Saturday, February 9, 2008

Wrinkles in Time

Venus of Wellindorf is not beautiful. She is a rock. She’s been around a long time. She is an iconic figure that launched women in art 30,000 years ago as the symbol of fertility Her form seems outrageous, exaggerated.. In modern terms she is fat, obese, and her boobs hang like an overdose of Mardi Gras beads. She had obviously stuffed herself on bison meat for strength. (Bison appeared on cave walls from that era. Must have been part of their diet.) And some beautician must have fixed her corn rows hairdo. She has the body of an older woman, one who is familiar with motherhood, maybe a pregnant one, one who had probably nursed her children, let herself go and not worn uplifting bras.

I looked like that when I put on sixty pounds birthing my first child. After that, I kept trim. But I lived in Tanganyika during my first pregnancy and putting on weight to have a healthy child was the thing to do. A full figured wife was worth more dowry than a skinny one with no breasts. I must say I cringe today at the rules and restrictions placed on modern mothers in order to have healthy babies. We weren’t limited in food, drink, activities, weight gain, and after cravings for peanut butter and mayo sandwiches, my three slid out without a bump and are healthy specimens today.

If there is any one figure in the history of art and fable, Venus of Wellindorf has been my favorite because she represents real woman. Worshiped woman. Well being woman. Wise woman. A productive woman. She is a survivor. She has fat elbows of a washer woman. Like bears and seals whose blubber and fat keep them warm and healthy during long periods of no food and intolerable weather, like the Bushmen women who stored enormous amount of food and water in their exaggerated butts, like women in Polynesia where fat is more attractive than thin in both sexes, Venus of Wellindorf symbolizes the soul of femininity. Abundant and fertile. Vigorous and maternal. Historians speculate that this tiny hand-sized figurine of limestone was mocking a goddess. She may have had the ideal figure for the Upper Paleolithic age, but today she’d be stretched flat on a Gurney waiting for a breast reduction or a tummy tuck or a rubber band around her gastric track. Can you believe we’ve become so vain? We want to look like other people, not ourselves, and will do anything to stave off old age.

Hanging out time with my daughters, as they and I try to work through this unauthorized terrorism called cancer in my body, charged me more than anything. My oldest daughter, only forty-four, and I talked about getting old. Now that’s a topic. How unfair living hard, good, long can be. Look at TV newsmen who never change jobs and have the best of makeup attention - they start out with helmet hair, perfect strands in line, strong dark colors. They age to white that really does look like a pile of snow or applesauce. Even Sean Connery, a favorite, is a bit of a shock. How dare he age! But odd-ball Diane Keaton, whose odd ball approach to life I admire, looks great.

Why are we so afraid to accept the next stage of life? Nothing is permanent, nothing promised except we aren’t going to be the buxom, blithering waifs we were as teenagers. Red heads and brunettes have more staying power than bottle blondes but then they get that itch to pull out those gray hairs, or dye them. Sure, there was that time when we were young with smooth skin, solid silky breasts, hair that shined like Christmas glitter, eyes not pinched by crow’s feet, plucked brows now permanently in a frown, lips full and limber for laughter and kisses. But just like all experiences, what works well today, may not be working tomorrow. We are destined to become the physical creature that goes with the next step in our life. Not many of us opt to be couch potatoes. Some give up and get fat. Some hike, bike, run, play tennis and climb rock walls. We lift weights, swim against currents, attempt triathalons, try to get fit, in gyms, on tennis courts, with deep tissue massages, on horseback, running every morning, or walking. We are active verbs. Mostly we deep breathe, get that oxygen in our gut. And blame bumps on our cheeks on chocolate.

I exercise with gusto not because it makes me look good (the figures we work with are figures of habit, inheritance and gravity) but because I feel fantastic after a good sweat knowing I’ve burned extra calories that day so maybe butter and biscuits won’t settle in the saddlebags. I’m not necessarily trying to set standards of figure, beauty or allure with all the abs and swings. I’m not trying to pick up a mate in the gym. I cringe when my dear trainer Kareem (photo left) says, "you are the most fit lady for your age I’ve ever worked with." It’s that "your age" that kills me, but I remember, every decade of life has a different decadence, so to speak. Something is going to go down the drain. Make the best of what still works.

My daughter is concerned about wrinkles. They are as inevitable as taxes and death. Of course, wrinkles are money making enterprises for beauty corporations. Their anti-aging creams that tout they can soften the wrinkles, stop them from appearing, make you look young again, fail to add that if you’re over 40, nothing is going to work short of surgery if you haven’t eaten right, stayed out of the sun, and creamed up since you were ten. But there’s always another out - wrinkles can be lifted by various mechanical and chemical such as Botox, which is killing some folks. Now when you, at 60 suddenly look 40 don’t you know the public speculates, does she or doesn’t she? Please no rearranging and pinching skin. Wrinkles provide character and show what kinds of roads you’ve engaged during your life.

The good thing about getting old is your eyes fade a bit and so when you walk by the mirror, faces don’t look so drastic because you can’t see the details. For truth’s sake, don’t look in the cosmetic magnifying glass. You can’t find your skin for the wrinkles and their tributaries. My reality check comes standing at the gas tank, my hand on the nozzle pumping the stuff into my car, then I see my reflection in the window of my SUV. There, for some reason, I seem a hundred years old. I’ve never seen all those wrinkles before. They only seem so dramatic in the sunlight. This is why we are encouraged to date in soft dark light of fancy restaurants (who can see the fancy food in such dim glow?) And stay out of daylight. Daylight tells the truth. So if your personality isn’t worth an asparagas and you’re banking on your alluring beauty to get you a man, stay indoors. No soccer matches or sailing days for you. Makeup won’t hide those kinds of wrinkles, nor does Ester Lauder’s miracle rejuvenating restoration dehydrating caviar pearls face cream.
Photo right: Salvador Dali's Birth of Venus

But when you get the Big C, who cares about wrinkles, scares, red lines on your boob, kinks in your armor? What’s most important is the smile that marks your spirit. If you have deep smile lines, you obviously can laugh at good and bad jokes. (You've also taken care of your teeth.)You’ve made others smile, too. When the surgeon or radiologists says, well there’s going to be this kind of scar or these kinds of lines on your breast, I say, "Who’s looking? It’s too late to hook another man because of my boobs or body, please. I’ve never been a bikini mama." I like who I am but not because of my looks. Really, no matter how hard you work, pamper, primp and cream in your life, something is going to come along that is going to splay all you did like a Michael Jackson.

It’s life, folks. There’s give and get. One thing is lost, another is gained. All those axioms. Does it matter whether we have rhino skin or lamb skin? We should be less vain. If we hide in the house jelling our face with creams, preventing a drop of sun to touch it, we can resemble a porcelain doll. If we get outside, work in the garden, kayak, jog, play tennis, hike to the mountaintop, we’re going to get wrinkles and shine longer. It’s like the sun or the moon. We rarely can have both at the same time. The late Ester Lauder told me in an interview, when I was fashion editor at the Press-Scimitar, that her soft and wrinkle-free skin was the result of eating a pad of butter a day. Go for what gives you a thrill.

A friend sent this wonderful quote. "Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways - Chardonnay in one hand - chocolate in the other - body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming, ‘WOO HOO, What a Ride!’"

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