Actually, grey hair aside, I was always told I looked young for my age during that time. When I was auditioning for ingenue roles in my twenties, I was often cut immediately for being the wrong type. The casting director would explain that I looked far too young to play a twenty year old. I was always carded when I bought alcohol, even after I turned thirty. Then one day, overnight, everything changed. I had my I.D. in my hand when I was buying a bottle of wine at the grocery store, ready to present it to the cashier when the register prompted her to enter my birthdate. But she didn't ask for it. Instead, she looked from her register to my face, paused a beat, then hit a button that apparently just said "OLD," and the scan was complete. I joked about it with Alan when I got home, but I have to admit, it stung a little bit.
Lately, I've been noticing a whole lot more of the "sliding" happening regarding my aging. I look at pictures of myself that were taken on our recent vacation trips, showing us at events for which I got especially "dolled-up." When we bring the camera home and plug it into the computer, I'm a little shocked at the appearance of the image staring back at me on the screen. When did those large bags under my eyes get there? The real frightening pictures are the shots taken of my profile. This is when I can gaze, horrified, at the "wattle" forming under my chin, along with the two "jowly things" framing it on either side. Who is that old lady?
Don't get me wrong, I'm not one of those people that's had to rely on looks to get anywhere in life. I've never, ever been considered "The Prettiest Girl in the Room." When people are asked to describe me, they usually use adjectives like, "Perky," "Effervescent," or "Loud." No one ever leads-off with "Beautiful." I once scored an interview with a casting director for a soap opera after I sent her my picture and resume, one a week, for several months. She eventually called me, exasperated, and said, "I can now wallpaper my entire office with your face. If I meet with you, do you promise to stop mailing your picture to me?" The first thing she noted when I sat down across the desk from her that day was, "Well, you're not pretty enough to be a lead. I see you more as a 'Best Friend of the Attractive Girl' type." After our brief interview, she never called again. I guess I wasn't appealing enough to even be considered "The Ugly Best Friend" in Soap Opera World!!
But, honestly, I'm really OK with that. I've always felt a little sorry for the Loni Andersons and Suzanne Sommers of the world, who's careers depended solely on how gorgeous they appeared. Once the aging process began, there really wasn't any work for them anymore. I knew I had to rely on my TALENT, not my looks, and talent was pretty ageless, as far as I could tell. Still, those pictures of myself really bugged me.
I always cringe when I see older actresses who cling to their youth by any means necessary. They dye their hair bright orange, paint their eyebrows on, and wear clothing found in the junior departments, all in the attempt to appear young. They get that face-lift procedure that leaves them with that permanent "surprised" expression that scares young children. Then, eventually, finally, they seem to give-in to gravity, stop fighting the inevitable and just start accepting the "grandma roles" instead. They always appear so much more relaxed, in my opinion, when they just stop fighting and accept that they are no longer twenty.
But lately I've wondered if, for all these years now, deep down, I've actually believed that I could somehow "dodge" my own imminent aging process. "After all, I eat healthy and exercise," I told myself, "surely THIS will magically keep the wrinkles and sagging at bay, right?" Wrong. Today I went to get a passport photo taken for upcoming travel. Since I knew I'd be living with this photo for several years, I made sure to put some real effort into my appearance. I curled my hair, applied full make-up, and picked just the right blouse and jewelry. I arrived at our local Walgreens and stood against a white screen while the man snapped my picture. Then, he fed the photo card into a machine and we both watched as my image slowly appeared on it's large computer screen. My friends, this was, BY FAR, the worst picture I have ever seen of myself. There, displayed on that gigantic screen, sat a middle-aged, jowly faced grandma with puffy eyes, flat hair, and too much make-up. I tried to cheer myself up on the drive home by saying things like, "Well, at least the immigration officers at the airports won't be hitting on me!" That thought was soon replaced with, "Is it time to just give up?"
My friend Stasha is an incredibly gifted author who keeps a fantastic blog of her own called "The Dogged Pursuit of Happiness." It's filled with several observations regarding her ongoing quest for joy and contentment in this life. It's brilliant, funny and honest, and I love it! One of my favorite entries of late is the hilariously titled, "Beauty i$ Just Grand..." In it, she reveals how much money she spends each year on beauty maintenance; leg waxing, manicures and pedicures, hair salons, and face creams. She deduces that she forks over upwards of $10,000.00 total each year. She asks the readers who would judge this is as outrageous to take a trip to their local Walmart Superstore. She instructs them to get a good eyeful of all the people there that have simply "given up" on their appearance, then tell her she's being too extravagant. Stasha makes a fantastic point, and I've decided that I agree with her 100%. We work on (and pay for the upkeep of) our appearance for the sake of our spouses as well as our own feeling of self-worth, and I think both are equally vital.
But I feel as though I'm hitting a bit of a "grey area" here (pardon the pun). How far am I from giving up, or how close am I to orange hair and painted eyebrows? I've decided to try and find the happy medium between both. My Grandma Simmons had a fantastic, enormous wattle, with swinging upper arm fat to match. Yet, she still powdered her nose and put on lipstick every time she stepped out in public. I know my neck will resemble Grandma's someday, but I've decided to take my time getting there. I plan to give Father Time a little bit of resistance in the meantime. My hope is that I will be able keep my maintenance realistic, however, and avoid entering fluorescent hair and leopard leggings territory. Before Margie found that silver strand on my head, I had decided I was never going to be what I considered a "fake," and dye my hair. After that first one was plucked, I began making routine coloring appointments. The dying continues to this day, and you can bet it will for years to come. I have also said in the past that I would never undergo facial plastic surgery. I must tell you, the more I see that wattle flapping in the breeze in those pictures, the closer I am to scheduling a few appointments!
But listen, someday in the future, when we're all rocking away on the front porch of our nursing home together, will you do me a favor? It's going to be really tough, but I need you to somehow find the courage within yourself to lean over to me, pat my hand, and say, "Joan, my dear, you're ninety. Seriously, it's time to knock it off with the bright auburn highlights and the triple berry luscious lip gloss, for cripe's sake!" I'll resist you, that's a given. But, for everyone's sake, please be strong!
Thanks for reading!!