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When We Get Old:

There was a moment on Oprah’s show on aging last week, when Geena Davis, Nora Ephron and Diahann Carroll were sitting onstage with Oprah and discussing the good, the bad and the ugly of getting old, where it was obvious that no matter what positive spin they tried to put on it, at least two of these women were denying their real age.

For those in the Oprah-know, “real age” refers to the health of your body and mind as opposed to your age in years. Some women are 25 but their real age is 40. It depends on the state of heart, blood pressure, energy, weight, etc. But here was an example of women defying their real age for no other reason than that they couldn’t stand the idea of lines appearing on their faces.

Though I’ve always admired Nora Ephron, I desperately wanted to send her an email telling her that the Botox is a mistake. A lovely woman dealing with age in her latest book, I Feel Bad About My Neck, Ephron has decided that she’s going to involve herself in surgery that won’t cause great pain or cutting. In so doing, her face has erased itself.

By the same token, Diahann Carroll, a once stunning woman, has also gotten so much surgery it’s impossible to tell how old she really is. She sat there on Oprah’s stage saying, “This is what 71 looks like.” Is that really what 71 looks like? Because Oprah admires her so much, she never called her on that obvious point, certainly not in any truthful way. Carroll happily admitted that she did every surgery she could have done. But no, that isn’t what 71 looks like.

Geena Davis, blessed with good genes and high cheekbones, had the luxury of being the only one onstage besides Oprah who hadn’t yet gone under the knife. And the clips of Diane Sawyer, Susan Sarandon, Alfre Woodard and Annie Lamott were reassuring in that they at least had faces that sort of looked their age. Sela Ward is one of those types who never ages. At least she didn’t look like it.

The week before, Oprah had Annette Bening on. Bening, who is clearly allowing old age to have its way with her face and neck, talked about how much she liked getting older in terms of her own wisdom but also she didn’t seem particularly bothered by her wrinkles.

When women drastically alter their faces, they lose perception of what they really look like to us, out there. We don’t ever look at a woman whose had an enormous amount of work done and say, “Wow, doesn’t she look great?” No, we whisper about how sad it is and how horrible she looks. So if it’s outward perception they care about, they’re losing that game.

Beauty is such an elastic word. Everything that is beautiful about Nora Ephron comes out of her mouth from her lovely brain. She is spectacularly funny, wise and smart. Why would that ultimately add up to being dismissed for having a wrinkled neck?

If show business doesn’t want women when they get old, then they ought to get out of show business. Perhaps age means evolution. It means change. It means seeing life and yourself differently. It means you aren’t going to make heads turn everywhere you go. It means you aren’t going to get acting parts younger babes are getting.

What is this load we American women have been fed about youth being something we all should strive to attain? Youth is something we pass through on our way to bigger and better things. Yes, it’s a definite drag when things start to drop. Yes, discovering new lines can be traumatic. Grey hair, horrifying. The truly horrifying thing, though, is how looking young is the new normal.

Try watching TV in other countries, specifically Great Britain where women are allowed to grow old. Older women star in prime time over there – their maturity makes them desirable. Over here, women like Ephron, Priscilla Presley, Diahann Carroll and other slaves to Botox continually advertise the idea that there is something wrong with aging.

Of all people to send the wrong message, Oprah did her audience a disservice last week. We faithful Oprah watchers have long appreciated Oprah’s quest for our authentic selves; accepting ourselves as we are, especially as we age. It would have been nice if her desire to please her celebrity panel had not outweighed her ultimate message.

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