Sep 16, 2010
Gentle readers, do you look your age?
I know I'm fitter than many of my contemporaries and probably look a little younger, bald pate notwithstanding. This is the result of conscious choices I've made for more than thirty years -- to exercise, not to smoke or drink excessively, to learn how to handle stress more effectively, to avoid baking in the sun, to eat right. And some of it is genetics too.
That said, no one is confusing me with a thirty year old. (No, no, I insist, they're not!)
Folks, how do you feel about people who present themselves as somehow beyond aging? How about the people below?
I've chosen a group of celebrities because they're probably familiar to many, but I'm sure most of us know, or have known, people like this who aren't in the public eye.
I do not know any of these celebrities personally and my impression of them -- like yours if you have one -- is the result of reading about them, seeing them on TV, and looking at their work (their professional output I mean, not their plastic surgery).
Mamie Van Doren had a brief and undistinguished Hollywood career as a Marilyn Monroe clone in the Fifties and Sixties. If you've ever seen the 1958 Doris Day film Teacher's Pet then you've seen Mamie in action, performing "The Girl Who Invented Rock 'n' Roll" number. Most of her films were of the Sex Kittens Go to College variety.
Well she's still around today and still looking....how, exactly? Quite a bit like her old self, or rather young self -- or somebody. Next year Mamie turns 80.
We all know Hugh Hefner of Playboy fame. He'll be 85 pretty soon.
Carol Channing, 90 -- Hello, Dolly!
Jack Lalanne, 97!
This is the 80+ crowd, the unarguably very old.
How we feel about how they present themselves says a lot about how we feel about aging, particularly in America. I chose these four people because, though they're not typical since they're all in the entertainment business to some degree, they are our role models, even if we consider them negative role models.
They're all what I consider the "fighting age all the way to grave" crowd. They're still out there working it. Carol has a new album. Mamie's still posing nude on her website. Jack is still promoting juicers and Hugh is still partying at the Playboy Mansion.
Inspiring? Exhausting? Something in-between?
Does gender matter? Do we feel differently about the old guys than we do about the old gals?
In a league of her own was the legendary Mae West, another "ageless" wonder.
Remember Sextette, Mae's last film (which she wrote and produced) in which she played youthful bride Marlo Manners at age 84? The reviews were scathing.
George Burns, on the other hand, hit his peak of popularity when he was well into his Nineties and was much beloved, perhaps because he embraced the role of old coot rather than resisting it.
That never say die attitude seems particularly American to me, since American culture seems to be so uncomfortable with getting older and giving in (to anything). Our approach to aging seems to be Fight it!
I remember reading a review of Germaine Greer's 1991 book The Change: Women, Aging, and the Menopause, where she was quoted as saying (and I paraphrase) that it felt empowering to shift from focusing on being an object -- which always puts you at the mercy of others' interest -- to being a subject.
What do you think, wise readers?
Does this quest to preserve youth inspire you? I like the idea of doing what you love for as long as you can do it, but I'm not sure how I feel about someone like Mamie. Maintaining that hair alone looks like hard work, yet she obviously enjoys being a sexpot so why not?
Do you think aging the Mamie way is a sign of health or denial? Can a degree of denial contribute to healthy aging? Can you still be a sex kitten at eighty? How about ninety?
Or is it really none of our business what these people do?
Are you only as old as you feel, looks notwithstanding?
What say you?