Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Letís face it


When I saw the movie "The Kids Are All Right," I was not only mesmerized by the frank and truthful acting but by the appearances of the film's heroines, who have joined my list of admirable older Hollywood actresses who dare to look their age. Whether or not Julianne Moore and Annette Bening have had "work" done on their faces remains a private matter, but I doubt they have spent much time under the knife. I noticed sagging chins and facial wrinkles, certainly, but I saw the strength and maturity that continues to show through and infuse their brilliant performances. Hurrah also for the magnificent Carole King, who reminded us in her concert with James Taylor last summer of the amazing beauty of a woman who knows herself at any age.

I am not arguing per se against surgery that enhances one's looks and corrects "defects" or one's appearance in a society that adores youth and beauty. That would be hypocritical. I might be more tempted if I could afford it or had some overwhelming reason to willingly invite surgery, but I'm not. I had a knee replacement two years ago and don't care to undergo that kind of invasion ever again unless it's necessary for me to live a fuller or longer life.

When I lived in Malibu in the 1970s, I knew a beautiful, vibrant 30-year-old woman who was married to a then-famous sports figure. When divorce seemed imminent, she underwent several drastic surgeries in a futile attempt to keep her man: breast augmentation, a facelift, tummy tuck, and liposuction. What bothered me most at the time, as I was her age, was that she was doing this to continue attracting a man with shallow values. I wonder, for example, at the horrible example in the new reality show where brides compete to get plastic surgery before their weddings. Are they in love with men who don't already find them irresistible? What happens when their brides' bodies change with childbirth or the inevitable processes of life?


When I was 19, my mother suffered the loss of a brother and sister within a year. Suddenly, from my perspective, she started to show her age: Lines of grief etched her lovely face. I wrote a poem about it at the time, a kind and loving poem that nonetheless hurt her feelings. She had a sense of pride in her appearance: She stood tall, dressed elegantly, always showering and refreshing herself before dinner and my dad's arrival home, bought lavish hats whenever she was depressed, piled her long prematurely platinum white hair in perfect chignons and emanated an aura of grace and dignity. She seldom smiled for cameras, probably because she wasn't happy with her teeth. I adored her and tried to emulate her sense of dignity and glamour.

Yes, my mother had an ego, and yes, I, too, find myself occasionally unduly involved with my appearance (I don't like looking in mirrors anymore), but what makes her memorable to me and those who loved her was her generous and affectionate heart. My home was always filled with loving people; we always hugged each other and expressed our love, and she was my best support. In October, I visited my mother's 95-year-old cousin Tommie in Lacey, Wash. She is sprightly (that's a word only applied to the elderly), articulate and unbearably sweet. She told me stories of my mother I had never before heard. During the Depression, as many as four other family members at a time lived in my parents' home. They were a young married couple but welcomed any sisters, brothers, cousins and in-laws who needed a place to stay. I had also noticed how she and my father helped girls through college, adopted a 17-year-old who died two years later of tuberculosis, and unfailingly kept their door and table open to all. Tommie stated something I had always articulated: How sad that my mother couldn't have enjoyed being a grandparent, as she would have been the best! It warmed me to know my instincts were shared.

I would trade anything to look once again into her lined face, as I did when she died at the age of 59, to touch her fragile skin and to kiss her and tell her how much I love her and the legacy she left me of a loving spirit.

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