It was a wonderful thing, seeing Meryl Streep at age 62 on the February cover of Vogue magazine. And hearing that she, Glenn Close, Viola Davis and Janet McTeer were among the dozen or so middle aged Oscar nominees this year. These women, along with Susan Sarandon, Annette Bening, Helen Mirren and Betty White are showing up all over the media these days. How refreshing -- and inspiring!
Could it be that Madison Ave and Hollywood are finally getting it right -- that audiences are eager to celebrate real-looking women, rather than plastic, youth-defying ones? Have we, as a culture, finally realized that inspiration comes from those whose accomplishments require years of living that aren't entirely erased by photoshop, airbrushing or the hands of a cosmetic surgeon?
The popularity of Streep's Vogue cover reminded me of the overwhelming positive response I got from a blog post I wrote almost a year ago, "Real is Really In." Back then, I raised the question many others my age were just beginning to ask: "Why are Baby Boomers misrepresented (not to mention underrepresented) in the media, when that wasn't how we actually saw ourselves?" Both men and women wrote comments about their outrage over how our generation was being portrayed -- as if ashamed of their age and willing to do anything to deny it. Audiences, I sensed, were ready for real.
Around the same time, "A Little too Ready for Her Close Up?" appeared in the New York Times, an article suggesting that Hollywood was beginning to catch on. Directors, according to the Times, were turning away actors who looked unnaturally perfect. Talent agents were discouraging their clients from having surgery -- especially the older celebrities -- who were losing jobs because their faces were either too taut, swollen or distorted. One well known casting agent was quoted saying, "What I want to see is real."
Maybe it's just wishful thinking, but there appears to be a true increase in, and widening appreciation for -- dare I say -- mature beauty, genuine talent and ripened experience. And a growing distaste for the opposite. I hear more and more people outspokenly critical of the surgically altered and overly Botoxed faces they see around them -- on screen and off. Could it be that not only are actors being given the green light to look their age, but this trend is trickling down?
This is good news for those first facing their 'uh-oh' moment -- that jolt that hits during the early stage of the aging process, when wrinkles and gray begin to appear. Men and women who are seeking solutions to looking good as they age may now have models in the media to show them graceful alternatives.
It's not such good news for those who have already permanently altered their appearance to comply with what they believed our culture demanded. I feel sad for the ones who fell victim to the anti-aging craze, who can't undo what they have done -- think Meg Ryan, Melanie Griffith, Mickey Rourke, Pamela Anderson or Sylvester Stallone. These men and women are just a few of the many guinea pigs of our generation.
And take those "Real Housewives" who now not only face criticism for their 'bad' behavior, but for their plastic, puffed-up looks as well. Or what about Anjelica Huston? I regret even mentioning her in the same paragraph as those reality girls, but while excellent in the new NBC series, "Smash," even she has lost some of her fans, as her seemingly frozen, unlined face represents the antithesis of the full bodied and proudly maturing woman we knew her to be.
Perhaps the next generation will benefit from those that preceded them -- learning from a culture that lost its way, panicked about aging, only to find it again in their very own real bodies and faces. Maybe Adele, six-time Grammy winner (and like Streep, also a recent Vogue covergirl) is a good example of what is to come. She spoke to British Vogue about her disinterest in changing her face or body to fit 'model-like' looks. Although only in her early 20s, Adele seems steadfast in her sense of self. Sure, she's young and at the peak of her career. And no doubt, her appearance will transform if she continues to be in the spotlight as she gets older. But for now, her fans seem to love her outspokenness about who she is and how she looks. They love her for being -- and looking -- real.
We'll see how long we can hold onto this trend, but it seems to be catching on and people of all ages are more than eager and ready for it.
What do you think about the trend toward 'real' women in the media?
Vivian Diller, Ph.D. is a psychologist in private practice in New York City. She serves as a media expert on various psychological topics and as a consultant to companies promoting health, beauty and cosmetic products. Her book, "Face It: What Women Really Feel As Their Looks Change" (2010), edited by Michele Willens, is a psychological guide to help women deal with the emotions brought on by their changing appearances.
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