Thursday, February 12, 2009

Just Call Me Goddess

It seems to have become a new trend of the entertainment media to showcase women who are "still sexy after 50!" AOL is doing that today. Some expected choices--Michelle Pfeiffer, Diane Keaton, Marg Helgenberger; and some classic faces we just don't see enough of like Julie Christie, Susan Sarandon and Annette Bening.

What I truly love about these photos is that they're obviously not retouched by any of the software technology that can instantly remove crow's feet, fill in those "marionette lines" around the mouth; remove a couple of inches from the jawline, and smooth out the skin to a healthy, pre-teen glow. The lines are there. The sagging of the skin is there. Most of all, age is there.

I just wish it was out there more. On magazine covers (besides AARP), on the small screen and the big screen. I wish stylists and graphic artists would simply leave the crow's feet alone so that the rest of us who can't afford to surgerically de-age see faces we can relate to, and be able to say, "damn, I look good!"

I have to admit, though, that these "mature years" are a conundrum for all of us when trying to describe who we are when we stop revealing ages. For instance, I was walking into my health club one day, and overheard a woman say to her friend, "she's not old, old and not young, young." Oh, I know that lady, I thought--she's me! Somewhere past "peak of freshness" and "prune-faced." Between being mistaken for 35, and presumed to be 80. What are we when we're in that place? Aging gracefully? Well preserved? Youthful in spirit (if not in face)? Do we exude joie de vivre more than mysterious allure?

In our label-mad culture, we tend to fall on words that better describe architecture: we say she's dignified, mature, elegant, composed, pulled-together, has good bone structure, holding up nicely. When we want to skirt the age issue, we hear (and use) euphemisms like "she's getting on," "not a young chicken," "at that age," "not as young as she used to be." We just don't have words in the English language to describe between the pupa stage of our child-bearing years and the full grown butterfly of elderhood. What we get sounds like molting, when what we feel is more like our wisdom coming to the surface. Richness being revealed. Self-knowledge recontouring the landscape of our faces.

I find that the older I get, the more my eyes are drawn to the person inside. Yes, my friends are all going grey. Our skin is losing its dew and taking on the texture of a river bed during a draught season. We're rarely mistaken for our daughter's sibling; in fact, in many ways we feel we've become completely invisible. Except to each other. We look past the bags to see the woman inside. Even the men who love us are capable of doing this, sometimes better than we do, as we stock up on wrinkle creams, skin tigheners, and spot faders, hoping to stall the coming decomposition.

If someone--maybe those who create the phenomenon of Wikis--were to create language for this precarious age of inside out beauty, where would they start? It's a little tricky to jump off from "hot mama" without offending a woman's sense of herself as still exuberant, sexy, passionate, and alive. (That's right, not one foot in the grave quite yet.)

I once had the pleasure of meeting a woman in her mid-80s who had taken up the hobby of writing humorous poems about senior-hood, and was publishing them. When I worked for Barnes & Noble, we hosted several book readings, and she always drew a huge crowd. Between she and I, there was a gap of more than 40 years, and those years in between yawned with a lacky of identity.

I'm open to suggestions. Personally, I like writer Gail Sheehy's term "seasoned woman," although it's not an easy term to use in introductions ( "This is my seasoned friend, Betty."). Too much of a food analogy. But it's on the right track. I would like to see terminology that reflects a blossoming of our integrity, creativity, and wisdom. Words that would complete the sentence, "Now that she's over 50, she's ______________. " I would choose colorful words: mellow yellow, blazing orange, spicey red, cool blue. Or words that reflected more on dynamism, and less on the ability to attract sexual partners: aware, global, centered, a force to be reckoned with, stable, spirited, joyful. Or, as Jane Austen put in the mouth of her character, Elizabeth Bennett in Pride & Prejudice, Goddess Divine. That works for me.