Christie’s Fountain of Youth

America's Problem with Youth Obsession

Christie Brinkley is once again splashed across another tabloid with the all too familiar headline touting how she looks half her age or promising to give us her anti-aging “secrets.” As a middle-aged woman myself, my first reaction is, “Thanks, but no.” It’s just disconcerting to me to see a woman of 62 with long golden tresses, styled much the same as it was 30 years ago, with nary a wrinkle to be seen. Her unlined face and taught smile, while vastly attractive, repulses me nonetheless.

There is a certain expectation that at some point in time, we own the skin we are in and begin to accept that our youth is behind us. And this is not a bad thing, nor it is a bad thing to want to take care of our bodies and our appearance, but there is an invisible line that, once crossed, moves us into the pathetic zone.

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Not a supermodel myself, I can’t imagine the pressure Brinkley must feel to maintain her taught good looks, as this was her stock and trade as a top model. But when does it become sort of fetish to appear completely unlined in your 60s and remain a golden blonde?

And according to Brinkley herself, she works really hard at maintaining her youthful appearance and readily admits to having multiple cosmetic surgeries. But what really perturbs me is that she is blowing the perfect opportunity to remain active in her craft as an older model and do something that is meaningful. I mean, who doesn’t think Linda Rodin is stunning? And this woman works all of the time.

Linda Rodin. Photo credit: Rebecca Pollak

Linda Rodin. Photo credit: Rebecca Pollak

Surely the opportunity to model for the next 20 years would be more lucrative and satisfying than selling another skin care line none of us her age needs or wants. The media attention she has been receiving is doomed to be short-lived, as it is for any aging model or starlet. While the press may be fawning over her “youthful” appearance, it reads like the same tired capitulation to the youth-obsessed media to my old ears and it’s a waste of ink for anyone younger. Most Millennials don’t know who she is.

Brinkley is a strikingly beautiful woman who soared to popularity in the 70s and 80s as the face of CoverGirl and a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit cover model at a time in which women were fighting to be heard in the workplace and to be seen as more than sexual symbols and homemakers. And admittedly, I not only feel oddly perturbed at her insistence on remaining youthful, I am disappointed. The women of my generation broke so many barriers, fought so much sexism, and did so much to pave the way for young women today, that Brinkley’s quest for eternal youth feels a bit like personal betrayal.

The media’s  recent attention on Brinkley’s appearance is a go-to parlor trick when the news cycle is slow. They trot out photos of aging models or starlets and compare them to how they once looked in their dewy 20s, or worse, try to sell us another diet program or skin potion. Anyone over age 40 becomes the new target. It’s degrading and boring. This woman is so much more beautiful and interesting to look at that I fail to understand the media or Brinkley’s revulsion to aging.

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There is inevitably that time in a woman’s life when she becomes aware that she no longer turns all the male heads and begins to feel invisible as the bloom of youth fades, but for those of us who have made it to the other side, it is anything but depressing.

Youth is highly overrated in our cultural, particularly by the media. Becoming a middle-aged woman in America today is not for the faint of heart, particularly because aging is not acknowledged or celebrated. It can be a precarious time for us as we do go through a period of mourning our lost youth and coming to terms with the new bodies we are given seemingly overnight.

There is a five or so year period in our mid to late 40s where we can work really hard to maintain the illusion of a somewhat youthful appearance before it crosses over into something else entirely, that is, entirely contrived in a way that tends to age us more.

I liken it to that period between childhood and adolescence when everything just looks wrong and most of us are not our most attractive selves–at least not yet. And like the gangly prepubescent teen, our bodies and minds haven’t quite caught up to this new stage of development that mother nature and hormones are forcing upon us. But we do eventually cease to mourn our youth and make it to the other side, usually much more confident and happier.

And this brings me to my final point of why Brinkley bugs me. We need women who have walked the walk of self-acceptance to show us how it’s done. We need to see images of beautiful, graying, aging women in the media who inspire us not to give up but rather to embrace the changes this new beginning is foisting upon us. Aging with grace means giving dignity to the inevitable and being true to ourselves. It means acknowledging the roads we have traveled and the love and loss we have felt.  I’ll take an Iris any day of the week over Madonna or Christie, as I’ve outgrown them both.

Fashion icon Iris Apfel.

Fashion icon Iris Apfel.

The media is in the business of selling, and sex sells, which is why the tabloids are filled with nubile young women. American advertising has historically been bad at figuring out what middle-aged Americans want, other than skin care treatments, pharmaceuticals, and bad cruises. Until aging is accurately portrayed in the media, the youth obsession will continue and advertising dollars will chase young flesh.

The good news is that the vacuum of marketing to older people is being filled by alternative media through independent writers, thinkers, and artists, such as actress Monique Parent. Many entrepreneurs are using blogs, Instagram, YouTube, and Pinterest to reach and build their customer base, and I am hedging my bets that Iris Apfel’s clothing line through mainstream Macy’s will do well.

It’s a great time to be middle-aged in America, and I hope to see less Christies and more actors and models owning their age, but it won’t happen until these same people with means found and fund their own production and media companies. I would give my left eye to see a romantic comedy with actors and actresses in their 40s, 50s, and beyond. Not only was my generation made up of intrepid women business pioneers, we are not aging in traditional nuclear families, which presents enormous potential for marketers with vision. In the meantime, I’ll continue to cringe when I see Christie and pray that some time soon, Madonna will grow up or go away and come back old.

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