On "Aging Badly"
November 23, 2015
I don't normally click on tantalizing celebrity gossip presented by sites bearing the titles 'BoredomRUs' or 'LookatME', but I hadn't had my coffee yet, and, recently having had a rather large birthday myself, I found myself entering a site portaled by a figure of a fleshy woman in a tiny red white and blue flag bikini. "Celebrities who have Aged Horribly." It wasn't so much that I wanted to know who has aged horribly, so much as wanting to see what time has done with figures familiar to me from younger times in my own life, as a gauge to my own process. Probably that's why most people want to see things like this--not to think, egad! What a mess! (Although maybe some people do, schadenfreudenly.)
Most, I think want to simply explore the question--how do we age?
The funny thing about this photo essay, is that the celebrities in question haven't aged horribly at all. They have simply aged.
Gotten fatter, or smiled less. Some caught without makeup. All three is the best--like Kristie Alley, shown flipping off a photographer in her stout fifties.
And I realized what I was seeing here wasn't 'celebrities aging horribly', it was celebrity culture's terror of time, horror of being part of a natural process. This used to be called narcissistic terror, but even the term narcissistic has gone into a new phase--like 'privacy', for the opposite reason--narcissism having become invisible because near universal.
Oh, the narcissistic terror of the people who put this little slideshow together! 'My god, she's not as cute as she was at 20!' How could she let herself go like that?
I must admit, I got a good long laugh, scrolling through these before and after pictures, hearing myself say, "Yep, she got older." "Yeah, he put on weight." "Even a good-looking seventy year old looks like seventy without makeup." Keith Richards? I mean, the man's a poster-boy for the fully-lived life. Kate Moss? Wrinkles when she smiles! Brigitte Bardot?? Give the woman a break. Kittens become cats.
You can't freeze yourself like an embryo, kids. I hate to scare anyone, but this is what happens if you're lucky enough to stick around. You change. But change is not an emergency, it is not a failure.
One sub-theme did emerge though, perhaps the opposite one intended by these terrified narcissists. The harder certain of these celebrities tried to surgically stave off the effects of time in the body--which is life itself, after all--the stranger and more grotesque they looked.
I never did see the chick in the red white and blue bikini, but she actually looked like she was having a good time. Certainly better than the anorexic, anxious, age-shaming person who assembled this slideshow. When I was done scrolling, I felt surprisingly happy. 'Aging Badly' turns out to be just aging. You don't have to fight it, you don't have to do a thing about it. You want to feel good, keep calm and live your life. Nobody gets a grade on this.