Forever young? On refusing to embrace the age we are

Renee Zellweger's appearance last week prompted a slew of feedback, most of which was snarky or downright cruel.  But beyond the superficial reactions to the celebrity's different facial features--Which plastic surgeries had she had performed?  How much Botox did she receive?--there circulated commentaries about the type of beauty for which Zellweger stood,how she sold out--or American women thought she sold out--to mainstream beauty standards.

We can talk about the unrealistic ideals to which female bodies are held.  Female bodies are to look like pre-adolescent figures--small and lithe and fragile and straight--and yet still to have huge breasts and curvaceous hips.  They are not to wrinkle or jiggle or sag or pucker but to be smooth and taught, as perfectly smooth and tight as a plastic figurine.  They are to be mysterious and sexy, yet ageless.  They are not supposed to get older but neither are they to be too young.  They are forever to be that seemingly perfect age of 21: sexually ready, adult, yet still fun, still a touch naive.

Every time a neighbor down the street smiles at us and we notice that her eyes don't move, we hear that nagging voice at the back of our heads, questioning what (or who) motivated her to so alter her face.  When the eight-year-old we teach in Sunday school makes a comment about being on a diet, we choke down our worried remarks.  At the doctor's office, as we flip through pages of trashy magazines that speculate about which actor had what work done, we force our minds to think about something else.  Our mothers or our friends or someone we know have been to a Botox party, and we wonder if next time, we'll be invited--and if we'll attend.

We don't want to think about the messed up images of beauty in our culture.  We would rather not think too hard about why we rub our faces with creams and potions and color our gray hairs and smooth our curves with Spanx because then the illusion all falls down.  We all get old.  We mature.  We cannot remain forever 21, no matter how hard we fight it.  Our medicines and magic formula moisturizers and advanced beauty technologies cannot stop the clock from ticking.

Maybe we can accept this.  It's nature's way.  But then we embrace it, while no one else does. We get older--we look 25 when we're 25, and 35 when we're 35, and 60 when we're 60.  But our friends and colleagues look 40 when they're 60--or maybe not 40 exactly, but not 60.  They look some kind of unrecognizable age.  They are ageless.

Perhaps that's Renee's story.  Perhaps she just got older without the assistance of plastics and poisons.  Or perhaps she got older with their help.  She looks different.  Not better, not worse, in my opinion...just different.  I hope that she did not feel compelled (whether consciously or subconsciously) by our societal standards to make herself look less like Renee and more like the airbrushed American woman we find on fitness magazine covers and in fashion spreads, but I have no way of knowing.  Nor is it my business or my point.

I want to live in a world where it is okay to look different as the years pass--a different that is marked by eye creases reminiscent of wisdom gained and smiles had, jiggles indicative of babies carried and chocolate pies savored, and freckles born by evenings spent dancing in the sunlight with loved ones.  That's the kind of different I seek.