Ali McGraw is 77. It was all over the news, a few days ago. Yes, that Ali McGraw. The coltish, flip actor who embodied Jenny Cavilleri from Love Story and Brenda Potemkin from Goodbye, Columbus, is in her eighth decade and the big news was that she has not had plastic surgery or a lot of hair maintenance. She’s doing age naturally. The praise poured in from every corner, very talk show and every tabloid magazine at the checkout counter. There was no talk of Ali “letting herself go”. There were only accolades for how well she wears her age.
Rewind three months.
The launch of the latest Star War movie was in full swing. As the anticipation grew for a continuation of a movie that I can certainly remember standing in a long line to view, the critics turned their venom on Carrie Fisher for looking her age. Side-by-side pictures were everywhere. There was Carrie, age 19, wearing the ironclad bikini and Danish pastry hair style that stimulated a million adolescent boys’ self-love. There was Carrie with a noticeable thigh gap. There was Carrie with the figure that George Lucas mandated her to maintain throughout the picture.
Next to that photo was a picture of Carrie Fisher, now, at age 59. To me she looks fine. Better than fine, actually, considering the colossal highs and the devastating lows of her life and health. There has been some fine-tuning of her face. It’s visible, especially around the mouth. She is heavier; however there is a forty years difference between the pictures. As those of us who are in the five-foot tall range and generously endowed know, it is tough to keep the pounds at bay. Once again, for this sequel in a galaxy far away, she was mandated to lose weight. The result is impressive. Not only does she still look good but also, in interviews, she has retained the wry, sharp-tongued wit that is her best defense mechanism, and the painfully honest confrontations with her troubled past and her battles with mental health issues that have dominated her adult life. It is no secret that I am a great fan of Ms. Fisher.
While all the brouhaha went on about the aging of Carrie Fisher, not a word was said about the aging of her co-stars, Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill. Ford, still thought of as a senior sex symbol is, to my mind, craggy looking. Hamill disguises scars acquired in a horrific car accident with a Santa Claus beard that adds about fifty years to his once boyish face. Still, there was no criticism of the men. The only “mean girl” tweets were those that were aimed at Fisher.
We have a terribly uneven and unfair standard and male and female aging in this country. That is a secret to no one. While men are described as “mature” and “I still wouldn’t throw him out of my bed”, the best a woman can hope for is to be labeled a MILF. Should you chose to age naturally, you are lucky if you are not labeled a crone, which, in some cultures (not ours), remains an actual compliment.
Case in point: Meryl Streep vs. Helen Mirren.
If you pick up the annual “Beauty by the Decades” issue of People, you will see one or the other of these fine female actors in the “60+ Beauty”. For a long time, the queen of that slot was Streep. It actually started when she was 50+. At that time, they may not have had a representative of any decade beyond that. When Streep turned 60, they stretched the categories. Recently, it is a revolving slot with Mirren and Streep alternating elder honors.
However, respect for Streep who has, thanks to the world’s most incredible cheekbones, continues except for the dresses she wears on Red Carpets at various awards ceremonies. The inevitable word to describe Streep’s fashion choices is “matronly”. I would call it conservative and there is nothing wrong with a woman over 60 dressing in an appropriate manner for her age. For those who have missed the memo that Streep is a matron, you need only look at family photos with her look-alike daughters and mismatched son to know that this is a genetically gifted family. The apples have stayed very close to the maternal tree. Streep, bless her, is proud of her family and not trying to compete with her much younger children in the fashion department.
On the other hand, Dame Helen is a miracle of aging with a body that still rocks a bikini and a face that goes effortlessly from cougar to Queen Elizabeth. She is a different kind of genetic miracle.
I subscribe to several “fashion after fifty” blogs, even though the fifty part is a decade and a half behind me. I am bothered by the extremes that these blogs encourage. On the one hand, they will show age-defying women with svelte bodies and the ability to wear an entire ensemble in Optic White without dropping any food that they are eating on protruding boobs. The other extreme are boho women, most whose tastes were clearly formed in the Age of Aquarius, wearing tiered, brightly colored skirts and rocking diaphanous scarves. I prefer this look because the skirts cover a multitude of flaws that come with age. However, I can no longer wear these looks without looking like I had internalized the first line of the poem, Warning. (“When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple, with a red hat that doesn’t go.”
When I disputed the reality factor of the extremes of her blog (I was particularly bitching about the all-white, skinny Minnie model), described my complaint as, “Delightfully down to earth,” which was her way of saying that I have learned my lessons well from Carrie Fisher.
The truth about the appearance of aging is between the extremes and has a lot more to do with economic status, health, and genetics. If I were less of a coward when it comes to elective surgery, and financially able, I might consider a nip or a tuck, but since neither is true, I will live with what nature gave me. When I let my hair go gray, about five years ago, I got many horrified comments about how it would age me and how the speaker would never, NEVER, sever her relationship with her wonderful colorist. These days, my hair gets compliments from similar aged women and wistful comments about how they would go grey if 1) they had hair like mine, 2) weren’t still working, or 2) if there husband wouldn’t disapprove. I am here to tell you that none of those excuses is valid and if you want to Ho gray, go grey like Jamie Lee Curtis (My follicle icon) or Helen Mirren before she got the gig as a spokesperson for blonde hair dye.
Are you still on the dating market and fearful of competing with twenty year younger women? Remember that you can lie on these sites, to both yourself and your potential mates, but at some point, the truth will come out. I do not choose to go to my urn promising to will my remains to Tupperware, as Joan Rivers famously quipped.
We are the generation that changes things and, for better or worse, it is time for us to respect the aging process in every woman and not praise only the artificially induced beauties over their slightly saggier sisters. I am blessed that my father passed on genes that slightly disguise my full age, but I’m not ashamed of how old I am. The tiny, gray-haired person looking back from me in the overhead pharmacy mirror occasionally surprises me, but I am neither frightened nor appalled at that image.
It would be nice to let go entirely, but I am not a hypocrite. That will never happen because, along with my father’s ageless genes, a got a fair dose of his vanity. However, I am practical and living on a retirement income so I shop in my closet and skip occasions that require designer gowns.
It is a different way to age. It is my way of aging. I hope to share acceptance and pride that I have survived my life, thus far. If I have picked up a wrinkle or a hundred along the way, they are well earned and I do not need unrealistic role models to set a standard for me.
BONUS QUIZ FOR AGING BOOMERS:
Complete this phrase “Love means never having…”
A) To admit you saw Love Story multiple times on disastrous first dates
B) To call anyone you dated, “Preppie”
C) To say you’re sorry
Meryl Streep and Carrie Fisher are connected by the movie
A) When Harry Met Sally
B) Garbo Speaks
C) Postcards from the Edge
Carrie Fisher is related to or sort of related to
A) Debbie Reynolds
B) Elizabeth Taylor
C) Connie Stevens
D) All of the Above
“Streep can play anything” may have started with her portrayal of
A) Alice in Wonderland in “Alice at the Palace”
B) A perfect angel having a heavenly romance with Albert Brooks in “Defending Your Life”
C) A crusading NY violin teacher in “Music of the Heart”
D) A German woman married to a Jewish artist in the TV mini-series “Holocaust”
Forget it. Meryl Streep can play ANYTHING!