Thursday, May 22, 2008

Prime Time

I was walking with some neighbors when the subject of another neighbor’s girlfriend came up. It was agreed that she was a pain in the ass and none of us really understood why. She was pretty and smart yet somehow her runaway insecurity drove her to posture, snub and be an all-around bitch. I didn’t get it.

Turns out one of the neighbors I was walking with had dated said bitch many years before.

“Like twenty years ago. You know, when she was smokin’ hot.”

I made a sound of protest. Was she somehow less than smokin’ now? The girl looked like a model to me, save her ugly personality. He must have interpreted my squawk as a note of jealousy because he then continued:

“Like you were, I’m sure. You used to be smokin’ hot too, right?”

Thankfully, we arrived at their house at that moment and said our goodbyes. Otherwise I might have strangled him.

I work hard to keep fit and improve myself. To me the bone structure of my face has become more elegant that when I was say thirteen and still padded with baby fat despite being lanky as a reed. I consider myself to be continually improving. “Used to be” isn’t part of my equation.

As I waved goodbye, I was torn between outraged and embarrassed. Here I am thinking I am in my prime. Am I actually past it? Have I become like the cougar bar owner in our neighborhood who is pushing fifty but still shops at Forever 21? I’m an advocate of graceful ageing. I just didn’t think I had to do it yet.

When I was thirteen, I was scouted by Elite modeling agency. Since then I’ve taken for granted that I got lucky in the genetics lottery when it comes to looks. I walk into venues and events with confidence. Sure, there are little starlet types here that are younger than me (and usually generically blonde), but they’ve got nothing on me. And besides, I’m far more interesting than they could possibly be at their tender ages. I have lived some. I have wisdom, wit, finesse…seasoning.

At thirteen I was more interested in school than pursuing a modeling career but I always assumed it would be something I could come back to. Besides, dad wasn’t up for driving me to modeling jobs so the rule was when I turned sixteen and could drive myself, I could go sign up with Elite. By the time I got my license, I was on a college track and thought I’d pick it back up later. No one told me most models’ careers peak between thirteen and eighteen.

Then life happened and I only got around to knocking on Modeling’s door again in my early thirties. I had just moved to LA from my mountain town and was still passing for mid-twenties. I had a friend take some shots of me and made the rounds of the LA agencies. In every case I was told I was too old. And too fat. At six feet and a size eight, the fat comment underscored just how warped the modeling world is. But too old?! One agency suggested I try their classics department. They were sure I’d be a great fit there. In case this is a new term for you “Classics” means old people. Like the attractive seniors advertising your Depends. Seriously? I feel a bit young to be hawking arthritis cream.

Needless to say, my lookist LA wake-up call was loud and clear. My chances at being the next Cindy Crawford were gone with the wind. But still, I didn’t think that instantly made me old hag material.

Cut to present day. I no longer pass for mid-twenties, thanks to the stress of clawing out a Hollywood existence…except to my teen students who aren’t sure how old I am but recently asked if I was in fact over twenty-five. Bless them!

And now my well-intentioned (but still possibly deserving of strangulation) neighbor informs me my days of regular person attractiveness are also behind me. Who died and made this fifty-something guy the beauty authority? As much as I would like to reject his judgment out of hand, it slowly dawns on me his perception is probably more in line with the rest of the world’s than mine is. How sad that the beauty that matures with women is so easily overlooked.

I guess now I can look forward to becoming invisible; a strange phenomenon my over-forty friends tell me about. Neat. Maybe when I’m sixty I’ll try again for those modeling agencies classics divisions. I’ll be the great invisible grand dame. At least no one will notice if I take all the cookies from craft services.

*UPDATE*

I was just showing high school photos to a thirty-something male friend.

“Wow, you were beautiful,” he declared, a little too surprised. Then he looked at me as though searching for traces of that leggy girl in the 80s pegged jeans.

There’s that “were” again. So there you are: to men the pinnacle of female beauty is sixteen years old. I guess it’s silly that I should be so surprised by this when our culture so wholeheartedly enforces unrealistic and youthful beauty standards. But I am surprised because I feel my girlfriends and I have only gotten better with age. My mom is more beautiful now in her sixties than she was in her forties. I thought everyone else could see it too.

The upside is that now our beauty becomes something for us to own. I don’t need to put on lipstick for anyone else. I can get dressed up for me and damn anyone else’s opinion. I’m kind of liking that freedom and centered selfness. Is this what they mean by ageing gracefully?

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3 Comments:

Anonymous Mutant Poodle said...

I wouldn't, as a man, say that the "pinnacle of female beauty" is 16 - although there are probably good biological reasons for the attraction. But there is a big difference between the biological and the emotional.

I always told my twenty-something female friends as they were hitting their 30s that I thought women were much more attractive in their thirties than their twenties. I think it has a lot to do with becoming comfortable in your own skin. (I think men go through the same process, although there isn't the cultural bias toward 16 year old boys as the pinnacle of male beauty, and society values things in men besides looks, and it hasn't quite figured that out with women yet.)

Two more things. First, when you're a six-footer, you're never invisible. My grandmother was 5'11", and her bearing commanded attention as long as she lived.

And second, if you do strangle your neighbor, a jury with enough women on it will at least hang, if not acquit.

8:32 AM  
Blogger Fun Joel said...

Hey babe! Thanks for popping by. Was great to see you as well, and would love to hear your stories when we grab that drink. (And thanks for the ride home.)

That being said, I don't know what you looked like when you were 16, so I have no idea how pretty you were or were not then. But I can tell you you look fabulous now, and we both know a certain guy who would definitely agree with me! Don't let some idiot neighbor in his 50s cloud your judgment, and don't even dare of assuming his view is the standard for today's men!

6:18 PM  
Anonymous monica said...

My plan is to be so staggeringly interesting that no one notices my outsides:)

I think you "exude" and so will therefore never be invisible to anyone who isn't so focused on themselves that they never look outside.

Great finding your blog!!!!

6:24 PM  

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