Aging Grace-fully: Staying Timeless in a Youth-Obsessed Culture
Posted on 17 June 2014
April 5, 1982 People Magazine:
People: How do you feel about the projected ABC TV movie biography about you?
Princess Grace of Monaco : Not very happy. I think that no one has the right to exploit what I have done—my name and my life and my career—without permission. All you have is your name and your reputation. When people try to take that away, you are naturally going to resist.
Biopics.......ugh. Most of the time, these attempts to dramatize the life of a beloved public figure simply fall flat. Most importantly, the actors can't capture the life, appeal and energy of the subjects they are trying to portray. It was literally painful watching Lindsay Lohan as Elizabeth Taylor, and even the very talented Naomi Watts gave an at best "lackluster" performance as Diana, the Princess of Wales. So, even though I loved Nicole Kidman in "To Die For", as soon as I heard she was cast in Grace of Monaco, I knew she wouldn't be able to convincingly project the life force that was Grace Kelly. It's has less to do with acting ability, or the direction, or even the script, and more to do with Princess Grace's indescribable presence. There is a reason why she and the other women mentioned are still considered icons - they are irreplaceable.
GRACE: a way of moving that is smooth and attractive and that is not stiff or awkward. (Merriam-Webster)
I can't think of a name more fitting than Grace for the woman who exemplified the very meaning of the word.
So how do we move from age to age with grace; in a smooth, attractive, fluid, non awkward way? What does it mean to "age gracefully" in a society obsessed with youth and resistant to anything resembling old age?
Google: "Actresses aging the most gracefully" lists online. It says a lot about us to see who makes those lists. Most of the time, women at the top of their lists have done nothing more to age gracefully than visit the best plastic surgeons for lasers, fillers, lifts and botox. In a youth obsessed culture, afraid of anything resembling getting older, it is no surprise that "aging gracefully" means no more than "still clinging to the way you looked 20 years ago."
Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against people doing whatever they want to do to in their own personal lives and with their own bodies. I am definitely not immune to cringing a little at new wrinkles, gray hairs, and ... let's just call it "less than toned skin." But we have taken things to such extremes that I think we've forgotten what the general idea of "aging gracefully" is supposed to mean.
I think we've forgotten the state of mind of aging. The focus on how we live, and the acceptance and gratitude that should accompany us on our journey through this life has been replaced with an unhealthy obsession on how we look along the way.
Whether we choose to blame the media, the internet, ads for anti aging products, celebrity idolatry, or simply on the comparisons we make with our peers, we now have extreme expecations about how we should look as we age. No one really talks about how much we have learned, how many books we have read, how many places we've visited, or how many lives we've changed. People are generally more interested in how good we look "for our age" at any given time.
"I'll tell you one of the reasons I'm ready to leave. When I first came to Hollywood five years ago, my makeup call was at eight in the morning. On this movie it's been put back to seven-thirty. Every day I see Joan Crawford, who's been in makeup since five, and Loretta Young, who's been there since four in the morning. I'll be god-damned if I'm going to stay in a business where I have to get up earlier and earlier and it takes longer and longer for me to get in front of a camera." Grace Kelly on leaving Hollywood.
Think about the first things we say when we haven't seen people in a while. "You look great!" "Wow, you haven't aged a bit!" "Have you lost weight?" We often think that the greatest compliment we can someone is to comment them on how they look. "It's so good to see you" isn't enough anymore.
Like promising fountains of youth, cosmetic surgery centers are now as common in strip malls as frozen yogurt and mattress stores. (As a side note, why ARE there so many mattress stores anyway)?? Approximately 10 billion dollars is spent in the United States alone every year on plastic surgery.
Even pregnancy has been hijacked by the appearance industry. There is a huge amount of pressure to gain as little weight as possible, look fabulous in your tight maternity clothes that reveal only a baby bump and not much weight anywhere else, and then, if that wasn't enough, you need to fit into your pre pregnancy wardrobe almost immediately after the baby is born. The emphasis isn't on strength, health, or the the experience, it's focused on looking good and refusing to let pregnancy change your body. The pressure is suffocating.
As we age, it's not just our bodies that change, something else is going on. We are living a life. We are experiencing joy, sadness, fear, anxiety, happiness, grief, delight, excitement, anger, anticipation and a myriad of other emotions. We are learning, discovering, feeling, growing, understanding, forgiving, and remembering. We are hopefully building a legacy of more than just a facebook & Instagram account full of attractive photos, or a shoe box full of photographs of us looking ever youthful for our age.
I love looking through photographs of Grace Kelly and see her timeless beauty and, yes, grace.
I think that aging gracefully has more to do with finding meaning in life than looking young. Embracing, not just accepting life at every stage brings us freedom. I find it really depressing to see mothers competing with their daughters or aging women trying to hold on to a certain time in their lives with so much desperation.
Maybe the obsession with looking young has been fueled by a fear of becoming irrelevant or forgotten in an ageist society. Youth obsessed masses now don't value senior citizens or give the elderly the respect they so richly deserve. That is something that needs to change - the willingness to admit that we can learn something from others who have lived a little longer is a sign of a much healthy society.
But back to Grace of Monaco, one of the other reasons biopics don't work is that they can't capture the spirit of the person they are portraying. There is something intangible about the essence of Grace Kelly that no actress could ever capture. I hope that we all have something beyond definition that is impossible to copy - none of us should have a life that can be easily summed up in two hours.
Someone once told me, "If you want to know what you value, take a look at your checkbook or debit card receipts." I value food if that's the case. Makes sense. But I believe it might be more accurate to say "If you want to know what you value, pay attention to what you think about most during the day." (I might still value food, I need to work on that). If you spend countless hours worrying about your skin, aging, your clothing, weight or anything related to your appearance, you might want to re-direct your focus.
I would love to press the pause button and make the world stop spinning for a few seconds. I just want people to stop for a second and take a deep breath and look around and see this thing we call life. You won't find it in the mirror, or the size 0 rack at the department store. It isn't at the make up counter at Nordstrom, the cosmetic surgery center or at the girl's night out botox party. Life is in the relationships we have with the people around us and in the experiences we have in the beautiful world in which we live.
I have a friend named Valerie who is one of the coolest people I know. She has an incredible sense of style, knows something about just about every subject, and is interested in everything and everyone. Valerie has a smile that lights up a room and she has a way of making me feel like I am someone extraordinary. (I'm not). She has the youngest heart of anyone I know and the oldest soul. I forget her age because she isn't defined by it. She has never had surgery, but her presence is so youthful that you don't even notice any signs of aging. She is over 65 and her energy inspires me to live life more fully and with more grace every time I see her. To spend a lifetime trying to look young robs us of life itself. Grace Kelly died at the young age of 52 - but I believe she lived her life as gracefully and fully as it appeared. I have no doubt that her family would have loved to have had the opportunity to see her grown old - gray hair, loose skin, wrinkles and all. Take a breath and stop looking in the mirror for a little while - you might be pleasantly surprised at the beauty you find all around you.