Friday, September 24, 2010

No Holds Barred - Aging Gracefully

by Blair Sabol

Wasn't it Chanel who said, "after 50 you get the face you deserve?" (Or was it " the ass you deserve"?) But what does that mean in today's world of siliconed lips, lasered eyelids, and injectable jawlines? I'm lost.

Some weeks ago Cher marched out onto the MTV Video Music Awards stage (awarding Lady Gaga) dressed in a Bob Mackie black thong she wore 25 years ago. (I wonder if he "trompe d'oeiled" her current 63-year-old belly button in this recent rendition). Back then her theme song was "If You Could Turn back Time."

Well, you can't. Even if you are Cher who we love for her persistence in keeping it all so unreal. It still doesn't fly. And yes, her ass cheeks (photographed seeping out from the back of her thong straps) were amazingly "uncellulited" and firm. But why do it? As the old adage goes: "Just cause you can, doesn't mean you should."

Lady Gaga and Cher at MTV Video Music Awards: "Just cause you can, doesn't mean you should."
Is this "youthful and "rested" looking or just plain weird?
I really wish Cher would have shown us how to age gracefully. If anyone can do it ... couldn't Cher? Don't show us what you once were, show us who you are now. And why not help us all figure out how to do it with some degree of fun and dignity and REALITY. Who wants to compete with Lady Gaga's prime rib couture? Sadly that's what Cher chose to do.

Yes, we all know that "aging is not for sissies" (Bette Davis' famous line). Even Woody Allen weighed in the other day in a New York Times interview when asked about the decrepit process: "I'm against it (aging). I think it has nothing to recommend it. You don't gain any wisdom as the years go by. You fall apart is what happens. People try and put varnish on it, and say, well, you mellow. You come to understand life and accept things. But you'd trade all of that for being 35 again. I've experienced that thing where you wake up in the middle of the night and you start to think about your own mortality and envision it and it gives you a little shiver."

Shiver indeed.

He then went onto talk about the financial difference between shooting films in Europe and New York City (his muse). Because it is cheaper in Paris and London and Barcelona, he has kind of given up on New York. But maybe Allen is feeling something else. Europe has always been most acceptable to the creative and has especially honored and respected the elderly more than the United States. In our culture, if you are not young and hip (I don't care how many millions you), I'm not sure you are even "marketable" (And please, let's forget Betty White already).

For the most part in our country aging is about being marginalized and "dissed" as a "has been" no matter who you once were. Not that Woody Allen has reached that level. But it's obvious that in Europe he gets a different set of "props" from the community at large. Then again wasn't Jerry Lewis idolized in Paris? That's a totally different story.

In a recent W magazine article on the pursuit of the "prematurely plastic," reporter Rob Haskell stunningly wrote of the new "breed of beauty junkie whose goal is to look forever 36 even if she's 23." We learn that Lindsay Lohan (at 23) has hit "the needle." Her use of Juvederm or Restylane or Sculptra to create that duck-lipped, no forehead, "deer in the headlights" alien appeal. Is this "youthful and "rested" looking or just plain weird? What it actually does is make the young users and the women 50 and over look older. After all, they may be getting sculpted and injected but they are (for the most part) still smoking,"using," drinking, and not sleeping.

They end up looking strangely ravaged rather than vital. "It's like they are re-draping dirty curtains" says dermatologist-to-the-stars Amy Wechsler. Haskell goes on to say that those girls and their moms "for whom the word 'overworked' has nothing to do with being employed" use plastic surgeons the same way they use bikini waxing techs. For some of these New York City "high enders" surgery is "the new working out." And the Extreme level of their actual work outs (abusive spinning classes and hot brutal yoga classes) has reached S&M proportions. I guess for many of these "50 and overs" it's a race to the finish in their fear of the clock ticking.
Maybe Jane and friends have the answer.
Maybe they figure the least they can do is sweat out their rage and aging anxiety. And then head to the physical therapist or orthopedic surgeon's office after class. When does aging and balance come into view? Maybe we should ask Jane Fonda since she has had both hip and knee surgery. Supposedly this is the subject of her next book.

The current pressure to preserve everything you've got at whatever cost is overwhelming. My best friend in NYC is 68 years old and was recently confronted by her hairdresser on how she must get some facial injections. She was perplexed and tried to explain to him that she'd rather spend her money on buying organic watercress. We are talking about priorities here. After a certain age where are we honestly headed? As the Sopranos line goes: "For whom? For what? Fugged about it."

Lucky for me I am not a candidate for injectables as I would end up looking like 'claymation.'
Personally I got the best advice some years ago from my sensational skin "therapist" (more than a facialist but not quite a dermatologist) Helga Desmet. She is THE sales rep and educator for the fabulous and popular Epicuren line of rare and organic skin treatments.

She hit me straight on with: "YOU are not a candidate and would have a hard time with injectables. You naturally move your face constantly and are far too animated. You would end up looking like 'claymation.' "I am forever indebted to her for making me realize my wrinkles and ridges are really too deeply imbedded and a big "so what."

She taught me to accept it and move on. Besides I live in the land (desert) of gila monsters and lizards so I feel right at home.

So few American women know how to make aging look great or even accept it with honor. Big kuddos to the likes of Liz Smith, Debbie Reynolds, Doris Day and of course, Racquel Welch. They have been some of the great "go-to" broads for years.

Actually The Brits do it the best: Helen Mirren, Charlotte Rampling, Judi Dench, and Emma Thompson not only act, but look terrific. Meanwhile on the horizon we are left with Madonna (who is rumored to wanting her hands "done") Courtney Love, Heidi Montag, and Heather Locklear. I give a pass to Joan Rivers. After all, she has made reconstruction a brilliant part of her act and her primary hobby. On the other hand, we have the current and shocking visual of Bridget Bardot. But she has been outspoken about her honest lifestyle and relishes being out of the limelight.
The Brits do it the best: Charlotte Rampling, Emma Thompson, and Helen Mirren are good examples.
While we've got Madonna, Courtney Love, and Heather Locklear.
Even poor Hilary Clinton has shown some bad signs of visual stress. Whereas she never looked better while she was campaigning for president in '08 recently she showed up to the UN with serious eyebags and a jawclip in her longer graying hair. Help! Bring back her million dollar hair and makeup team ASAP. Even if it means she has to run for president again.
As for the male aging counterparts. It has always been easier for men. Although Wayne Newton and David Hasselhoff may make us wince. Even dear Robert Redford clearly felt compelled to go under a bad knife some years ago. But of late he has let his face droop and now looks his leathery best. (Though I don't understand his need to dye his hair that odd red ... at 75?)

Tranny or sexy? Even Sophia can't get it right.
My one and only nomination for best in aging (and I am extremely biased) is my friend Ali MacGraw, who admits to struggling with her "eldering" demons daily. But she never looked better in her uniform of slim black jean and longsleeved black T shirt and killer silver "boho" jewelry.

She doesn't even try to "turn back time" — she is time. When I asked her recently what constitutes sane aging we both agreed that Los Angeles and New York City are horrible "aging vortexes." Women in particular are scared faceless in both locations. Ali has lived in Santa Fe for over 20 years and explains: "There are dozens of drop dead gorgeous women (over 60) here in Santa Fe. No botox, no anything.

They just lead with their brains and their hearts and somehow they all look wonderfully age appropriate and ALIVE!!! No tell tale signs of pitiful REGRET on their shiny faces." (Remember artist Georgia O'Keefe made Santa Fe her home and became an "Aging Royale".) It's interesting to me that both Michael Kors and Tommy Hilfinger have openly acknowleged Ali MacGraw as a style icon and personal muse.

So my question is: why don't they ever use her in their ad campaigns? Why does it always have to be the likes of Julianne Moore, Beyonce and Gwen Stefani?

Obviously youth sells. But now more than ever ... let's hear it for longevity, survival with style, and classy integrity. What our culture needs is a serious "Course in Miracles" on how to age gracefully. Now I ask you ... who has the honest courage and real face to face up to that job?
MacGraw this past winter, near her home outside Santa Fe, New Mexico. Photograph by Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair.
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