Please Don’t Look to Hollywood for Aging Inspiration
This may seem obvious, but it's easily forgotten.
After watching Grace and Frankie—a show I adore because of its anti-agism message—my friend text me saying she hopes she looks as good as Jane Fonda when she nears 80. “You know she’s had plastic surgery, right?” I ask.
My friend protested, “Maybe not, maybe it’s natural!”
Fonda, bless her heart, has been very honest about her cosmetic procedures. It’s one of the things I admire about her. She has worked in a youth-obsessed industry her whole life and, unlike so many of her counterparts, doesn’t pretend staying hydrated and sleeping on her back has kept her looking impossibly young.
I hear friends regularly sigh wistfully, How does she do it? at the appearance of any actress who looks half her age or is unhumanly pretty. We are bombarded with flawless faces and bodies on our screens, in our magazines, at award shows, on our Instagram feeds. But what we don’t see are the extremes it takes to achieve those looks.
Even if they didn’t go under the knife, there are lasers, lip injections, fillers, and of course the omnipresent use of Botox for anyone over the age of 25. And that’s not even getting into the obsessive dieting and exercise notoriously pervasive in the business. Hollywood has a barrage of beautifying and age-defying tricks up its sleeves. But when I once asked Heidi Klum what her biggest beauty secret was, she answered “drinking water!”
Perhaps because my job has entailed covering celebrity fashion over the past seven years, I am hyper-aware of the role Hollywood plays in our beauty ideals. It’s also the reason I have longed for greater protection from it—why I’ve needed to differentiate between real and fake, inspirational and unattainable. And why I want others to do the same.
I know, don’t hate the player, hate the game. And I do. Can I blame an actress for caving to Hollywood’s unfathomable pressures? Can I fault her for striving to appear young and flawless in order to keep working? No, I can't. And should anyone be shamed for their choices on how to age? Again, no. The truth is, women of all professions are in a damned if they do and damned if they don’t scenario. We’re shamed for our imperfections as much as our vanity, for wrinkles as much as Botox. In a society that teaches us from day one that our worth is cemented in our appearance, there is no path free from judgement. Add the critical watch of the public eye and those feelings, no doubt, are intensely magnified.
None of us can claim we haven’t been at the mercy of vanity at one, or a million points, in our lives. I won't pretend I haven’t spent inordinate amounts of time berating myself in a reflection or a photograph. I won't pretend I don’t want to erase the deep lines between my eyebrows. I won't pretend I didn’t get a painful laser treatment on my face to zap my broken capillaries. Or that it didn’t make my face swell like a pufferfish for a week. Or that I’m not, sadly, contemplating another round.
I’ve battled many demons when it comes to beauty and getting older as a woman in this country. Which is why this issue hits close to home. It’s why it pains me to hear a friend wish she looked like, or aged like, a particular celebrity. That's the kind of comparison that fuels a multi-billion dollar industry, that sells the promise of perfection in $170 single ounce jars of La Mer moisturizing cream. It's a comparison that idealizes a very narrow and temporary definition of beauty, at once making us feel perpetually dissatisfied and eternally exhausted.
Do these women in Hollywood owe us their stories? Nope. But it’s sure nice when they share them. To admit they aren’t simply genetically and morally superior to every other woman on the planet. To remind us not to hold our natural bodies to supernatural standards. There are others besides Fonda who have admitted to getting work done and I can’t help but appreciate their honesty. Of course, I would appreciate it even more if they would stop. If we could all stop the madness. For ourselves, for our friends, for our daughters.
I was struck by Ashton Applewhite’s recent New York Times piece, Working to Disarm Women’s Anti-Aging Demon where she wrote: "Appearance matters. Adornment pleases. But society’s obsession with the way women look is less about beauty than about obedience to a punishing external standard—and power. When women compete to ‘stay young,’ we collude in our own disempowerment. When we rank other women by age, we reinforce ageism, sexism, lookism and patriarchy. What else we can we all agree on? This is one bad bargain. It sets us up to fail. It pits us against one another."
Despite shows like Botched and confessions like this one acting as flashing red signs, procedures like nose jobs, breast implants, facelifts and liposuction seem commonplace these days. Still, when I think about the pain involved—the blood, the risk, the cost—my loudest thought is: why can’t we love ourselves enough?
With social media’s prevalence of filters, photoshopping, frozen faces and faux Kylie-inspired pouts, I fear we’re losing touch with reality. Unfortunately, there are no disclaimers on these images, and we can’t expect our favorite actresses or Instagram stars to tell us what’s been altered. The responsibility is ours, to remember what is real and what is important, to stop holding ourselves to torturous ideals, to find beauty in authenticity, to love ourselves harder. And remind others to do the same.
Look around your life—what 53-year-old has Sandra Bullock’s jawline? What 63-year-old has Christie Brinkley’s figure? Please don’t look to Hollywood for aging inspiration. Don't make these women your #goals. Let's look instead at the incredible women in our real lives: our mothers, our grandmothers, our aunts. Look at what makes them beautiful, charismatic, strong—and aspire to be their kind of gorgeous.