcastic.) "You have always been more beautiful than the average," the conversation goes, "so it goes without saying, you still are. At least, in your age category." Hm, I know it's a compliment, so why do I not fluff up with delight?
Maybe because nothing ages as poorly as a beautiful woman's ego.
When you're used to one sort of treatment, it's really hard to get demoted, even if that new treatment is still better than the average. Boohoo. I know. My life is sucks. Now, I don't actually know the exact cut-off age where beautiful ceases and "must have-once-been-beautiful" begins. It's true it's not forty-five. I can still get attention when I try really hard, even if it's greatly reduced. But would I ever have dreamed that I would miss the time I couldn't walk past a construction site unmolested? These days when someone whistles at me, it's mostly a bike messenger about to mow me down.
Having been confident with the way my looks affected others, I was used to using them as extra cash. True, this worked mostly with the male population, but that little extra I could get out of them -- as I begged them not to give poor-little-me a ticket, or keep that door open just a second longer or try just a little harder to find an empty seat on that plane -- I took for granted.
Like everything else in life, there is always payback and it's a bitch. Beauty, unlike the rest of the gifts handed out at birth, does not require dedication, patience and hard work to pay off. But it's also the only gift that does NOT keep on giving. It usually blossoms at an age where you're least equipped to handle its benefits and rewards and instead take it all for granted, and by the time you start understanding the value of it, it slowly trickles away. How's that for revenge of the ugly ones?
To me, to let yourself age means that you're comfortable with who you are. Yes, sorry, I do believe that all the little shots here and there, and the pulling of skin here and there and the removal of fat here and there, means you still have something to prove; you're still not comfortable in your skin. The beauty of age was supposed to be about the wisdom acquired and with it, an acceptance and celebration of who you are. Now all we want for people to see is that we have not yet attained that wisdom. Aging has become something to fight, not something to accept. Aging is a matter of control and control of matter.
We can call injections of foreign stuff under our skin "having nothing done" since it doesn't actually involve surgery. So what if Botox makes you look like a poorly dubbed movie, or worse, human sock puppet where there is no match-up between what you say and how you feel, and you're turning all your family and friends slightly Asperger-ish.
What if you chose the fillers instead? Then you can proudly say "no Botox here" and forget to mention the rest of the stuff that now inhabits your epidermis. The problem there seems to be that the minute you fix those frown lines, your forehead looks tremendously wrinkled. And the moment you fix that, your eyes are so hollowed, you need just a touch of extra cheekbone. And suddenly, you look really great as long as you don't move a single facial muscle. Because once you do, a single twitch will reveal a whole landscape of matter under your skin that really shouldn't be there. So you may use a little Botox to fix that and... And grey is much easier to blend with blonde and... Before you know it, you have joined the cult of the Scandinavian Stepfords. The members of this clan, like the once hairy-brunette-Italian Madonna and the once freckled-redhead Aussie Nicole Kidman now resemble no one as much as the blonde American Barbara Walters, who could, in turn, not only be their mother but also the sister of Linda Evans. They are all now high-cheek-boned, smooth-skinned Scandinavian blondes. But only one of them started out that way.
Now, let me state once and for all that I am not against plastic surgery. In many cases, it is something that can so vastly improve the quality of life it actually saves it. And even in the more frivolous cases, I do not have a problem with a woman who chooses a teensy bit of this or that to make herself feel better, as long as she admits to it. Nothing galls me as much as age-defying celebrities who achieve their looks by "healthy food and yoga." I know this is bullshit. You may not. But I can guarantee we will both feel bad about the way we look, the way we have let ourselves go, when Michelle Pfeiffer and Demi Moore look not a day over 30.
I recently saw a comment posted on to one of the blogs I had written by a woman who stated that my problem is that I'm obviously jealous of these women I criticize, because they are not only beautiful but successful, something I'm clearly not. That gave me pause. Am I just jealous? Is my entire creative output completely reliant on this baser of emotions? It's true I'm trying to find a new place in the world that would rather I had just shut up and stayed beautiful (dying young is a terrific way to achieve this, by the way), which makes me a tad resentful. It's also true I'm still very insecure and want attention and universal love and have not a friggin' clue on how to achieve it. And likewise, it is true that I am jealous, and envious, and covetous of things I don't have. Which are, or is, rather--surprise, surprise--not an unlined forehead or puffy lips, nor a hot career, but confidence. True confidence: the kind that should come with age and that I keep glimpsing off in the distance, the kind I tell myself I would have developed already had I relied on wit rather than looks.
I keep a list of my "heroines," the women who have dared to age, and I'm always stupidly grateful to see these women highlighted in the media. I just found out that Jamie Lee Curtis, one of the women on my list, and Madonna are the same age. Looking at photos of them side by side is a revelation. One looks no older than 30, hard-edged, determined and hungry. The other looks like she's old enough to be her mother, but radiant, confident and content.
I already know I'm too vain and too insecure to follow her footsteps. This is what and whom I'm jealous of.
But even as I struggle with the choices -- age, age a little, age not at all -- I realize I'm blessed to even be in the position to age. To age is a privilege, not a birthright, even though most of us in the civilized world seem to forget this. This choice of "not-aging" is actually reserved for well-off women with lots of time and money. I've met a lot of these women at parties and social gatherings, and they were all lovely, gracious, generous and often way smarter than me. So when I asked them all who they would elect as their symbol of graceful aging, the overwhelmingly popular choice, Madonna, was disheartening. With all the choices we have, with all those beautiful and strong and powerful women in their 40 and 50's (Oprah? Arianna Huffington? Kathryn Bigelow? Christiane Amanpour? And although I hate to include her, Sarah Palin?), the choice was the one woman who has elected to NOT age. Of course, the kicker is: artificial youth takes lot maintenance. Maintenance takes a lot of time.
So, the more time you chase -- the more time you waste.
For the record, Paulina Porizkova diligently uses day creams with SPF 30, rain or shine. (Olay proX, Dr Denese tinted, or Patricia Wexler) She also uses the Clairisonic every night, followed by Patricia Wexler's intensive deep wrinkle treatment. She has had one Thermage treatment about three years ago when she could afford it. The before and after photos still look identical. She also had two Fraxel treatments on the secondary laugh lines next to her mouth, also about three or four years ago. Those lines never went away, but also haven't gotten any deeper. Her verdict is that she can't see any difference, but the minute she has a spare $ 7.000.00 with which to wipe her butt, she'll do them again.