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Cheryl and Zoe

New Global Family:

Cheryl and Zoe’s Stories

By Cheryl Paley

What’s wrong with this picture?

i’m beginning to lose patience with a catch phrase, popular over the past few years and bandied about all too frequently regarding the aging process: “40 is the New 30.”  No, it’s not.  40 is the New 40.  Period.  I don’t deny that, as a whole, as a culture, we are more health conscious and have more awareness about how to increase our longevity, and better avoid what may bring on an earlier demise.  And so, many of us age later and more gracefully.  There are well established guidelines - smoking - bad – exercise - good.  Too much junk food - bad – chocolate (in moderation) – good, very, very good.  That’s the good news. 

We know the drill, we understand the biology, but still the obsession with young vs. old persists and grows and grows.  “Young looking” – yes, yes, very, very good – “Old looking” – uh, uh, no no no, not good.  Wrinkles and lines – very, very bad – sleek, toned, firm skin - good, very, very good.  By some standard bearers, even 30 isn't so good any more.  I work with actors in their 20s and the other day one of them said, “Did you hear the news about Beyonce???  Turns out she’s (pause for effect) – 30!”  There was a collective hush, and a thoughtful and sympathetic shaking of heads at this horrifying revelation.  “They told us she was 18 when she started but she was really (another pause) 24!!!”  So suddenly, 30 is the New 60?  What’s wrong with this picture?

There is some hope on the horizon for the 60 yr. olds, however.  Last week there was a widely circulated Internet story about “that old guy who looks young.”  And with the story comes a picture of a 65 yr. old gentleman who has been “enhanced” by growth hormones and extreme workouts to look buff and “hot.”  It’s actually a little creepy if you ask me.  You look at this guy with body builder abs and tight butt, no wrinkles and something is amiss.  What’s wrong with this picture?

I think many of us have, by now, seen the naked pictures of Jennifer Aniston at 40.  She looks great – airbrushed or not, she just looks totally awesome.  My problem is that she has been put in a position where she has to prove how great she looks at “gasp” – 40?  But I understand.  And stirred up as I may be, I am no better than anybody else out there when it comes to fending off the self-conscious ramifications of institutionalized, ageist thinking. 

While I have always been somewhat blessed to have a mother with great skin pass on some of those genes, I, too, notice every change, take note of every expanding inch and deepening line because none of us are immune to the relentless pressure to hide the inevitable changes that come with our maturing bodies.  With all the horror around us, wars, political corruption, and a litany of disease scenarios, one would think aging would be joyously and jubilantly celebrated. 

Yeah, yeah, yeah, we all say that, but we don’t support it, not in any really meaningful way.  American Idols get younger and younger every year; pretty soon they will be 12.  Miley Cyrus is on the verge of “has been” at 16 and Britney, in her late-20s has now reinvented herself more than once.  

We have been sold a bill of goods in order to keep industries going that sell a bill of goods – eye creams, hair color, skin regenerating potions, more, more, more.  All so we can keep pretending that the most precious gift we have – our continuing lives – aren’t really continuing?  What’s wrong with this picture? 

And so we fill in, smooth out, aerobisize, botox-ify, moisturize, lift, tuck, cleanse, regenerate and billions and billions of dollars continue, and will continue, even in this compromised economic climate, to be spent, mortgaged away and indebted to pay for the scam. 

I have no answers, just questions.  Like, how do we honor the years we have spent learning, growing, fighting, experiencing, thinking, yearning, nurturing and achieving?  How do we love our wrinkles, our lines, our expanding waistlines and dimpled skin in a culture where all we see is that it is bad, bad, bad – very bad?  How do we allow the “real” picture to be beautiful without any airbrushing?  If there’s “something wrong with the picture” how do we take a new one…


PS – This article is dedicated to my mother Adele’s Emeritus Humanities group in the suburbs of Chicago – the feistiest, most alive, vibrant group of girls out there – who continue to do all of the aforementioned learning, growing, fighting, experiencing, thinking, yearning, nurturing and achieving in their 70s, 80s and 90s – you go girls!

Cheryl Paley is a theatre director, writer and mother to Zoe, born in Guatemala.  She is Artistic Director for The NiteStar Program ( and continues to love writing her column, The New Global Family, every month for IF Magazine.

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