Category Archives: Aging

Tears for Bridget Jones

Zellweger before

Zellweger before

Everybody’s talking about Renée’s face. Part of me—the self-righteous, PC part—is thinking, here we go again: women scapegoating other women. When will the madness end? Why don’t we live our lives and leave each other alone? But honestly there’s another part of me, clicking on the gossip link along with everyone else, comparing Bridget Jones to modern day Renée, thinking, okay, I can see it, eyes a little wider, forehead a little stiffer, speculating on what exactly she had done, hanging on every word as the Hollywood nip and tuck experts weigh in.*

Why is it so fascinating when one woman—a woman in the public eye—changes her appearance? From Jennifer Lawrence’s hair chop to Jennifer Hudson’s weight loss, we can’t get enough. On one hand, many of us are tempted to do something daring with our hair, our noses or our necks.  Many of us fantasize about dropping a load of weight or adding new boobs. Celebrities have the cash, the time, the clout, the personal chefs and trainers to pull these things off. But there’s more to this woman-on-woman voyeuristic judgment than living vicariously through the stars.

There is also a subconscious—or in many cases conscious—identification with these famous women, perpetually on display thanks to their publicists and the paparazzi. Recent studies suggest that women who spend time on line, bombarded with images of Hollywood stars, feel worse about their appearances than those who spend limited time on fan sites. It may be natural for women to compare themselves to other women, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be destructive. That automatic impulse, honed since adolescence, makes us look at a female peer, then check ourselves. Am I ok? Do I measure up? It that peer is a celebrity, chances are you don’t measure up. Why should you? It’s not your job!

As we age, it should get a little easier. Self-acceptance should come into play as we learn to value ourselves for the things we accomplish, the women we are inside as opposed to our outward presentations. But the checking still happens.  Women in their seventies have Jane Fonda to contend with; women in my age range have Jennifer Aniston and Halle Berry as guides to “what’s still possible.” Demi Moore looks pretty fabulous too, as does Helen Hunt. How are the rest of us holding up? Unfair question.

“Well, she must have had work done.” It’s a comforting way to explain another woman’s physical age defiance. It’s helps us feel okay about aging appropriately and, in many cases, it’s true. Plenty of women, famous and otherwise, go under the knife. For every woman out there who swears she would never consider such a thing, there is another secretly contemplating it, checking out celebrity “before-and-after” pictures, holding them up to the mirror, wondering what if?

It’s my guess that Renée Zellweger had her reasons for doing whatever she either did or did not do. Whatever those reasons were, it was her business. Some critics say, yes, but as a celebrity, she’s a role model like it or not. If she was dissatisfied with her naturally adorable face—how are the rest of us supposed to feel about our own?  I say, if Renée thought she had crows’ feet starting and sought to nip them in the bud, so be it.  To say that she abandoned me and other women with burgeoning wrinkles is like saying that Jennifer Hudson abandoned plus-sized women when she dropped her weight. We are talking about Renée’s eyes, not mine.

Other critics say, By removing her imperfections, Renée has lost her charm! Now she looks like everyone else in Hollywood. Again, they’re her eyes, to make as commonplace as she sees fit. Maybe Renée did have surgery because she couldn’t love the imperfections that gave her so much character. Or maybe she thought surgery would help her maintain what everyone loves about her. She can’t win. Her face and body—like those of all stars—are part of the public domain.

So, mourn if you will for hapless Bridget Jones, but leave Renee in her round-eyed peace. And swear off toxic comparisons to anyone you see online–Facebook friends included. Take comfort in the knowledge that the image you see in your mirror is beautiful because it is belongs to no one but you.

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*No post that touches on the topic of plastic surgery would be complete without homage to the late, great Joan Rivers, the brilliant, ground-breaking comedienne and tireless plastic surgery enthusiast. I am sure I am not alone in wishing Rivers were still alive—if only to weigh in on the burning topic of Renee’s new face.

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Here come those Crickets Again!

You hear them don’t you?    As evening falls: brreet, brreet, brreet!  The broken up, rhythmic brreeting, at once comforting—it happens this way every year and there’s something to be said for consistency—and disheartening: summer is ending!  Fall is coming!

Don’t confuse their song with the spiral-sounding, siren wailing of the cicadas up in the trees: a long low, buzzing, unbroken, getting higher, higher, more and more shrill, as if someone is swinging a pygmy cat with a kazoo around by the tail—then it stops.  Silence.  Then it starts again, low to high to silence.  Cicada song goes on for the better part of the summer anyway; you hear it during the day.  I associate it with heat and humidity, because that’s what summers are like where I’m from.   Cricket song comes at night.  Brreet, brreet, breet!  And you know just what they mean:

Brreet, brreet, brreet! Grab those last rays of summer, those last days at the shore, over the grill, over drinks with the far-flung relatives whose kids don’t have the same vacation schedule as yours so you won’t get to see them unless someone’s willing to travel on really major holidays.  Brreet, brreet, brreet!  Grab the back-to-school supplies in a hurry: remember how last year you couldn’t find a single pencil sharpener anywhere in your county?  Make your kids try on their old school clothes; make up a bag for good will; find those lunch boxes and see if nothing can be done about the stickiness in hers or the eerie smell in his.

Brreet, brreet, brreet!  I think with nostalgia about Chester Cricket of The Cricket in Times Square, the wonderful 1960 children’s book by George Selden (illustrated by the incomparable Garth Williams, who also illustrated E.B. White’s Stewart Little and Charlotte’s Web among others).  Chester is a country cricket, who—due to a series of picnic snafus, winds up living in the Times Square subway station—where he is befriended by the resourceful, liverwurst-loving Tucker Mouse and the honorable, if wily, Harry Cat.  Chester, adopted by little Mario Bellini (whose parents own the newsstand inhabited by Tucker), is soon discovered to be a deeply talented musician, able to whip off symphonies any time he is inspired, giving one impromptu concert after another.

I’m nostalgic for Chester, not only because my mother read me the story so many years ago, but also because it seems a very long time since I read the story to my own children.  My littlest, Theo, my baby boy, will turn nine at the end of this month.  Funny, when the crickets start singing each year, that’s often my reminder to start planning his birthday party.

Theo at three with a special friend

Theo was already a big fan of Tucker and Harry when I read him Cricket.  He was also interested in music, so the story meant even more to him.  Chester could touch people with the power of his song, even though he was so tiny and, in other ways (being a bug), fairly powerless.  I think, being such a small boy at the time, Theo liked the idea of music magnifying the person playing it.   I think he still does.  Though it can be tough sometimes to get him to practice, he’ll frequently remain at the piano long after he’s finished what I’ve asked him to play.  Theo can spend hours banging out dark, heavy chords, rain-like runs and arpeggios that roll like waves.

“Did you like that?” He’ll say.  “That one was called Midnight.”  Another is Halloween.  Theo’s musical compositions tend to be minor and haunting with names like the above.  (Lately, he’s been working out the Harry Potter movie theme by ear.) He loves playing, even if he’d rather do it only when the mood strikes.

“The only reason you’re making me practice,” he roared at me once, “is because you like how it sounds!”

The truth is that I do like how it sounds though, of course, that’s not the only reason I make him do it.  I make him do it because he’s good.  He’s got something that he’ll be able to do long after he’s done playing basketball and tennis and all the other sports he loves.  Something he can do when it’s raining or when he wants to impress someone or just feel good playing on his own.  Something beautiful and consistent and reliable.  Like the crickets.   And there they are again.

Brreet, brreet, brreet!   Your baby is nine!  You’re not getting any younger either!  Brreet, brreet!  There it goes, another beautiful summer!  Brreet!  Here it comes:  another fall.