Brand building through storytelling

The truth about looking younger

Once upon a time, when the Fab Four were still making music and airlines served hot meals in economy class (followed by free cigarettes), I did everything I could to look older. I practiced a world-weary gaze, lined my eyes with black mascara and wore outsize Mexican earrings that gave my round teenage cheeks an air of louche glamour. So I thought, anyway.

Rona Age 19 (3)First I counted on these tactics to get me into bars. With the addition of a bra, they got me into the publishing business in the dying days of the flower power era. I later traded my peasant skirts for a navy blue suit and positively reveled in my gravitas. By God, the guys in the boardroom would know I meant business!

I had always looked embarrassingly young for my years—latest-blooming breasts in my junior high class, most girlish new mother on the block. Strangers would exclaim, as they peered into my baby’s stroller, “You must be so proud of your beautiful little brother!” I thought I’d always have this problem.

Well into adult life, I swore I would never waste a nickel on expensive creams that purport to stop time. Easy for me to say—I was still getting carded. That changed soon enough. Next thing I knew, I had a cream for brown spots, a cream for wrinkles and a highly specialized potion, distilled from the petals of rare alpine flowers, for the “delicate tissues” around my eyes. I bought a ticket to a museum and was offered the seniors’ discount. Me, a senior? Hey, I’m only 57. I read the fine print: “seniors” were 55-plus. At last I’d achieved what once seemed impossible: I looked my age. And I didn’t like it one damn bit.

Among the nicest things anyone can say to me now is “You look 10 years younger.” The only people who ever tell me this are past 50 themselves—my fellow travelers on the road to seniorhood. Call me deluded, but I do my best to believe them.

Some would argue that I’m setting my sights too low with this “10 years younger” business. Thanks to the wonders of surgery, a woman can erase 20 years. While strolling through my neighbourhood one summer day, I passed the blooming daughter of my famously gorgeous classmate Liz. Who else could she be but Liz’s daughter, with that lush blonde mane, those Lauren Bacall cheekbones and that “If you want me, just whistle” strut? I knew Liz had a daughter, who surely had never heard of me. Now here she was, so close I could count the spangles on her midriff-baring T shirt. Her full lips parted in a smile of recognition: “Hi, Rona.” By God, it was Liz—buffed, polished and lifted to Stepford-ish perfection.

I missed the weathered beauty she had cast aside. With her faintly craggy features and skin-tight jeans, the old Liz exuded a thrilling defiance of time. The new Liz looked as untouched by life as a doll in a cellophane package.

I’m not about to follow her example, but I’m always on the lookout for less drastic ways to look youthful, if not exactly young. Here are a few things I’ve learned so far:

Don’t wear anything that hurts. The pointy-toed pumps I could hardly walk in, the tight suit that pinched like hell if I ate more than one asparagus spear, the cool clip-ons that grabbed my ears the way a clothespin grabs the line…it all made me frown. Instead of buying Botox injections, I gave the offending gear to charity.

Get out of black. A little is fine; an unbroken swath drains all the colour from the midlife face. I should know; I once had a closetful of black. My Mother Superior palette used to say, “Don’t mess with me; I’m on intimate terms with the highest authority.”

I’ve found other ways to express my confidence. If I ever need a cane, I’ll buy a bright red one—and I won’t hesitate to bang it for effect.

Dress to please yourself, not the fashion mavens. They’ve declared that black is hot this year, which goes to show that their dictates are strictly for the young. But what can we expect from the cabal of spoilsports who tried to foist baby doll frippery on grownup women?

My role models in style are the freewheeling types who know their best look and stick to it, as Diane Keaton has been doing with panache since Annie Hall. You’ll never catch me in a tie, but I have my own standbys—flowing scarves, broad-brimmed hats—that make me smile whenever I reach for them.

Do what you love. The most vibrant-looking people I know, of any age, have a passion for challenge. One friend took up flying in her 70s. Another, weeks before her death at 91, was correcting the proofs for her latest article on modern Quebec poetry.

Loosen up. I’m a fine one to talk; it’s been months since my last yoga class. Maybe that’s why I keep thinking of my yoga teacher’s maxim: “You don’t get old and stiff. You get stiff—and then you get old.”

She must have had 15 years on me but her joints, unlike mine, never cracked and her smallest gestures had a dancer’s grace. Instead of sucking in her tummy (which creates needless tension around the inner organs), she achieved the same effect by lengthening through the spine. Someday! Maybe even tomorrow.

Meanwhile, I try to keep a sense of perspective when it comes all matters involving age and looks. The day will come when looking 10 years younger means looking not a day over 75. I’m not thrilled about that, but at least I have some time to get used to the idea. And besides, consider the alternative.

Posted by Rona

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