ELIZABETH DAY OUTED ME ON SOCIAL MEDIA
In a post promoting her latest bestselling book, FRIENDAHOLIC, my dear friend Elizabeth Day referenced my age. It was an Instagram post introducing a section of her book she intended to read aloud. (I live in Los Angeles, and it isn’t out here yet, so I’ve yet to read it). To be accurate, she referenced my decade vs. my actual age.
I was mortified. Embarrassed. Shamed and ashamed.
The good part is I recognize my reaction is FUCKING bonkers! If a friend cares enough to write about you and help promote your bloody classes all over the internet, disloyalty is not what comes to mind. This age gap apparently isn’t an issue for her.
What makes me so neurotic? Being Jewish can’t explain everything!
Possible origin story: My mother was considered a “great beauty.” Nobody ever met her without commenting on her good looks. When she was young, I’m told, she could stop traffic. She bore a striking resemblance to Hedy Lamar. As far back as I can remember, my mother obsessed about aging and losing her looks. She went so far as to lie about her age, hardly unusual. The unusual part was she only knocked off ONE YEAR!!! She couldn’t admit her real age, but she didn’t have the nerve to stray too far from the truth. She would assure me, with absolute conviction, that if my hair looked good everything else would fall into place. Appearances, literally and figuratively, mattered most. Until she died, at 84, she was still getting compliments on her looks, and cries of incredulity when people discovered her age.
My mother criticized me relentlessly, warning me if I gained weight, I was going to end up looking like my aunts, who happened to be obese. Medically obese. No number of compliments I received eliminated my poor self-image. Growing up, my father, an amateur photographer, constantly photographed me. I hated it. Nobody has more photographs and movies of themselves from birth to age 18 than I do.
My insecurity plagued me long after my mother was out of the picture. Now, when I look back at photos of my younger self, I cannot believe I thought I was fat or unattractive. Apparently, I’ve always been delusional. I’ll never get those years back! People no longer comment on how young looking or how good I look for my age. Adding insult to injury is having to constantly post pics and videos of myself to promote Storytelling Lab. It’s like being stuck in purgatory with my father and his bloody camera.
Living in Los Angeles, the heart and soul of the entertainment industry, aging is virtually a stigma or character flaw. I’m surrounded by women who begin altering their appearance in their late 20s. The theory being the earlier you begin a regime of Botox, fillers, etc. the more natural it’ll appear. I spend far more time worrying about my sagging skin than I do about my imminent demise. I’m a sucker for click bait promising me brighter or tighter skin. The minute I hit “save for later”, I start beating myself up for being such a sucker “at my age.”
Blaming my mother’s vanity, Hollywood, fashion magazines and sexism for my abhorrence to aging, doesn’t ease my insecurity about my appearance. I spend an inordinate amount of time bemoaning my face which, according to one Beverly Hills plastic surgeon, is “collapsing.” I have NO intention of getting a facelift, but every three or four years have a “consultation” with a plastic surgeon. Why? Because I’m nuts. I must be hoping someone will tell me what I want to hear. “You look like you’re 40.”
My early 30s. If I only knew then what I know now.
Other than a bout of breast cancer 19 years ago, I’ve been healthy. When my treatment ended, I vowed never to focus on superficial bullshit like appearance. I walked around BALD!! And fat. I was only one of the ten percent of women who gain weight during chemo. I packed on the pounds expecting to purge them up. I’m still waiting. When my hair grew back, my insecurities came with it.
The irony is I’m an old soul. Even as a child, I was drawn to elderly people. Nothing made me happier than hanging out on Saturdays with grandparents. At family gatherings, I’d listen to my aunts and uncles’ conversations rather than play with cousins. I’ve always had close friends’ decades older than me. I remember as an eight or nine-year-old meeting a couple in their 60s, the Mellons, my grandparents’ age. They fell in love with me and vice versa. Their song was Frank Sinatra’s version of “Young at Heart”, and they were. They embodied everything I wanted to be. I vowed to be like the Melons: ageless. I’ve never judged people by their age with one exception: I judge me. I catch an unexpected glimpse of myself in the mirror, I’m gob smacked. What made me think I wouldn’t get crepey skin or a sagging jawline?
I don’t feel different energy wise than I did in my mid 20’s. And despite my neuroses, I’m more willing to challenge and explore things I wouldn’t have considered twenty or thirty years ago. I took up painting eight or nine years ago and am now considered “professional” because I’ve sold quite a few pieces and been part of several gallery shows. Most meaningful of all is Storytelling Lab which I created during the pandemic. I wouldn’t have believed twenty years ago that helping other people find their voice would be so personally rewarding. I’ve come to appreciate how much I know about writing and the creative process. But even that has an underpinning of anxiety. I fear if people know “the truth” they won’t want to attend my classes. What could a wrinkled woman know? She couldn’t even prevent herself from showing visible signs of aging! As if after seeing me on Zoom or in person, they haven’t already figured out I’m old!
In June, I’ll hit a MAJOR birthday. I’ve been wrestling whether to openly acknowledge my age or let the word “major” speak for itself. I realize NOBODY gives a shit. But in my distorted mind, embracing the number, is the final nail in my coffin. I’ll be old. Recently, another British writer friend, whom I’ve known for the last 20 years, said to me. “You’re always saying you’re old. I don’t even know how old you actually are.” When I told her she gasped and said, “You really ARE old.” And it’s fucking true.
Thank you, Elizabeth. Your innocent comment helped me finally grow up. Face my face as it is today with the knowledge it won’t look better tomorrow. Confronting reality makes me focus on how fortunate I am to have lived this long, a privilege denied many of my friends. As much as I loathe “ageism”, I nonetheless practiced it on myself the way other people practice meditation.
June 17th I’ll be 75 years old. There. I said it. If you think less of me because of it, it’s your problem. I’m so fucking lucky to have lived this long. And I’m just getting started! I have plenty yet to do/see. I’m looking forward to the next 75 years. (Told you I was delusional).