People who are growing old worry about their appearance—and why not? Especially if they have too many mirrors in the house, which most of us do. Contemporary homes are littered with them, so that we can watch as our hair grays, our mid-sections spread, our skin wrinkles and dapples. And those are just the obvious things. There are all sorts of other happenings that are too embarrassing to talk about. When those of us in our golden years aren’t being told how to behave or which exercises to do or what to eat and what medicines to take, we hear about the diets and exercises that will improve our appearance—the hair implants, the wrinkle cream, the bleaching agents.
The reaction to turning old-looking varies from person to person. Women are almost always more self-conscious about it, but then they are throughout their lives. Men often assume they’re still attractive when they’re not. Except for shaving, when it’s convenient to focus on small areas of the face and ignore the broader visage and whole body, most men don’t spend as much time as women looking into mirrors.
I often wonder what it was like a two or more centuries ago when most households had a single mirror, if that. Many of the poor probably never saw themselves, except perhaps in a watery reflection in a bowl or pond. What did that do to their perceptions of themselves? Their perceptions of themselves growing older?
The art most nearly related to appearances is fashion, of course. Some people are better at it than others. Some make a good living at it. Unfortunately, it’s usually a celebration of the young, or of the old-trying-to-look-young. I recently saw the beginning of an Oprah interview with Raquel Welch who, at 69-going-on-70, looked like a still very sexy thirty-something. I found her personality less than stellar, but her honesty was refreshing. It took, she said, three hours to look this way, and then added something about the staff of beauticians, cosmologists, and Lord-knows-who, assisted in the process. All to look young, I thought. So sad. An almost-70 Raquel Welch, with those bones, would almost certainly be an elegant woman.
There’s something to be said for maturing and acquiring character. A recent issue of the New Yorker had a picture of a very young Clint Eastwood. To me he looked like every other handsome young man of 18 going on 25. On the opposite page was today’s Clint Eastwood—still handsome, but indubitably and uniquely himself.
There are people who turn others into art for a living, and themselves into works of art for the sheer joy of it. I’ve always enjoyed looking at them even though I’ve never had the knack. I enjoy them even more now when they’re old. Just take a look at the stylish oldsters at advancedstyle.blogspot. They’re wonderful to look at. They make me happy because all the possibilities are still there for those who care. The website is made by Ari Seth Cohen who walks the streets of New York City searching for older people with style. Chic people. Cool people. Just looking at them makes me feel better about growing older, and I find myself murmuring the same thing about the beautiful and fashionable that I have all my life. Who knows? Maybe I could look that way too!