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Sep 16, 2010

Aged or Ageless? You decide!

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, 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?


  1. I think this is about accepting your numerical age, while living as if it doesn't matter. Which is entirely different from attempting to regain your youth, via hair/makeup/clothing that just doesn't flatter anymore. Youth is best left to the young for a reason! Better to learn to love yourself at any age, and live life fully, than to become caught up in the trappings of youth (ala "Mamie" and others). I think people who cling to their youth, looks-wise, have a lot of fear. Perhaps if they would embrace who they are on the inside, they wouldn't try to stay young on the outside. I am constantly amazed by the wonderful things older people do-the adventure, the wisdom that comes from having "been there, done that". There is not much wisdom in youth; it is still a period of growth and experimentation, not adventure for the most part. I say, embrace who you really are-and if that includes flamboyant or artsy dress, like the "Advanced Style" men and women, go for it! But leave your "youthful" look in the past, and be glad for where you are now. There is nothing wrong with sporting silver hair, a few wrinkles, and an independent mindset. I guess I should come clean, and state that I am now 48, and learning to love me at this age/stage, and NOT feeling old!

  2. Exhausting. Definitely exhausting. Which may be why I don't celebrity watch very much. Well, I do want to look at their clothes. Who doesn't love a dramatic evening gown, after all.

    My longer and more thoughtful comment got eaten, so here's a quick de-lurk. Hi, Peter! I have been reading faithfully even since Elaine's nemesis post.

    I was wondering if you were going to sew the Lady Grey coat for Cathy? She would look smashing in it. I have fabric picked out but no lining. And the intricate muslin directions just might make me chicken out. We'll see.

  3. Mamie Van Doren - and people like her - are just plain scary. Clinging to one's youth in such a way is sad, desperate and not fooling anyone. Getting older is a fact of life (which is not to say that we should prematurely give in to the blue rinse and fuzzy slippers!). I aspire to grow old gracefully, staying in shape and looking the best I can for my age. I'd much rather look like Helen Mirren or Judy Dench than Mamie!

  4. Hmm. If I looked like that (plastic surgery or otherwise) at Mamie's age, I'd probably dress like that, too ;). It's impressive.

    My hubby has the most humongous fear of aging---he's been having a midlife crisis basically since I met him (when he was 20). Conversely, he loves people who are well preserved, because they've "beaten" the thing he fears most about aging---losing his looks. Personally, I think this is a symptom of deriving your self-worth and self-esteem solely from your physical body/attractiveness, rather than based on your mind/interests/abilities.

    So, while personally I agree with Vintagegal etc.---I definitely know people in the other camp, and I do empathize. Death is scary. Losing the things that make us us is scary. And for some people, aging represents both those things.

    Dammit, you made me write a book again. ;)

  5. I was intrigued about your mention about the movie Sextette. i had never heard of it before, so i looked it up. And I watched a clip. And it was one of the most painful things i have ever experienced. thank you, i love a good bad movie.

    Here is the clip if anyone else loves torture:

  6. Oh, Farah. That is one of my favorite clips from the film -- thanks for posting it!

    Who was it who said, "Getting old is not for sissies!"

  7. Of course it's none of our business but that doesn't stop us from having an opinion.

    I think some people get stuck and just don't know how, or don't want to move on to the next phase in their lives. I understand it, stepping back and letting someone else take your place at the top can't be an easy thing to do, even though it's all just perception anyway.
    I'd much rather see a person embrace their age and be a wonderful role model... I find that I can respect that person/image much more. It doesn't mean you have to stop being beautiful or give up it's just accepting that you're more than just a face, or hair, or large silicone implants. As for Hugh, he's just and old guy that pays young women to hang on him... is there really anything to respect in that?

  8. Hmmm..., I've never felt like much of an "object", and I think it would be sad to wait until menopause to become a "subject". Sure, I got more looks from others when I was younger; but I guess I didn't grant them much importance.

    That said, I'm fighting aging as much as I can. Now over 40, I do want to look grown-up-- but I want to do it because I feel grown up, not because I think I need to look age-appropriate.

    But I'm not sure I'll ever be ready to look "old." I don't see any reason to go gray when I look better as a brunette; I think a few wrinkles look better than a lot of wrinkles; and I definitely want to stay fit for as long as possible, for health and mobility reasons, and yes, to look good.

    Extreme fakeness looks bad no matter what age you are. Mamie's fake face looks odd but her fit legs look good. A less extreme facelift probably would have looked better on her, too. Jack also looks great because his physique is real, not fake.


  9. WOW! I have to admit that I am slightly impressed that it is possible for an 80 yr old woman to look like that! Referring to Mamie of course.
    Who am I to judge. Yes aging is inevitable. But I have no intention of trading in my skinny jeans and leopard print for sweatshirts with teddy bears and lace collars. WHAT IS UP with that anyways!
    I am 46 and am looking to baby boomers to change the landscape of what it means to age in this country. I think all of the people above look fabulous and I contribute it to staying relevant and staying involved with the world around them.

  10. Vintagegal wrote:

    "There is not much wisdom in youth; it is still a period of growth and experimentation, not adventure for the most part."

    Woody Allen,when asked about his feelings on the aging process was quoted as saying:

    "Well, I’m against it. [laughs] 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 a nice 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'm more of the opinion of Woody Allen. More later if I have time.

  11. Making good health decisions is always a good thing--and the external manifestations are just fringe benefits of internal health.

    I think that fighting your body's natural processes is a sad, slippery slope. There's living tissue under all those nips and tucks. It's not like hemming a part of pants, or inserting darts--gravity will win out, no matter what.

    I'm 42 now; when I'm in my 70s and 80s (god willing), I want to be like the men on women on Ari Seth Cohen's Advanced Style. Although I don't think I could make my own fake eyelashes from my hair.

  12. Interesting, I was just thinking about this. The thought struck me this morning that I am about to turn 32 but much of the time I still feel like a kid. There was a time during my teenage years when people thought I was older than I really was. A few years later, it was the other way around and apparently I looked younger than my actual age. And I don't know the reason in either case. I wonder how old I look now. Nevertheless, no matter how I appear to others, I have reached a point in my life when I am much more comfortable with myself and don't really care.

    As for the people in the post: Mamie & Mae: scary and sad; Hugh: ugh, mom2five said it right; Carol: looks good, but doesn't really look "young"; Jack: doesn't look like he's trying to deny his age, but wow!

    Obviously, part of the reason these age-defying celebrities are able to look the way they do is the money that buys them leisure time, surgical procedures, fancy clothes, stylists and other people to fix them up. If that is what they want, more power to them. But I don't think looking "young" is necessarily something to aspire to and looking "old" or looking your age isn't always a bad thing. You can look good at any age, and look your age, it all depends on how you present (I can't think of a better word) yourself. My grandma lived to the age of 93; she always looked her age, and up until the very end she always looked beautiful and classy. What a role model she was to me!

  13. I just turned 60. People say I don't look 60 but I'm pretty sure I am what 60 actually looks like these days. And people say I don't act 60 and I probably don't. But what the hell does it mean to "look" or "act" a specific age? I just want to keep on having fun and being healthy and doing what I like! So to hell with the rest of it. I have plenty of sisters and friends who will intervene if I ever get as deluded as Mamie or Mae about my looks and behavior!

  14. "...not for sissies" - Bette Davis, I think.

    I think one can be fashionable and fabulous without looking like you are desperate or clinging to your youth. I also don't think there is a point at which "age appropriate" becomes synonymous with "matronly" or that you have to give up. My mom and her best friend (both in their early 60's) look far younger than their years. Like you, this is due to good genes, healthy living and a playful attitude when it comes to fashion.

    Although none of them are 80 (they are all in their 60's) my celebrity "aging gracefully" role models are Meryl Streep, Sigourney Weaver and Helen Mirren, all of whom look great and have remained vital long after Hollywood normally would have them playing grandma roles. I can't wait to see how they continue to age.

  15. Kinda makes you wonder what Marilyn Monroe would look like today....

  16. OK, I'm going with ageless - though yesterday my husband mentioned I look much younger with brown hair (I'm bottle blonde) Don't worry, he thinks I'm the bomb, notwithstanding. :-)

    I know my age (if I'm lucky) is going to keep rising. But in myself I don't feel like any given number. I'm always just trying to be the most healthful, attractive version of myself I can be.

    I'm 40, btw.

  17. In truth, who really gives a rats azz about Mamie Van Doren and her ilk. Creepy spectacles of self-denial. The most glowing people, any age, are those who love who they are and embrace life, living it to its fullest at all stages. That transcends the appearance and we naturally gravitate to the positive aura about them.

  18. I don't feel old until I see someone who is my age but I think looks older, MUCH older, and I think, Geez, really ... they are the same age as me? LOL! So, I don't know if I'm looking at someone aging poorly, in denial myself, or what. I wish I was fitter and didn't have some of my unhealthy habits, but wishing ain't gonna make it so. I'm hoping the motivation kicks in before 50.

    I think you look your (my!) age in a good way. It's hard to make that statement sound like a compliment, but it is. You seem healthy and happy to be who you are and how you look. Is that because you don't eat Bunny Bread? ;-)

  19. I think that helps!

    Wasn't it writer Anais Nin who said: "We don't see things are THEY are, we see things as WE are."

  20. I have to say that celebrities (or anyone else) who try to keep their young "look" long after they are old often look like cartoon versions of themselves. We see this in pics of the rich and famous who have had "work" done on their faces: lips plumped, bags removed, face tightened. They look so sad, really.

    Here is an example of someone good looking who has allowed himself to age naturally: Tony Blair. He looks his age, but he looks good. Here is someone who is allowing herself to age naturally and who is getting all kinds of grief about it: Hillary Clinton.

  21. @sulymo Tony Blair may look fine, but what do you think about his sovereign, Elizabeth II.? And they really give Clinton grief for not going down the nip and tuck road? And imagine the grief the politicos would give her were she to take time off for mere personal vanity.
    Did they do that to Madeleine Albright?
    And if they did not, why not?
    People who try to preserve their youth make me cringe. It cannot be done. And they very often have a look in their eyes like haunted souls. Haunted by the idea that we may guess their real age. But we do! To my mind nothing suggests age so much as a look of lots of botox and an obvious face lift.
    Give me people who look happy in their skin and I'll find them attractive, whatever their age.

  22. a great topic- as my birthday is tmrw- i will be 30. :) age has never been an isssue for me- i've always rolled my eyes at the women who give fake ages or who jsut refuse to tell their age. i'm exctied at every birthday.

    i think age is something that one should embrace. if you happen to look great when you're older- you're lucky! but i do think ther is somethign very special about aging gracefully. i'd rather age- with no dyed hair, no plastic surgery and look the age i was meant to look naturally. i think one growing older can definintely be beautiful and elegant. i suppose it's how yu carry yourself and treat others.

    if some people who get try really hard to stay "forever young"- it can either be creepy or inspirational. it depends on the person i think. i would hope they are jsut truely happy with themselves and not trying to put on a show or look a certain way for others.

  23. I had difficulty with aging as I went into my mid 40's. And I am strictly talking about my looks. I had good days, when I still looked a little younger than I was (maybe I could pass for 40) and I had bad days when I looked every bit of my age. It was terrifying! But that was a little bump in the road. As moe time went by, I accepted things and started feeling OK with where I was.
    It is a relief to just give in and adapt.
    I simplified my makeup, gave up styles that were no longer sexy on me, etc. I have 'crossed over' to the other side ;)

  24. I like the concept of 'crossing over to the other side'. It takes a bit of courage but I think it's the key to growing old gracefully and happily. I'm 58, and I watch what I eat and make exercise an important part of my life. A much older friend told me that old age is an arduous journey, and you have to get in shape before you set off. I don't dye my hair. I'm not going grey, I'm going platinum!I think my platinum streaks give me leeway for the occasional 'blonde moment'.

  25. I, too, really identify with alittlesewingontheside's "crossing over" description. At 47, I'm making the crossing -- is it from object to subject? I like to think I've always been the subject in my life. As to attire, I really enjoy fashion, but I know I that (unlike Mamie) I wouldn't feel right wearing things I used to (not that Mamie's look bears any resemblance to mine in earlier decades) -- but I have wonderful compensation of having a 17 year old daughter who I can enjoy sewing and buying those things which I think are great, but wouldn't suit an old bag, uh, I mean an gracefully aging doyenne.

  26. I've been having issues with aging this summer; partly because my 96 year old father, is breaking down, after a vibrant life - hang gliding at 71, skiing in his 80s, cutting down trees at 93, etc.... He has set a high bar of curiosity and adventure to uphold. Young people love to hear him tell tales of his lifetime of adventures! Hugh Hefner is a self-centered wanker by comparison to my father.

    I have not worried about aging until now, in my 57th year. My biggest fear is that men will never flirt with me again; silly really because I am well married. Men, including my dad's Doctor, often tell me I look much younger than my age. Comments like these keep me glowing for weeks! I have not done anything like peels or cosmetic surgery. My issues are more about the ability to do things and to enjoy the new experiences that life offers. So what do I find myself doing? I've been relentlessly flirting with the cute logger working here this summer. Why? What is going on here? Perhaps it's the danger, perhaps he's flirting with me. Why is the logging taking so long to finish? It does make me feel very alive, like I've still got it. So that to me is what it's all about.... not a face-lift, or implants, or being "mutton dressed as lamb". Just being able to clamber over rocks, walk through the woods, swim in the cold water and shoot a few nuisance squirrels makes me feel alive.

    Mamie Van Doren scares me; it's such a prescriptive way to look and act (tanned, with fake boobs, a face pulled tight and fake bleach blond hair- how original!). I saw her at Poli fabrics in the late 70s and she looked strange to me then. The salesmen were all atwitter, but they gave me the better price on the goods!

  27. I guess it's a good thing I see myself (and always have) as more of an intellectual type of person than as a physically beautiful person. It's easier to keep up the intellectual thing (though that too fades) as you get older.

  28. This is what I think: "... it [is] really none of our business what these people do..."

    Even more than wanting to be ok in my own skin, no matter how age-spotted and wrinkled it is, I want to be non-judgmental about other people and how they present themselves (as long as they are not hurting anyone else).

    I think Mamie must be chuckling at her own audacity in posing nude at the age of 79. She knows that we know that her photos are photo-shopped. Show business is supposed to be entertaining, right?

  29. Whenever I mourn the loss of my youthful (quite good) looks and subsequent increasing middle aged frumpiness I remind myself of how lovely it is to be able to ride an elevator, sit down in a coffee shop or enjoy a peaceful walk on the beach w i t h o u t beeing constantly objectified, hit on, cat called and otherwise harassed by moronic and clueless individuals thinking my sole reason for existing in the same world as them must be as their personal pleasure automatum. So there. We tend to forget and idyllize youth and good looks, but for a woman at least, it's not all it's cracked up to be. Also - I do not miss menstrual cramps.


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