Friday, June 25, 2010

More Plumage

I have found this time of life to be akin to a second puberty, only in reverse. I wake up each morning, squint in the mirror and discover that overnight, something has drastically altered my appearance.

Only, unlike before, it’s not for the better!

Rather than list these alterations, since we all either know what they are, or would rather not, I will spend my time more usefully to encourage you to turn away from the mirror and that compulsive concern that the world is looking at you and concentrate, instead, on looking out at the world.

It’s a lot less expensive. Resisting the inevitable is very costly. And useless.

Have you noticed that the women in ads offering sage advice on lotions and potions are 25 while you and all your friends look like crumpled up paper bags? Maybe we’d look even worse without the ablutions, but there’s no getting away from the fact that we do not look young, no matter how we rationalize and delude ourselves.

I have taught high school for over 25 years, and I know what young looks like. I looked at it every day. Except for the few pimply ones, (fewer now than when I was a teen, for some reason) there is smoothness which no amount of surgery or retinol can replicate. There is whiteness, not only of the teeth, but also the eyeballs. The muscle tone and solidity of flesh is completely taken for granted, not worked on and for with hours in the gym or by going under the knife.

This seems to be the natural time and place for this sort of thing in the scheme of life, since the young are expected to play sports, lift heavy things, and attract each other quickly before they mature and learn better.

Of course, it’s wasted on the youth, as they say, since I have rarely met a teenager who appreciates his or her (or their) appearance. They all think they are grossly unattractive and malformed, too short, too tall, too dark, too light… name it. Who can blame them? They get these messages bombarded at them from all sides. And their unformed brains are misfiring constantly, so who knows what they see when they look in the mirror at themselves?

In previous centuries, the belief was circulated that beauty was what beauty did. Or that it was more important to be good than attractive. Now you have an ideology that tells beautiful young people that they are unattractive and withery old folks that they have a moral obligation to try to be more youthful.

No one can win.

Meanwhile, guess who’s making piles of money driving everyone crazy?
I’m not telling. You have to guess.

Instead of fretting about it, you could try to squeeze in a little fun. Don’t make a spectacle of yourself, trying to stave off the inevitable, by walking around in leggings and dying your hair the color of a South American parrot. (Why is it, I wonder, that women of a ‘certain age’ suddenly think hair the color of a baboon’s tush is the answer to all their aging problems?)

Put away the mini skirts, ladies. You had your turn 40 years ago. Once is enough.

Speaking of the 60’s, (the decade, not the age) a wise, hypocritical woman once wrote, at the personal request of her more stunning friends, a hilariously insightful article in Esquire about the tragedy of ‘losing one’s looks’ when one turns 30. Her interesting take on this tragic fate was that since she hadn’t been blessed with much in the way of ‘looks’ to lose in the first place, she had concentrated, instead, on developing her intellect, personality and interpersonal skills instead of resting on her physical laurels. She had no sympathy for women of 29 who had neglected these traits and now, as their looks faded, had nothing to fall back on.

(We are talking here about 30. Over the hill? Times were ever harsh).

The woman who was bragging about her non-pulchritudinous qualities was none other than Nora Ephron, who somehow, in spite of being what they used to charitably call, plain, went on to great success in life, both personally and professionally. However, in an appearance on TV last year, (Oprah, where else?) pushing her latest humor book, “I’m Not Happy About My Neck” she suggests, by its very title, that she has changed her mind about the importance of youthful beauty. Even though she felt she could get along without it when it was age-appropriate to be concerned, she apparently now feels the need to desperately strive to attain everlasting, elusive youth.

She actually declared that the greatest invention, in all of history, for women, was hair dye.
Not the birth control pill.
Or, come to think of it, the washing machine.
Hair dye.

I’m pretty sure she was being completely serious. Although, for a source of humorous material, women fighting the ravages of time and gravity is what one of my teenage best friend’s mothers used to call a ‘shmaltz grebe’ (translation: a pit of golden chicken fat, used primarily to describe the snagging of a fiancĂ© who was the son of a wealthy family, as in: “Sandy just got engaged to the Pomerantz son. Oy, did she fall into a shmaltz grebe!”), you could tell she was completely serious. Her own raven locks attested to her addiction to the bottle.

Nora wasn’t kidding around.
It was as if she couldn’t even smile.

When I think of how I personally (along with a Betty, Gloria and a few others) struggled to emancipate women from these frivolous concerns, it makes me shake my graying locks.

Yes, graying.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent piece. I really enjoyed (and learned) from it.