Monday, June 14, 2010

How Low Can You Go

I thought women over 40 were supposed to be more confident, more self-possessed, less concerned with the opinions of others. At least that's what Oprah keeps telling us.

To a certain extent, I've found that to be true of myself. I'm more willing to take chances than I was when I was younger, more willing to give myself permission to do what I want and be who I want, whether it's cool or not. Why, just the other day, I had my hair cropped short, all those other pony-tailed women be damned (an obsession Ms. O herself has caved to).

Then I watched the Tony Awards last night. Actually, because my husband was in the room with me, I flipped between the Tonys, the NBA finals and "Forrest Gump." I don't think I've ever seen Gump from start to finish because I'm pretty sure I would have remembered the part where little Forrest overhears his mom exchanging sex for educational services for her son. TV is like a box of chocolates--you never know what you're going to get, and this scene was like hoping for a caramel filling and biting into asparagus.

Anyway, back to the Tonys. This has to be the strangest award show on TV, in that most of the viewers have no first-hand knowledge of the nominees and/or winners. How many people attend the theater each year, much less Broadway? How many people, who think Hollywood is too liberal, went positively apopleptic at the sight of so many honorees thanking their "partners"? I suppose if you fall into this latter camp, you weren't watching the Tonys, you were sticking with Gump (and getting more than you bargained for there), or you were watching the Tonys, but only to get your daily dose of things to be pissed off about, which, clearly, the show delivered.

Me, I was watching because I love live theater and even if I'll never see a single Broadway production, I read all the reviews. (Reviews are like Cliff Notes for adults. I've never so much as skimmed a single page of "Harry Potter" or the "Twilight" series but thanks to reviews am fluent in both languages. Go Team Edward!) I was also watching because, as my husband would put it, there were dresses. Not necessarily on par with Oscar gowns, because Linda Lavin was a nominee not Charlize Theron, but fashion nonetheless.

And that brings me back to my original point, which I'd nearly forgotten amidst the Gump tangent. Cate Blanchett and Kristen Chenoweth. Chenoweth, 42 (almost), is a Broadway baby and former Tony winner, who also dabbles in TV and film. She played Glinda in "Wicked," but now more closely resembles a scarecrow. Blanchett, 41, is an Oscar winner who also dabbles in theater. More than dabbles, actually: she and her husband are currently artistic directors of the Sydney Theatre Company. She, too, looks like a scarecrow.

It's no secret that the vast majority of successful actresses are subject to insane requirements when it comes to body type, mostly so that they can fit into the pretty dresses that I tuned in to ogle and critique. But you would think--or at least I would think--that by the time these women reach a certain pinnacle in their profession, and a certain supposedly confident age, they would stop playing by the industry's rules and start making their own.

I'm not suggesting that they "let themselves go." I like the fact that women in their 40s, 50s and 60s (you go, Helen Mirren) are still considered attractive, in a way that they weren't twenty years ago. But I am suggesting that we need to adjust our opinion of attractive, which is to say that a 40-year-old Oscar winner shouldn't have to compete with this week's flavor of the 20-something month in the how-low-can-you-go on the scale sweepstakes. Speaking from personal experience, it's a lot harder after 35 to keep the pounds off. It scares me a little to think of what women like Blanchett and Chenoweth are doing to maintain their girlish figures (or not doing, which seems to be eating).

I don't know why we put celebrities on a pedestal. But we do. And as long as we do, we're going to take our cues from people like Blanchett and Chenoweth regarding what a women over 40 should look like. Which is why they owe it to us to look like a woman, a successful, confident, self-possessed woman. Not a scarecrow. And not a girl.


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