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You can’t fake youth — don’t even try

By Gina Barreca, The Hartford Courant –

If you’re around my age, which can be defined as “too old for work-study but too young for cremation,” you might already know what I’ve only recently learned: you can pretend to be older but you cannot pretend to be younger.

And yet entire industries, magazine empires, advertising conglomerates and the global conspiracy of Spanx manufacturers are trying to convince women otherwise.

At one point, I loved looking older than my years. Didn’t we all once love not getting carded at bars when our friends were all digging around for their fake Id’s (“Um, I know it says I’m 5-foot-9 but I was wearing 7-inch heels at the DMV?”) because it meant we looked sophisticated? Didn’t we love when older men flirted with us, only to be surprised by our actual age because we sounded so much more mature? Wasn’t it funny to watch how the men then backed away really fast?

But after a while, the seeming-mature thing loses its potency for women. Just when guys reach the age where they’re becoming George Clooney, women are becoming his aunt Rosemary.

And just as there’s no female Cialis to sustain the elasticity of a woman’s cheery insouciance or, for that matter, firm her chin or bust-line, there’s no pill or placenta-based face cream to erase those fine lines. Maybe magic potions can help erase “the appearance” of those lines as the ads promise, but I never could understand what that phrase meant: do they fog up the vision of the person looking at you? How can “the appearance” change if the lines don’t?

(Who ever thought up placenta-based cosmetics, anyhow? I bet it wasn’t women. I bet there were a couple guys in a Madison Avenue office saying to each other “Hey, Benny, let’s see if we can get women to put — wait, wait — placenta on their faces!” “Nah, they’ll never do that.” “They will if we put it in small jars and charge a lot.”)

Can you imagine if Cialis or Viagra only helped “the appearance” of — oh, never mind. They would still be covered by medical insurance. And women would still be paying out-of-pocket for our own gall-bladder operations from coins we saved in a Folger’s can. Not that I’m bitter.

Look, in every person’s life, the curtain comes down on youth and goes up on middle age. There are no encores, except farcical ones performed by those who paid no attention to the curtain. If they’re genuinely happy, then good for them; if they’re trying too hard simply to appear happy, the hook is going to get them around the neck from the wings.

Ever see a much older person trying to act like a much younger person? Guys look like Mickey Rourke in that wrestling movie and women look the same, except with breast implants. It’s the stuff of comedy because it’s inherently absurd; it’s as silly or, in extreme cases, as obscene as a little kid in grown-up clothes.

As a teacher, I work with people in their early lives and there’s nothing like being around those in the blush of youth to remind you why the blush is there in the first place. I don’t envy my students their inexperience, even if I envy the fact that they can pull all-nighters, run 26 miles after eating a Happy Meal, and look good in cargo pants (whereas I simply look like cargo).

If I don’t wish to be in my 20s or 30s it’s because I know too well these gazelles are thinking “OH MY ACHING GOD I AM ALMOST 27 (insert any age below 38) AND WHAT I AM DOING WITH MY LIFE?” At least when you’ve hit middle age, you know what you’re doing. Even if you don’t like it, it’s familiar.

So next time you see a twenty-something walking down the street with her stabbing stilettos and perky perkiness remember that we can hold our heads higher than those heels.

We have the confidence that comes from knowing: how to pay our bills, how to wear our hair, how and when to leave them smiling. We now know ourselves. Why pretend otherwise? Chin up — a little higher — and here’s to erasing those fine lines of self-doubt.

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