Welcome to the latest phase!

I've been blogging for several years at http://www.lauraainsworth.com/, and it's great to be entering a new realm. But you'll still find tons of archive posts on plastic surgery, Botox, diet books and other hilariously depressing topics at the original site under "Laura's Diary," along with pics, videos from my shows, sound clips and more. Go over there and poke around!



Thursday, November 1, 2007

Lend Me A Hand

Sorry for the lapse in blogging, but I have a good excuse. I slipped on the kitchen floor (it had nothing to do with age, I swear; just a slick spot), and in trying to break my fall, I succeeded in breaking a bone in my left hand. It was a pretty nasty spiral fracture that required an operation and plates and screws to fix (I am the new Bionic Woman!) I now have a big bandage and splint contraption on my left hand and can't type. This message is being typed by my husband, so please forgive any typoos or messpellings.

The splint comes off in a few days and I'll be able to type again. Until then, I'm working on a few short items in longhand for Pat to transcribe. At least this proves that I really can blog with one hand behind my back. Or in this case, propped up over my head.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Laura's List of Pet Peeves

Sure, as always, there’s plenty in the news relating to age and beauty. I’ll get to all that. But first, I have to satisfy an urge I’ve had for awhile: to create my very first official List Of Pet Peeves. If you haven’t ever made one, try it sometime, just for fun, because it can tell you a lot about yourself. For example, I don’t consider myself that easily peeved-off, but my list of peeves turned out to be pretty darn long!

Some of these relate directly to The Age Thing (how could they not?), some only peripherally, and some not at all. Also, I chose not to include things we all hate, such as loud cellphone talkers, bad drivers and anything having to do with air travel. These are personal; some you will no doubt share, while others may just reflect my own quirks. They’re in no particular order. So, here we go, with the things that make me say, “Give me a break!”


LAURA’S LIST OF PET PEEVES

the term “baby boomer,” also any variation such as “boomer,” “aging boomer,” etc.

being pointed at or gestured at from a music video

competitive eating contests

MORE magazine (if you read my blog, you know why)

fake call-in radio talk shows that are really infomercials

phrases such as “most unique,” “more perfect,” “the most complete”

the Nobel Peace Prize

“over-the-hill” birthday parties with black balloons

flawlessly PhotoShopped models

Magazine lists such as “The 50 Most Beautiful People,” “The Top 100 Movies Of All Time,” etc. (there are many of these, and they all need to go away, but they won’t. Maybe I should list the Top 50 Reasons for Them To Go Away.)

white walls and beige carpet

“tear-downs” and starter castles in once-charming old neighborhoods

being lectured to on global warming and foreign policy by Hollywood stars, many of whom didn’t even graduate from high school

concert reviews that insist on critiquing the age and degree of hipness of the audience

awards shows – come on, how often does the most deserving person win?

thug culture

Christmas overkill: Christmas season starting before Thanksgiving is over (let alone Halloween!); also, 90 percent of all the Christmas songs that have ever been recorded

on the other hand, having to call the Christmas tree a “holiday tree,” when everybody knows it’s a Christmas tree

fashion magazines’ monthly lists of “must-haves”

the term “reinventing oneself”

the age limit on “American Idol,” also the constant references to contestants’ ages

extremely passionate, argumentative people who are absolutely convinced of something that’s factually incorrect

today’s Saturday morning cartoons – the worst politically-correct pablum! (where are Rocky and Bullwinkle when you need them?)

saying of any actress with millions of dollars to spend on herself that she is “perhaps the most beautiful woman in the world”

gross-out comedies – I won’t go see “The Heartbreak Kid” and will never, EVER see “Kingpin” again

using “they,” “them” and “their” as singular, as in, “Give your child the things they deserve.”

Hollywood-style celebrity “justice”

overuse of the phrases “if you will” and “at the end of the day”

seafood from China

impenetrable business jargon

image politics

politicians who run on an issue that disappears off the radar screen once they’re elected

dividing us by decade, as in “your 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond”

ads for mascara in which the model is obviously wearing fake eyelashes

child beauty pageants

adult beauty pageants

reality shows, except for “American Idol” and “Dancing With The Stars”

food companies that sell their products as healthy when one look at the label tells you they are SO NOT

swarms of paparazzi – arrest those locusts for stalking and harassment

my frustrating and unending quest for sexy shoes that don’t hurt

rappers yakking over great old hit songs written by real songwriters

those not-so-fabulous fakes: dark spray-on tans, chopped-off noses, wind-tunnel faces, expressionless eyebrows, clown lips, chalk-white teeth, bowling-ball breasts

Dennis Hopper talking to children of the ‘60s about financial services

Hardee’s (The “Monster Thickburger”? Please, Hardee’s, stop the obesity!)

those long loops on dresses for keeping them on hangers – I can never seem to keep them tucked inside!

Conan O’Brien’s opening, with the loooooong, earsplitting trumpet blast at 12:30 AM (11:30 AM Central). Conan has a fantastic band, but how many thousands of times have they done that by now?

laugh tracks

televangelists, “psychics” and “faith healers”

hearing any actor called “the greatest actor of his generation,” especially if it’s Sean Penn, because he probably believes it

the term “generation” (because unless you’re talking about someone’s family tree, people are born on a continuum and generational divisions are arbitrary, so there!)

commercials that say, “Get the (whatever) you DESERVE!” (because, hey, for all they know, I’m an axe murderer and don’t deserve squat)

status designer handbags that cost as much as a new luxury car


Whew, that turned out to be a long list! It’s good that I don’t get very worked up about most of these things, or my life would be miserable. Fortunately, I’m an easygoing sort; there are only a few things that seriously chafe me. And I need this long list of annoyances to write comedy about.

Besides, the list of things I love would be much, much longer.


Next: "Absolutely Safe," a new documentary on breast implants.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Plastic Surgeons Losing Patience With Patients

Definitely check out the October issue of Allure magazine. I was at the hair salon just long enough to read the article on plastic surgery patients who present themselves to their doctors as self-styled experts. This is becoming a frustrating problem for cosmetic surgeons and dermatologists.

These patients – almost all female -- have never graduated from medical school, but they’ve spent a lot of time on the Internet, where the real truth is, and they walk into the doctor’s office armed with stacks of single-spaced typewritten pages of exacting instructions. They’ve created computer morphed “Before and After” shots of themselves. They know all the medical terminology and sound well-informed to the layman. The problem is, they’ve never actually performed surgery, injected Botox and wrinkle fillers, or learned the hazards of many of the procedures they want their doctors to perform.

Nevertheless, they’re insistent. And they’re never satisfied – they have to keep tinkering. Ultimately, they have even more procedures to “fix” the bad results caused by the original procedures. Then they have to “fix” the “fix.” And then “fix” that.

One doctor quoted in the article spoke of a patient who had returned from Mexico with a vial of some kind of bone cement (I’m not kidding) that she wanted him to inject into her face. As any reputable physician would, he refused, explaining that he had no guarantee of what was in that vial. He could literally be injecting her face with anything, and he wasn’t going to be responsible for that. So she waved bye-bye with her perfectly-manicured hand and continued her search for someone who would do it for her.

No doubt she didn’t have to search for long. I've heard of dermatologists in Dallas who very openly perform procedures – or have their assistants perform them – that are unapproved by the FDA and pose serious risks to one’s health and/or appearance. You can probably find their names on various plastic surgery websites that extoll the virtues of such procedures. Go ahead, look them up, so you’ll know who not to patronize.

This problem seems to be a variation of Body Dysmorphic Disorder, which is what makes anorexics see themselves as fat when they’re actually starving to death and Michael Jackson think he’ll be perfect after just one more plastic surgery. Often it’s a focus on one particular physical flaw, but once that flaw is addressed, it can morph into a pathological appetite for perfection that will never be satisfied.

My friend Dr. Brown, who’s known as one of the best plastic surgeons in Dallas (and that’s saying a lot!), tells me he has women come in and tell him exactly how to make over their breasts. A common instruction is, “Make me as big as you can make me!” But Dr. Brown doesn’t do that. Often, he’ll counsel a patient that because of her height and bone structure, he can’t make her more than, say, a “C.”

I think I can safely say he didn’t do Pam Anderson’s breasts. Or the breasts of any woman who aspires to look like her.

Quite a long time ago, I actually consulted Dr. Brown about a possible reshaping of my nose, and the experience taught me a lot about the psychological aspects of plastic surgery. If you look at pictures of me on my website, you’ll probably say, “Her nose looks just fine! Why would she want to change it?” (at least, I hope you'd say that). Well, the reason was one photograph, taken from an odd angle, that really did make my nose loom large. So I told Dr. Brown that I didn’t want to change the shape of my nose, just make the proportion a little smaller.

He listened, then had me come in for some “Before” pictures, both front and side view. The assistant behind the camera looked confused and had to ask me, “Now, what is it that you wanted changed?”

I’ll never know if Dr. Brown had told her to ask that question, but it sure made me think. “If this person,” I wondered, “who sees hundreds of plastic surgery patients every year, can’t even tell that it’s my nose I’m concerned about, then what is my problem?”

Then, when I saw the photos and realized that they looked more like “After” pictures, I told Dr. Brown that I’d decided against having any work done on my nose. He must have been relieved. And I’m glad that he trusted me to come to my own conclusion; if he’d just said at the outset, “You don’t need it,” I might have just answered, “Well, I think I do.”

Unfortunate, overdone nose jobs are as common as paralyzed faces these days. One big difference, though: Botox wears off in a few months, while, to paraphase James Bond, a nose job is forever. And if the first attempt isn’t right, there has to be another procedure, and perhaps another. I’ve seen many hypershortened noses that are beyond saving. Then the question becomes like a bad trip to a casino: Do you want to walk away with your losses, or risk what you have on another procedure, knowing you’ll probably come out worse but might come out better? In that sense, the addiction to plastic surgery seems to me a lot like the addiction to gambling. With this kind of risk, you might lose the ranch or lose your nose – or, like Michael Jackson, you might lose both.

This isn’t to say that a nose job is never a good thing. If you really don’t like your nose, if it’s caused you to suffer comments and heartache all your life, then I say, “Rah-rah, rhinoplasty!” If you’re in show business, and a slight change in your nose will make you photograph significantly better, then go for it, as lovelies from Paula Abdul to Halle Berry have. But find the best surgeon you can, one who will get it right the first time. Find one who will listen to you, and then…LISTEN TO HIM. Have the work done. And then, if at all possible, consider it a finished work of art.

Your life is a work in progress; your face shouldn’t have to be.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Mammogram Song

In honor of October, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, here is my wonderful friend and mentor, queen of the satirical folk song, Lu Mitchell, singing her hilarious song, "The Mammogram," and actually finding humor in what we all have to go through...


The Hallucinatory Halo of Health, and Other Cautionary Tales

A round-up of news from all over...

The famously shrinking Jared lost tons of weight by eating all his meals at Subway. So everything they have at Subway must be healthy, right? Wrong!

Cornell University found that people who eat at Subway, billed as the healthy, lowfat alternative to typical fast food, tend to consume more calories than McDonald’s diners. They gave students coupons for either a Big Mac (800 calories) or a 12-inch Italian sub with cheese (900 calories) plus any free extras they wanted. Subway eaters were more likely to add chips, a cookie and a non-diet drink because, researchers concluded, Subway has a “health halo” that makes people assume everything is low-calorie. Subway eaters were also more likely to snack later in the day because they think they ‘deserve it” for eating so healthily.

Also because, as everyone knows, free food has no calories.

Their snack of choice? I’m betting it was a Big Mac.

Does anyone really think Jared lost all that weight by eating 12-inch meatball subs with cheese? I’m thinking that most of the people in this study were college students with fast metabolisms, who got the extra cookie because it was free and Subway has really good cookies. The ones who did have weight issues probably just thought, “Well, this is free; I’ll diet tomorrow.” And maybe it’s not that Subway has a “health halo” but that McDonald’s has the opposite: an especially bad rep as unhealthy fast food that makes people choose more carefully. This study may have some merit, but I’ve noticed that researchers, after painstakingly accumulating and analyzing their data, often interpret the facts in an incredibly subjective way. On the bright side, if deluded people keep chowing down on Subway meatball subs, Jared has plenty of big old pants he’d be happy to sell them.


BIG SOUTH AMERICAN BREASTS

I didn’t know this, but it’s become a tradition in Venezuela, a truly beauty-obsessed nation, to give one’s daughter breast implants for her 15th birthday. There’s more plastic surgery taking place in Venezuela than anywhere else on earth – is it any wonder that it produces the most beauty queens? -- and the 15th birthday implants are so popular, they’re advertised on TV. Breast augmentation has become a rite of passage, like nose jobs in Beverly Hills.

Proving the old adage that even a broken clock is right twice a day, socialist president and aspiring revolutionary Hugo Chavez has come out against the ridiculous fad, calling it “horrible” and “the ultimate degradation.” He also wants his country rid of “Western icons”such as Barbie dolls. He lectured the country about this on a recent Saturday TV appearance that ran eight hours.

I hear that people actually watched the whole thing, transfixed. Maybe because it was illustrated.

Obviously, Chavez hasn’t thought this thing through. If he wants a socialist revolution, what could be more helpful than a country full of giant boobs? Also, his stand against fake breasts could be the final straw that makes Venezuelans rise up and overthrow him. He’s said some crazy things before, but this time he’s gone too far!


MORE ON BOOBS

Scientist Patrick Mallucci presented a breakthrough report in London this week. He thoroughly researched photos of hundreds of female celebrities with fake boobs to help plastic surgeons create perfect-looking breasts for clients. (Millions of guys do this job on the Internet, and he’s apparently the only one who gets paid for it.) Speaking to the Breast Enlargement Conference (yes!), he said he’d found the ideal breast job is a “45-55 percent proportion,” with the nipple at least 45 percent from the top and not at the halfway mark or lower.

He also declared British model Caprice to have the best fake boobs in showbiz (they’re absolutely capricious), while the worst are Victoria Beckham’s, which are “unnaturally round.” I tend to agree. Of course, they look that way because in honor of her husband, she had two soccer balls installed.

Also, her nipples are in the bottom 10 percent.

This researcher had wanted to study female celebrities with real breasts, but, unfortunately, he couldn’t find any.


THE RULES OF ATTRACTION: HIGHS AND LOWS

McMaster University in Canada studied the Hadza tribe of Tanzania and found that men with deeper voices had more children than men with higher-pitched voices. Researchers said previous studies found that women find males with deeper voices to be more attractive, judging them to be older, healthier and more dominant and masculine. Also, men perceive women with higher voices as more attractive, subordinate (!), feminine, healthier and younger.

Okay, then, I want to know why Jessica Rabbit, the most seductive cartoon character ever, was voiced by Kathleen Turner, not Jennifer Tilly or the woman who voices Minnie Mouse. And why have men traditionally been attracted to sultry-voiced women like Lauren Bacall and Susan Hayward?

Conversely, why did women like the Bee Gees in the ‘70s? Sting sounds as though he’s on helium, yet he’s perceived to be all the things on the above laundry list. And look at Mick Jagger and Robert Plant: they don’t have deep voices, and I’ll bet they’ve got more children than anybody. Some they don’t even know about.

I personally tend to like lower voices, for both men and women. My husband has worked in radio and doesn’t have the basso profundo “voice of God” announcer’s voice, but it’s still pretty low. It makes him more attractive to me than he’d be with a high voice. On the other hand, he doesn’t have kids. I think this may be another one of those studies in which subjective conclusions have been drawn. Or maybe those conclusions are just particularly true in Tanzania.


STUPID MAN COMPARES OLD WIFE TO NEW

A 43-year-old man in Johor state, Malaysia, was in bed with his 48-year-old wife when he began unfavorably comparing her sex skills with those of his new, younger, second wife. Bad idea!

Wife #1 became enranged, grabbed a kitchen knife and nearly deprived him of his manliness. He managed to get to the hospital and have it sewn securely back in place.

Though the wife could get up to three years in jail, she’s not worried. All she needs is one woman on the jury. Then it’s “justifiable penicide.”

Men, listen up. Never, I repeat, NEVER, compare your older first wife to your younger second wife. Especially when you are naked, and there’s a kitchen knife within reach.


STILL TOO FAT FOR THE RUNWAY

Have you seen the billboards that show anorexic French actress Isabelle Caro nude? The shocking pictures of this emaciated woman are captioned with the slogan, “NO TO ANOREXIA.” There’s a magazine ad, too, and Caro has been featured on Entertainment Tonight and other TV shows. Critics say girls might look at Caro as a role model because she’s getting to be a celebrity, and they have a point. But photographer Oliviero Toscani said that girls with anorexia who look at it would say to themselves that they have to stop dieting, not that they have to look like Isabelle Caro.

My thought is that girls with anorexia will say to themselves that Isabelle Caro looks fat.

Or maybe they’ll look at the pictures and say, “Hey, I’m not that thin... I’d like to be…”

I’ve seen what she looks like, and it’s a skeleton with some skin stretched over it. I don’t know how this woman is still alive. In fact, my theory is that she’s not actually alive. I think there’s been some taxidermy involved. She’s been stuffed and mounted.

Well, mounted.


THE BRITISH ARE PHYSICAL WRECKS

A study by the gym chain L.A. Fitness has found that the fitness of Britons has reached a new low: 53 percent can’t touch their toes, 68 percent can’t do 20 sit-ups, 60 percent can’t carry their weekly shopping home from the supermarket, and a quarter of British women are too fat to fasten their own bras. It has occurred to me that these are the very women who really need to wear bras! I suppose many of them just give up and wear tube tops.

The Brits seriously need to start getting in shape. Here’s one suggestion: If they’re having trouble carrying home their groceries, maybe they should stop buying so much food.

Next: In October’s Allure magazine: Plastic surgery obsession from the doctor’s point of view.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Don't Believe Your Eyes...Or Anyone Else's

I’ve just watched two absolute must-see videos. The first one, Onslaught, a Dove film at campaignforrealbeauty.com, opens with a closeup of a lovely fresh-faced girl, maybe about 9 or 10 years old, and then takes off into a bombardment of edgy media images at breakneck pace: flawless faces, perfect bodies in tiny bikinis, and “transformed” skin, interspersed with yo-yo weight loss and even a brief flash of the toilet bowl as it awaits an upchucked meal. (This all happens so fast that one may need several viewings to take it all in.) It ends with another shot of the young girl with her friends as they walk to school and the message, “Talk to your daughter before the beauty industry does.”

Bravo, Dove! Of course, it has to be said that Dove is a part of the beauty industry, but they deserve a huge commendation for their unique approach.

Several months ago, I was surprised by the cynical reaction to the Dove campaign expressed by an acquaintance of mine. “I can just see the executives and ad people sitting around the table, talking about how they need to position their company to cut through the clutter,” she said (I’m paraphrasing here), her eyes rolling. “That’s all it’s really about.” And she considered it exploitative to show the women of various body types in their underwear.

I must confess -- cynic though I am -- that I love the Dove Campaign For Real Beauty. The quest for perfection forced on us from all sides can be so damaging; this campaign shows how we can be suckered by it and helps us find our way back to the real world. Even if, in the end, it is just a way to sell products, at least it’s the right way. May they break all sales records with this campaign.

Dove has another great video that rapidly details the amazing powers of Photoshop to “beautify” a woman’s face. It’s called Evolution, and it's been on their website for some time; but there’s a new one, not associated with Dove, that does the same thing with a woman’s entire body. It’s called The Power Of Photoshop. Unless you’re a professional photographer who’s already skilled at this process, you have to see it to believe it.

In the video, an extremely heavy woman is posing with much of her ample flesh exposed. The Photoshop artist gradually reproportions the woman’s body and face, much as a sculptor chips away at a block of marble to create his vision of Aphrodite. The woman’s dimply skin becomes flawless, her breasts are lifted and shaped, her dark hair triples in volume as her hips become one-third their original size, and the light around her glows like hundreds of buttery candles. She has become a completely different woman, and the effect is totally realistic. Now, she’s ready to post her picture on eharmony.com.

Wow, this is even faster weight loss than they promise in those ads for weight-loss products. No hunger, no surgery, no sagging skin, and the weight stays off!

I’m urging every woman to watch this, in the hope that she’ll never try to compete with Photoshopped media images again.

*************************

A WORM’S-EYE VIEW OF TIME

As any reader of this blog knows, I follow the Perricone Prescription. That means no sugar or other high-glycemic foods and plenty of antioxidants, both in food and as supplements. I think it’s had quite a remarkable effect, not just on how I look but on my overall health, so much so that I even sing an aria, “O Worship Dr. Perricone,” in my show.




Scientifically, Perricone has been on the cutting edge, but the jury is still out on some of his recommendations. For example, the German Institute of Human Nutrition says that a key to living longer might be giving up sweets and – here’s the surprising part – avoiding vitamins.

At least, if you’re a worm.

In their study, they blocked the ability of worms to process glucose, with the result that they (the worms, not the researchers) lived 25 percent longer. In a human, that translates into about 15 years. The scientists found that restricting sugar at first caused the worms to build up free radicals that cause aging. You’d think that would be a bad thing, but their bodies responded by building up stronger, long-lasting defenses. This might explain why taking antioxidant vitamins to wipe out free radicals doesn’t seem to help people live longer. The researchers said, “The bad thing in the end promotes something good.”

So it seems to me that, if you restrict sugar and take antioxidants, you won’t live longer, but you will look younger when you die. Very important if you want an open casket. You should have seen how young these worms looked – you wouldn’t even have known they were segmented! They looked unsegmented!

Actually, I know what preserves worms best of all. Tequila.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

To Gray Or Not To Gray

Did you know that the typical mega-bookstore has an entire section devoted to aging? It's true! You see, it's very important to age in exactly the right way, because every choice you make is going to be a political and personal statement, loaded with implications about your values. I just found this out in an article called "The War Over Going Gray" by Anne Kreamer, who has also written an entire book on how your hair should age. It's called Going Gray.

Kreamer, after coloring her hair for over 20 years, decided to stop doing it. "I found to my surprise," she says, "that by visually challenging my peers (if I was really gray, so must they be!), I unwittingly landed myself on the front lines of a public struggle - literally superficial but at the same time almost existentially meaningful to American women - with the vicissitudes of age."

She says she encountered two reactions: "a sort of proud, sometimes, sanctimonious right-on-sister enthusiasm from fellow gray-haired women," and "an equally proud, sometimes resentful don't-judge-my-choices-I-do-this-to-feel-good-about-me defensiveness in the comments of the committed-to-dyeing cohort."

"Hardly anyone was lukewarm in their reactions," she continues, "which suggests to me we may have a contentious new baby-boomer argument over gray hair that is as mutually judgmental as the mommy wars between working and stay-at-home mothers was in the 1980s and '90s."

Again with the boomer thing. Never mind that the youngest boomers -- many of whom, I'm sure, are graying now -- were three years old during the Summer Of Love. Among even the oldest boomers, I'll bet I could find a few who weren't cutting class to join sit-ins or dropping acid at Woodstock. Nevertheless, there's an assumption that all the baby boomers used to be hippies and they'd be selling out, man, to do something as dishonest as color their hair! It's ironic: former flower children are obligated to say goodbye to the hair they had as children. The kids who believed they should "never trust anyone over 30" are now forced to deal with the politics of age. Well, what goes around comes around.

I know I live in Dallas, home of the hair that's big and blond, but have I completely missed something? Where is the existential meaning in the decision about hair color? Why is hair color an "age thing" at all? High school girls color their hair. High school boys color their hair. Twelve-year-old girls get highlights, just for fun. Most women of all ages change the color of their hair or at least enhance it in some way.

Women go gray "in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond." Hair color, including the way it changes through the years, is a genetic trait. Raven-haired Lara Flynn Boyle has said in an interview that her hair turned totally white in her twenties but that she chose to keep it dark. (I agree that the dark hair is very dramatic against her fair skin.) But all-over silver hair can beautiful at any age; I think women such as Emmylou Harris who attain it at a young age and look beautiful in it are lucky. And just think - if you're tall, skinny, have great skin and beautiful white hair, you can be quite successful modeling for Chico's.

I didn't get the "white hair" gene. My poker-straight blond hair, about a decade ago, started turning a little darker and more ashy. I had it highlighted for awhile, but so many Dallas women are blond that I'm glad I made the decision eight years ago to turn it a vibrant but natural-looking red. It makes me feel good. It makes my eyes look bluer. And the shade suits my overall coloring so well that most of the people I've met in the past eight years are stunned when I tell them I'm not a real redhead.

Judging from my eyebrows, the hair on my head is probably coming in an ashy-blondy-brownish color. If I stopped coloring it, the occasional gray hairs that might be there would probably blend in and look like subtle highlights, if they were noticed at all. My mom didn't get much gray in her taupe-colored hair until very late in life, so I probably won't, either. I'll never have Emmylou Harris hair. I have as much chance of that as of having curly hair. Or thick hair, drat.

Never did I dream that by coloring my hair I was being dishonest in any way or making some kind of personal statement about aging. But it seems I have been, without even realizing it!

Kreamer points out that of the 16 female U.S. Senators, not a single one has visible gray hair, though they range in age from 46 to 74. Of the 70 female members of the House, only seven have gray hair. "Political professionals," she reports, "say that the double standard is a great unspoken inequity but that candidates and officeholders don't dare publicly discuss it for fear of seeming trivial."

What double standard? There may presently be, percentage-wise, more gray-haired men than gray-haired women in office, but that number is going down as more and more men feel the pressure to look young and vital. Ronald Reagan dyed his hair. (The joke was that he'd gone "prematurely orange.") I'm sure quite a few men in Congress do. I'd be willing to bet Mitt Romney's coloring the gray, and my hunch is that other Presidential candidates - not just Hillary Clinton -- are, too. Joe Biden got a hair transplant. And imagine how many toupees there must be among politicians! How many men in politics are being "dishonest" by covering their male pattern baldness?

Kreamer's article paraphrases Clairol's in-house creative director of color and style as saying that one powerful motivator of gray-haired women to dye their hair is to live the fantasy that they're still 30 or 35 instead of 45 or 60. (This statement chafes me for so many reasons that if I were currently using Clairol hair coloring, I'd switch to another brand.) She says that rather than sell it as a fantasy or lie, the postmodern beauty industry casts artificial color as a means of expressing a deeper truth about who one is.

Gee. I color mine because it's fun, it looks striking on stage and, as previously noted, it makes my eyes look bluer.

Rose Weitz, who wrote Rapunzel's Daughters: What Women's Hair Tells Us About Women's Lives (Jeez, another book on aging hair??), says, "Even if, in the abstract, we think we look all right with gray hair, we nonetheless feel as if we are losing our 'real selves' if we no longer have our 'real hair color' - the color we had when we were young and looked our best." If that's true, I should want to be blonde forever. And who says we "looked our best" back then, anyway? Some of us did. Some look better today.

Interestingly, Kreamer notes that when she tested gray hair vs. brown hair on Match.com, posting the pictures three months apart, she had much more success as the gray-haired version of herself. (She gave her age accurately for each posting.) Three times as many men in New York City, Chicago and even Los Angeles were interested in the "gray" Kreamer. She speculates that her honesty made her seem refreshing and accessible, or that perhaps her gray hair made her stand out among all the fake, colored hair.

Both of those possibilities may be true. But an additional consideration is that the gray just looks really good on her. Did she ever think about that?

Probably not. In her article, she says, "These days, choosing not to dye has become a statement rather than a casual stylistic choice."

She obviously didn't talk to me. But I'm telling you now that, down the road, as I get more gray in my hair, my decision about coloring it will be nothing more than a casual stylistic choice. My hair color will never be a political statement. It will not reveal my numerical age. It will not clue others in to my opinions any more than my numerical age does.

And to you gray-hairs out there, dyed or not: Unless you're in a field that demands employees who look as if they're straight from Central Casting, I recommend that you get over yourself and stop overanalyzing this issue. Do whatever you like with your hair. It's not that important. Really.

Kreamer didn't talk to my friend Lu, either. Lu is a longtime Dallas folksinger and songwriter who has straight, thick, uniformly gray hair. It's not a dramatic white or silver, just light gray. She wears it in a distinctive short cut that looks good on her. (For those who care how old she is, she's 80, though she looks many years younger, even with the gray.) I asked her about the to-dye-or-not-to-dye question; does she keep her natural color as a personal statement, or what?

Her attitude was very much like mine. She's not making any statement; she just chose to do what she liked. I saw an old picture of her with brown hair, and I have to say, I like the gray better on her. The lighter color is eye-catching, and she stands out in the crowd.

She could go blonde, and I'd say the same thing.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Fighting Ageism With Dancing Parrots

Too busy for much blogging the past couple of days, but here's something fun to share with you. A website associated with the Dallas Morning News put together a video profile on me that turned out very cute. Kudos to Allen Houston, who shot it and put it together. It includes clips of Cady, the footless wonder cockatiel, singing her little heart out and of Aussie the cockatoo dancing to "Let's Misbehave" by Cliff Edwards (aka Ukelele Ike and Jiminy Cricket). How much more entertainment does any human need?

Click here to watch it.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

New Modeling Star Is Barely 13

Maddison Gabriel has blue eyes, dark blond hair, and is 5-foot 7. That’s not very tall for a model, but in this case, she could still grow a few inches. She just turned 13 years old.

Chosen when she was 12 to be the official ambassador of Gold Coast Fashion Week in Queensland, Australia, she apparently wore a number of revealing outfits during the event. How revealing? I don’t know, but I’d be willing to bet they wouldn’t have met the dress code at my middle school.

Her participation has sparked strong debate in Australia, with Prime Minister John Howard deeming it unacceptable. “Catapulting girls as young as 12 into something like that is outrageous,” he said. “There should be age limits -- I mean there has to be -- we do have to preserve some notion of innocence in our society.” Europe has set an age limit of 16 for appearing on catwalks (I didn’t know that); he wants Australia to do the same.

But Maddison’s mom has demanded an apology from the Prime Minister. He’s getting “very doddery,” she says. “He does not know exactly what 13 and 14-year-old girls are like. I used to vote for him. We’re trying to get our teenage daughters to act older.”

Why? So old rich guys will want to date them?

Fashion Week spokesman Kelly Wieler said, “Maddy got in because she was the best contestant. The judges saw that she was fit to do the job.” She added that Maddy wouldn’t be modeling swimwear or lingerie. (She didn’t mention that many designer clothes look just like lingerie and are just as revealing.)

As for Maddison, she feels she deserved to win and become the “face” of the show. “I believe that I can fit into women’s clothes, I can model women’s clothes, so I should be able to do it, she insisted. “It doesn’t matter about age. It matters that you can do the job. Modeling is all I’ve wanted to do since I was six. I don’t think I’m too young.”

If she can fit into women’s clothes, it’s because most of them seem designed for women who are built like 12-year-olds. And even though I’ve said many times and believe with my whole heart that “it doesn’t matter about age,” I am always talking about the world of adults. This is another issue entirely.

For me, the most important question to ask is why the “face” of this women’s fashion event is that of a barely 13-year-old girl. “Best” is subjective; why was she considered the “best” contestant? She’s a cute girl, and if this were a junior fashion show, she would be perfect. But this event is for grownup women, and I don’t understand why grownup women are supposed to aspire to look like a seventh-grader, albeit a very tall one playing dress-up in mommy’s makeup and heels.

This attitude about fashion and beauty is not unique to Australia. Here in Dallas, we have an annual event called the Fashion!Dallas/Kim Dawson model search. (Fashion!Dallas is part of The Dallas Morning News, and the Kim Dawson Agency is a local modeling agency.) Each year, hundreds of contestants show up at a mall to have their pictures snapped. There are specific height and age requirements. Judges select the finalists, whose pictures appear in the paper. Readers get to vote for their faves and select two Readers’ Choice winners, but the judges pick the actual winner or winners. This is a big deal; being chosen can really jump-start a career in modeling. Case in point: the first year’s winner, Erin Wasson, who went on to be a top international model.

The age threshold for a girl entering this contest is 14; the cutoff age is, I think, 21. Last year, the girl who won, Ali Michael, was – you guessed it -- 14.

I’m reminded of myself at 14, certainly tall enough to model after growing six inches in one year! My height was 5-foot-9, considerably taller than most of the boys (alas), and I was to grow another inch. I was skinny, too, with blue eyes and long, straight, very blonde hair. But I was painfully shy, absolutely na├»ve, and certainly no fashion plate; Mom made most of my clothes. I’d gotten contact lenses but was a year or so away from wearing makeup. Maybe someone could’ve gotten hold of me then and made a model out of me, but I’m glad nobody did. I was a baby – way too young. I wasn’t at all ready to be a model in the very adult and sometimes rough world of fashion.

Today, though, the fashion world actually seems to prefer babies to wear its grownup clothes. It’s not my imagination – the models really are getting younger. In real life, some of these models wouldn’t even be old enough to wear a prom dress.

By amazing coincidence (I’d already started writing this piece), today’s paper features this year’s finalists in the Model Search. There are a dozen finalists this year, all girls, ranging in age from 14 to 20. The 20-year-old, a 5-foot-11 brunette named Ren Vokes, is described as the “elder statesman” of the group. “Everyone here is 14 and I’m 20,” she observes. “I feel like an old person for the first time in my life.”

Cry me a river.

Not all the other girls are 14, but most are 14-16. Looking at their headshots, I’d think they all could get work as professional models. (An interesting aside: one of the 14-year-olds is Asian, and she still has Eastern-style eyes, with no fold. I wonder if this pretty girl will feel pressure to change that.) In the photos, they all look closer in age than they actually are. I don’t have a favorite to win, but I’d be more likely to bet on one at the lower end of the age range than the upper end.

I can remember, way back in the Jurassic Period, when teenage model Brooke Shields created a scandal just by saying, “Know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing.” It was widely thought that she was too young to do such a suggestive ad. Times have changed. Young teens now look to such stunning role models as Paris Hilton as their fashion icons.

Even so, my concern is less for the extremely young girls involved in modeling than for the grownup women who feel compelled to try to look like them. Think about it: even a 30-year-old woman is surrounded by images of girls half her age. Some of these models are in ads for anti-aging products.

What is wrong with this picture?

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Next time: “To Gray Or Not To Gray…that is the question,” and you better get the answer right because it’s an incredibly significant personal statement and a matter of political correctness. Or so I’ve read.


Thursday, September 20, 2007

Facing Spiegel's "Reality," Beestung Breasts & Other News

The Spiegel catalog has just arrived - I get one about every three days - and once again, there's a section called "Reality Dressing - fabulous at every age!" As you might guess, it's one of my biggest pet peeves. This one has eight full pages of how to dress in your 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, and "ageless," which I assume is code for 70 and over.

It starts with a two-page spread featuring one women from each of the age groups; for example, the 50s are represented by Beverly Johnson, "legendary model." (This is one of those rare gigs for 50-plus models.) The other women are not professional models. They include a pediatric nurse, a real estate broker, a copy editor and a retired teacher. The 40s are represented by Lynette Lewis, author of "Climbing the Ladder in Stilettos," though she appears to be wearing a medium-height heel. All the women, from 20 to "ageless," look polished, confident and attractive.

They're all dressed in "casual chic" for fall: black pants with lots of leather. But there's a problem: I'm supposed to see how they illustrate "leather in every look for every age," but for the life of me, I can't see what it is that makes the clothes appropriate for their particular age group. As long as these women have essentially the same body shape, any one of them could wear any of the outfits. And if they could, why have they been divided into decades? I don't see the point of this whole exercise.

I personally would wear any of the outfits on these two pages, except maybe the boxy red jacket they put on the "ageless" woman, simply because I think big jackets overwhelm my willowy build. I feel swallowed by them, and would "at any age." Ditto the super-wide pants on the 60s woman.

The next two-page spread features a lineup of put-together outfits - no models here, just the clothes - with one supposedly for the 20s, one for the 30s, and on through "ageless." I'd wear the 20s and 40s outfits but definitely not the 30s, 60s or "ageless" ones. (Oops, they seem to have left out the 50s! Whatever will Beverly Johnson wear?)

The next two-page spread has another lineup, this time of "9-to-5 looks for every age and every style." None of these are my style. One possible exception is the 20s look, but it has those floppy, wide pants. An outfit that might look chic on someone - someone who isn't me -- is the black "ageless" pantsuit, which could look quite smart for the right business occasion. But with its matching long coat, it's so covered-up. Any long coat tends to make me think of Bea Arthur, and black pantsuits remind me of Hillary Clinton. As for the outfits for 30s, 40s and 50s, they look matronly and would add about 20 pounds - some might say 20 years -- to anyone's frame. (Again, these clothes are shown without models.) I would never wear them, "at any age."

Moving on to the next two-page spread, we come to my favorite part. The catalog takes one article of clothing, in this case a leopard-print "trapeze" jacket, and shows it used appropriately for the 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s. (Oops, this time they left out "ageless"!) And for each decade, they thoughtfully provide an appropriate adjective.

In your 20s, you want to be "edgy." In your 30s, "sophisticated." The 40s are "elegant." The 50s are "adventurous." Finally, in your 60s, it's time to be "dramatic." And, believe it or not, for the woman in her 60s, they pair the leopard-print jacket with A LEOPARD-PRINT SKIRT. My Lord! Even SCTV's Edith Prickley wore a tasteful black skirt with her leopard jacket. That's right, I am telling you that even Edith Prickley had enough taste to know that top-to-toe leopard would've been too much! What are they thinking??? And why didn't they include a matching, leopard-print pillbox hat?

I've tried to cultivate a wardrobe that manages to be edgy, sophisticated, elegant, adventurous and dramatic, all on a limited budget. Ironically, many of my clothes come from the Newport News catalog. Newport News is part of Spiegel.

So, listen up, Spiegel. I am not a demographic category. I have always been and will continue to be "ageless." Stop defining a woman by her decade of life. I hate it, and I'm sure many other women are sick of it, too. Your "Reality Dressing" pages are a prime example of the age-obsession that drives me insane.

It's not my reality at all.

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BEE STING DEFLATES BREAST, AND OTHER NEWS

Southern China City News reports that a woman from Miaoli, Taiwan, was riding her motorcycle while wearing a low-cut dress when a bee stung her on the breast. "My right breast disappeared in one day," she said of her saline implant. I understand this was so traumatic for her, she broke out in hives. Her surgeon said this is very unusual, but the woman is very skinny, and her thin skin was stretched tightly over the implant. (Bet that looked natural!) Ironically, her natural breasts were exactly the size of bee stings. The doctor replaced her implant but advised her to avoid acupuncture. Also, lapel pins.

Victoria Beckham should be warned about this.

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Speaking of breast implants, did you know that the Australian military has given taxpayer-funded breast implants to some of its female sailors? (Maybe they take it out of the budget for torpedoes.) A spokesman defended this practice, saying plastic surgery is provided where there are compelling medical, dental or psychological reasons. He said suggestions that they're trying to make the female sailors look sexy are not only wrong, but insulting.

Of course, suggestions that the sailors don't look sexy are also wrong and insulting.

The spokesman also noted that in an emergency, breast implants can double as flotation devices. And women who've had the surgery don't have to admit it. The policy regarding plastic surgery is strictly, "Don't ask, don't tell."

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More implant news: The Hindustan Times reports that Indian men have noticed women looking at their butts, and they're getting self-conscious about it. A doctor at one cosmetic surgery clinic said that for every seven female patients he sees, there are now two men coming in for butt treatments. "Butt therapy" can involve anything from liposuction and toning/firming to hair and scar removal. A few men have even gone in for implants, but so far, not many. Probably just Bollywood actors.

If this doctor wants more male patients for this procedure, he should tell them that butt implants will help align their lower chakras.

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A Cosmopolitan magazine survey of over 5,000 Australian women found that they are unhappy with their bodies but don't know how to change them. Almost half said if they could change anything about their lives, it would be their bodies; 42 percent consider themselves overweight or obese. Yet a quarter of the women exercise once a month or less, and nearly half don't eat fruit every day. One in six women prefer chocolate to sex, and one in ten would rather skip a meal than give up alcohol to lose weight. Yet 10 percent said they're so depressed about their bodies, they'd give up four or more years of their lives to lose weight. Presumably, they mean the years they'd have to spend on a weight-loss diet.

Realistically, as long as women are this depressed, is there any way they could give up cheesecake? Not to mention chocolate -- if it's better than sex, giving it up would be worse than death. I can also see why they'd rather give up food than booze: food reminds them they're fat, while booze helps them forget they're fat. With these habits, they may indeed lose four or more years of their lives, and still die fat.

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Speaking of chocolate, a psychologist at England's University of Bristol says that despite what chocoholics think, chocolate is not literally addictive. He said some people may think they have no control over their craving for it, but the compounds in chocolate that produce a buzz in the brain are found in higher concentrations in other foods, such as cheese and avocados, which are not generally thought of as addictive foods.

This doesn't explain the people who would do anything for a Klondike bar. But I think it's probably the same as with nuts: sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don't.

I also believe there may be people addicted to avocados. I no longer eat chocolate (it causes my migraines-drat!!), but I can polish off a pretty generous bowl of guacamole. Especially if it has a little cheese on it.

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Finally, the Northern Italian town of Piobbico has unveiled a monument to ugly people. It's sponsored by the World Association of Ugly People, an Italian-born group that has spread around the world. Their motto: A person is what he is and not what he looks like. So instead of a monument showing a good-looking movie star or dashing war hero, this monument depicts "a person who is just as beautiful, but only on the inside."

It will be unveiled, then immediately veiled again. Oh, and the person they have chosen wins a free Extreme Makeover.

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Next time: the new star of fashion modeling. She just turned 13.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Weighing In On Britney, Madonna & Demi

I've seen footage of Britney Spears as a little girl, singing confidently and on-key. After she'd had a few hits, I saw her sing live on "Saturday Night Live," just sitting on a stool with a hand-held microphone, and thought she did a good job. But Britney's appeal has been more about her hot dancer's body and her choreography - some nice moves, but certainly not too difficult for most high school drill teams to pull off -- than about her voice.

In case you are Amish or from the planet Neptune, I should mention that the voice we've heard on CDs and in concert was created in a studio. (To find out how modern hit songs are manufactured, just click here.) In concert or on TV, Britney is always lip-synching to a backing track. If you think that's because she can't be expected to sing while she's dancing, you haven't ever been to a Broadway show. And her songs, while catchy in the beginning, are now just tuneless and annoying attempts to be seductive, delivered in that generic overproduced whisper that also marks the "music" of Janet Jackson and countless other pop and hip-hop artists who really don't have much voice at all. (To be fair to Britney, these other artists also lip-synch.)

I don't know what happened to Britney's voice. Maybe she just got so accustomed to lip-synching that she lost her confidence for singing live. Or maybe she spends so much time in loud clubs, talking over music, smoking Marlboros and pouring hard liquor down her throat, that she's fried her vocal chords. Whatever the reason, Britney is a musical performer who never sings.

So what does she have left? Her ability to lip-synch, her smooth dance moves, her hot, sexy body? As we saw on the recent MTV Music Video Awards show, the lip-synching and the dance moves didn't come off well. Some of the choreography didn't come off at all. Later, it was revealed that Britney was 4-1/2 hours late to rehearsal and showed up with a frozen margarita in her hand after clubbing all night. She has only herself to blame for that, but with all the personal trauma she's been through in recent years, self-inflicted or not, and the constant public scrutiny, I'm wondering whether--deep down--she even wants to be on stage. (Check out late-night host Craig Ferguson's monologue on the relentless criticism and joking about Britney.) If she doesn't, she should go somewhere secluded, find some serious help, and get her life together. This will take some time. There are plenty of attractive girls with talent who'd love to be pop superstars and who would definitely show up for rehearsal.

She did make the cover of Entertainment Weekly, and the feature story is all about her, but I'm sorry: there is such a thing as bad publicity, and this is it.

Some might say that Britney's missing rehearsal was a sign of her overconfidence. I speculate that it was the opposite. This was to be The Comeback, and she must've been feeling more pressure than she could handle. So she avoided the situation, preferring to down drink after drink of liquid confidence to get herself up on that stage. Yeah, that helped. Good plan.

So, simply through lack of preparedness, her dance moves didn't click. She wasn't sure of the lyrics, either, even though they seemed to consist of nothing more than "gimme, gimme, gimme," so at some point she simply stopped mouthing them.

That leaves her hot, sexy body.

The Internet has exploded with comments, pro and con, about Britney's appearance on that show. They range from "Most women would kill to have that body" (probably true) to "Britney is a fat tub of lard" (a gross exaggeration). Most of the "fat" remarks have been incredibly snide, and I'd be willing to bet that most were made by people who weigh more than Britney. Weight seems to be something that no one can get exactly right, and yet it's sooooo important. Opinions vary, and everyone has to "weigh in."

Two pregnancies - along with, it must be said, mass quantities of fried chicken and tater tots - had wrought havoc on Britney's trim, sexy body long before the MTV show, but she had gotten herself into pretty fair shape for The Comeback. It was revealed later that she rejected the flattering outfit created for her as "not sexy enough" in favor of the tiny black bra and little-boy shorts she must've been carrying around in her purse. That must've been the margaritas talking. Or maybe it was the outfit she'd been clubbing in the night before.

The body that might have looked stunning in the other outfit definitely lost its "wow factor" in the bra-and-shorts. Britney doesn't seem to understand what "sexy" is. It's not getting out of a limo in a short skirt and no panties. It's not wearing as little clothing as you can get away with on TV, especially if the outfit is unflattering. In other words, this discussion shouldn't even be about Britney's weight. It should be about her taste and her judgment.

Also, have you noticed that the emphasis on super-thinness seems confined to white girls? Beyonce has a little extra poundage - temporarily lost to shoot "Dreamgirls," but now comfortably back on -- and so does Jennifer Lopez. They are both considered sexy. Queen Latifah's career hasn't been hurt by her size. It's only the white singers who have to be matchstick thin. I just read a capsule review of white blues singer Joss Stone that mentioned she'd finally lost her baby fat; would that have been said of a black singer? Unlike Britney, Joss Stone is a tremendous talent, but we're still talking about her weight.

When looking at Britney's career, it might be useful to compare her with Madonna. Both started as hot, young dancer/singers with lithe bodies and small voices. Both had the early success in pop music that's typically associated with flashes-in-the-pan. Both appealed to a young, fickle demographic. Yet Madonna built on her early success, while Britney soon faltered. I'd say - and Madonna would no doubt agree - that the critical difference was Madonna's steely determination and singlemindedness. Critics say that Madonna has constantly "reinvented herself" (a term I hate; I'll have to write about that sometime), but I don't think that's it. Her various incarnations were always expressions of the Madonna we knew; the important thing is that she grew as an artist. By the time she sang the torch song "Sooner Or Later" for the film Dick Tracy, her voice had become a lovely thing. The chirpiness heard on early hits such as "Borderline" was gone, replaced by a rich, emotional, mature sound. She sings live in concert, though probably with a backing track, and she's kept her dancer's body, even at almost twice Britney's age.

Ironically, the very maturity that transformed her voice has been her biggest liability in the pop music world. Now in her late 40s, Madonna is the brunt of jokes about her age. It doesn't even seem to matter that she's kept her body in top form. Weight is something virtually all of us can do something about, but age...well. No one, repeat, NO ONE can turn back the clock.

Case in point: Demi Moore, who is in the news. (If an over-40 actress is in the news, you can bet the subject will be age.) In the London Daily Mail, Lucretia Munro writes that four years after undergoing a massively expensive, top-to-toe makeover, Demi has failed to win the big Hollywood roles she'd hoped for. It's estimated that she spent close to half a million dollars on personal trainers, nutritionists, yoga instructors and various surgical and cosmetic procedures. Those who follow such things say she even had an operation on her knees to lift the sagging skin. Demi showed off her lean, sexy body in 2003, emerging from the sea in a skimpy bikini for Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle.

Since that time, she's appeared in only two films, with two more to be released this fall, while ex-husband Bruce Willis (almost a decade older than she) has appeared in 13.

Demi has said she hoped to overturn the belief that juicy roles should not be given to older actresses, but it doesn't seem to be working out that way, even though she's looking great. And the problem seems to be unique to Hollywood; European filmmakers tend to care much less about it. "If we are told we are not valuable once we hit 30, it is a problem," Demi said. "We have to say, 'I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore.'"

The same article quotes Sharon Stone as saying, "When I went to the Oscars, it was like, 'Oh, there's been an archeological dig and look what we've found, a 40-year-old."


Her body looks great, too, but you don't see too many Sharon Stone movies coming out these days, do you? So maybe Britney Spears should just concentrate on looking like a normal, healthy woman, growing up, finding better friends, getting to know her kids, seeing a good therapist and living a happy life. Even if she starved herself into a size 2 and decided to get serious about a comeback, she'd have to realize that untalented pop stars have an even shorter shelf life than Hollywood actresses.


Friday, September 14, 2007

Redheads & African Greys

With all the appearance-related issues thrown at us every day, there's one I didn't even know existed until now. And it applies to me.

My unofficial British correspondent, Paul, informed me a few days ago that the British have a "thing" about redheads. It seems they fear them. The next day, the Dallas Morning News ran an article (by Shelley Emling, Cox Newspapers) about this very thing! According to Emling, Simon Cheetham, founder of http://www.redandproud.com/, is working to counter discrimination against redheads. "In the politically-correct world, you can't say anything about people's religion or sexuality, but it's still okay here in Britain to portray redheads in a negative manner," he says.

I was shocked. This is the same observation I've made many times about age. Race, religion, sexual orientation are off-limits, while someone who's "aging" - in Hollywood, that's over 30 -- is fair game. Now, I see that having red hair can spark the same kind of criticism. But why?

There are theories. In the Middle Ages, redheads were often thought to be witches. In Elizabethan times, Shakespeare used red wigs to denote menacing characters. Redhead-hate could also have something to do with British hostility toward Scotland, where about 13 percent of the population has red hair, compared to about 1 percent of the entire world. In England, a redhead is referred to condescendingly as a "ginger."

The article cites several examples of extreme, violent and just plain nutty attacks on redheads. Embling says that the disdain for redheads can be so great that one of the first questions asked of new parents is whether or not their baby is a ginger.

If I take "My Ship" to England, there will have to be a special segment of the monologue devoted to this issue. I go to a lot of trouble to turn my blond hair red, because the red looks great and suits me so well. There are numerous natural redheads on my mom's side of the family, and my skin and eyes fit the redhead template. My little niece has precious apricot-colored hair. So I wrote a poem that would make Ogden Nash proud:

In not making me ginger-haired,
Nature erred.

Hmm...I've just realized that my poem rhymes only if "erred" is said the way I pronounce it. For those of you who pronounce it the other way, here's another poem:

In not making me a ginger bird,
Nature erred.

Hmm...that works only if you know that "bird" is British slang for "girl." And I'm not sure that "bird" is even used any more. But I wanted to use the word "bird" because it allows me to segue into the next story...

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I have to warn you, it's a sad story, maybe sadder for me than for you, but sad nonetheless. You may wonder what it's doing in a blog about age and beauty, but trust me - I'll get to that.

The story is about Alex, the famous African grey parrot who showed through his use of words his ability to conceptualize. Under the longtime tutelage of Dr. Irene Pepperberg, Ph.D, Alex learned many things that most people would think are beyond the ability of a bird - or any nonhuman -- to understand. Say you had a tray with a small red key, a large green key, and a yellow square. If you asked Alex what the objects were, he'd say, "Key, key, and 'four-corner.'" If you asked him what color the four-corner was, he'd say, "Yellow." If you showed him the two keys and asked, "Which color bigger, he'd answer, "Green." He could tell you what each object was made of. After every correct answer, he would tell you what he wanted as a reward. Dr. Pepperberg even gave him his own "computer" with which to select his favorite music and games.

Alex died last week; the cause is still not known. He was 31.

Now, you may think, "He was 31? Wow! Parrots sure live a long time!" But 31 is young for an African grey parrot. These birds can easily live twice that long in captivity. They're trying to find out why a seemingly healthy bird - he'd had a routine vet check two weeks before -- just suddenly died.

I have my own 18-year-old African grey, named Dorian Gray. Yes, I know; it's appropriate that I have a bird named after someone who never ages. I named him Dorian Gray for two reasons: (1) for the play on words, and (2) because as I grow older, he's always going to look pretty much the same, like Oscar Wilde's fictional character with the aging portrait in his attic. There's even a short segment in my show about parrots - a picture of me with Dorian comes up behind me - in which I mention that one reason I love having parrots as pets is that they can be with me for a long, long time.

But now I hear that Alex has died, and I'm stunned. I've shed quite a few tears over this loss. I'm reminded once again that age means so little, and that timetables are all in our heads.

Fortunately, there's quite a lot of video documentation of Alex; I hope you'll watch him in this short clip and this longer one with Alan Alda on PBS.

Alex's abilities come as no surprise to me after living with my own African grey and interacting with him every day. I write a regular column for the Companion Parrot Quarterly in which I've detailed much of what Dorian can do. I even wrote to Marilyn Vos Savant about him during a discussion of whether animals understand the concept of "name" when they respond to their names; she posted it on her website here.

I can't find the words to express how sad Alex's passing is to me. I'm sure Dr. Pepperberg must be in shock; I know I'd be inconsolable. But at least there was an "Alex." If there hadn't been, I'd be telling people stories about Dorian and they'd be rolling their eyes or patting me on the head and saying, "Sure, sure, of course he does that."

If I live for 50 more years (and that's the plan), that would put Dorian at 68, certainly within the normal lifespan of a healthy companion grey. So I hope we'll be old and gray together. I'll crack his seeds for him if he needs me to.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

A Report From The Dallas Plastic Surgery Expo

(Sorry to go for a while without a blog post, but it's been a very hectic week. More will coming very soon. In the meantime, I'm reposting something from the copious archives of my blog at my personal website. It's from my visit last October to the big (and I do mean BIG) Dallas Plastic Surgery Expo. Since it will probably be rolling around again soon, this will help get you prepared if you're planning to drop by and explore all the latest breakthroughs in epidermis peeling, organ inflating and botulism injecting. Enjoy!...)

SPECIAL REPORT! A VISIT TO THE DALLAS PLASTIC SURGERY EXPO!
(Or “Into the Beauty Jungle with Botox Gun and Camera”)

Whew! I almost missed the first-ever Dallas Plastic Surgery Expo, held a few weekends ago at the cavernous Market Hall. A large newspaper ad alerted me to this phenomenon just in time, and, of course, I immediately cleared my calendar, as it was time to set aside the frivolity for some serious research.

What a concept! I'd been to similar expos for home improvement and design, landscaping ideas, and even pet birds (I take in parrots in need of a home), but the idea of having one for midface rejuvenation and microdermabrasion seemed a bit surreal (although not dissimilar to the renovation expo). In retrospect, it appears to have been an inevitable development, at least for Dallas.

The most elaborate booths were for cosmetic surgery clinics. Huge monitors showed before-and-after pictures of noses, jawlines and breasts (some discreetly covering the nipples with black bars, others not). Dermatologists were also well represented. Surgeons and skin docs gave seminars throughout the day on such topics as breast augmentation (the most popular topic – with both women and men), rhinoplasty and Restylane. To his credit, one cosmetic surgeon even held a seminar on the things that can go wrong during a procedure.

There were surprised looks on the faces of some of the women working the booths, so I looked around to find out what was spooking them. Immediately, I realized that these women had seen absolutely nothing to warrant their looks of astonishment, which had instead been created and frozen into place by exaggerated browlifts and numerous syringes of Botox. If they had hoped to be living billboards for the miracle of cosmetic enhancement, they were just the opposite.

It's hard to know how much blame to give the doctors in such cases, at least for the Botox. I've discussed Botox with my dermatologist (though I haven't used it – honestly, and I say that with a completely straight face), and she tells me some patients say, "I want you to freeze everything!" This line is delivered not as a suggestion but as a command. She knows that if she doesn't make her clients happy, there are plenty of dermatologists who will. She explains to me that she does have some control over the level of paralysis - and that's what it is: PARALYSIS -- because it's partially determined by the placement of the needle. Fortunately, Botox does wear off, so, unlike a plastic surgeon doing an extreme browlift, she's not creating permanent disfigurement.

Still, with these perfectionist patients, the moment there's even the tiniest movement in the treated area, they're back for more injections. They have to spend every moment looking like a PhotoShopped picture - frozen in time, and just frozen, period. Some of these are very young people, too, and increasing numbers are men. My doctor told me about one very strange stepmom-and-stepson "couple" (?) who came in together and received thousands of dollars worth of Botox and fillers, leaving with perfectly smooth but totally immobile faces. I'm guessing they looked so much alike at that point that people would think not only that they were biologically mother and son, but that she had passed on some freakish genetic condition to him.

But I digress. There were other women working the booths who looked quite natural and lovely; it was only in the context of the event that I suspected they'd been somewhat lifted and Botoxed. Some would say that even this kinder-and-gentler improvement is somehow dishonest, but I have no problem with subtly softening nature's onslaughts. It's no more dishonest than whitening your teeth, getting highlights, lasering off that old tattoo of your ex-husband's name or using concealer to cover a pimple. As I try to convey in my show, we live in a world where people are evaluated and categorized by their youth and beauty, or lack thereof. Each of us has to decide how far we should reasonably go to deal with that reality. And any cosmetic procedure, along with one's choice of the doctor who performs it, should be very, very carefully considered. With surgical alteration, you can't go back.

The expo also included booths for vein therapy, antioxidant drinks, a variety of treatments such as Thermage and different types of lasers, a vibrating machine that's supposed to exercise and tone the body (used by Madonna! Write your own giant vibrator joke), and numerous new skincare lines. Yes, every week there are new skincare lines. If these products did what they claimed, why would we keep needing new ones? I think that, at this point, there must be enough skincare lines for each woman in America to have two or three of her very own, but still they come. Several skincare booths at the expo had samples for me to take home and try.

But I'm a hard sell. As you know if you've seen my show, I worship Dr. Perricone. Literally -- I sing an aria in his praise. Of course, Dr. Perricone does have some very expensive products, but I use only a few of the basic ones. (I'll have to reach my goal of becoming an international superstar - any day now! -- before I can afford the neuropeptide serum.) My advice to you: instead of buying every pricey new "anti-aging" cream that comes along, go with the beauty-from-the-inside approach. Eat lots of wild salmon and fresh vegetables, and avoid sugar and the other carbs that send blood glucose levels soaring. Put junk food into some other category that isn't food at all. Buy industrial-strength sunscreen by the case and use it all the time. Drink water or tea instead of diet soda. I also recommend weight training, which I've been doing for about a year now, and trying to avoid stress (yeah, I know, but try). Also, you should discourage wrinkle-formation by refusing to wear painful shoes no matter how hot-looking they are. Also, I've finally realized that's it's necessary to get enough sleep. Try it!

Okay, that's my book of beauty secrets, which I guess is really more of a pamphlet. But they work; my body is in better shape now than it was when I was 25, I have much more energy -- including mental energy -- than before, my friends say I'm "thriving," and my skin, though not flawless, has a radiance that is absolutely not achievable with some $300 "Botox-In-A-Tube."

Important note: "Botox-In-A-Tube" doesn't fulfill its claims even if the tube is shaped like a syringe. Marketers package their products like this because they think you have the I.Q. of a lawn chair. I have tested some of these products myself and have read research on their active ingredients. If any topical skincare product promises to do what Botox and Restylane do, it is a sham, a scam and a total ripoff of money better spent on, well, Botox and Restylane, as long as they're done very sparingly and you don't mind pain. If you prefer to avoid pain, as I generally do, spend the money on wild salmon and the best sunscreen you can find. Then, relax a bit about the whole thing. I think the injection we'd benefit from the most would be the one that immunizes us against the tactics of professional marketers.

Anyway, there were LOTS of new products at the expo. Afterwards, I tried a sample of one new line for three days -- the trial was supposed to go for four days -- before running back to Perricone. The skin around my eyes was looking a little less firm (egad!) and I had a large zit in the chin-jawline area. Also, the full regimen was very involved - six steps in the morning, six at night! Are they kidding?

The expo seemed to be well attended, so I anticipate an even bigger one next year. If you ever go, remember that having a fancy booth and sophisticated marketing does not mean a doctor or product is the right or healthy choice for you. In fact, there was one person at this event about whom a plastic surgeon friend of mine confided to me once...Well, I'd better not repeat what he said. I might get sued, and then I really wouldn't be able to afford Perricone products.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

It's The "Age" Of Insane Fashion Magazines

Just got home from the hair salon, where, in addition to enhancing the fabulosity of my trademark red mane, I typically spend time researching the treatment of age and beauty in various women’s magazines. Today I struck the mother lode – or should I say “load” – with the September issue of Glamour.

The headline reads “LOOK & FEEL YOUR SEXIEST AT 20, 30, 40 – The hair, the skin, the body, the secrets!” Three beautiful babes are on the cover, identified as “Hot At Every Age! Claire Danes, 28; Queen Latifah, 37; and Mariska Hargitay, 43.” Inside, there are headlines such as “20? 30? 40? Who Cares?,” while the very existence of this issue shows that the editors of Glamour, their advertisers and their presumed readership care very much. In fact, they seem pathologically obsessed with it.

There’s a whole section called the “20, 30, 40 Special – Inspiration for every age” that includes features such as “What Will You Look Like In 20 Years?,” “Look And Feel Your Sexiest at 20, 30, 40” and (my personal favorite) “Everything You Need To Know About Being 20, 30, 40.”

Spread throughout the magazine are pages such as “Look-great ideas at 20, 30, 40.” I learn on this page that the 20s are a great time to live out a travel fantasy (like Claire Danes), the 30s are when you make time for a cause (like Queen Latifah), and the 40s are the time to “be proud! ‘I’m aging like a fine wine and showing young women, look at what you can grow into'” (like Mariska Hargitay). Okay, thinking of yourself as a role model is great, but can’t you travel, work for a cause, or be proud of yourself at any age? What’s with all the categories?

And while we’re at it, what are the 50s the time for? Apparently, they’re the time for death, because there is nary a mention of anyone in this magazine who’s over 49. Yet they keep repeating the mantra, “at every age…at every age…,” as if there were no women over 49. Many women I know who have the digit “5” in their ages, not to mention “6,” “7” or even “8” (one of my dearest friends is a very current 80), might legitimately wonder what the editors of Glamour mean by “every age.”

Of course, they’re not going to target women that old, because their advertisers obviously want to reach the – you guessed it – 20s, 30s and 40s. This is why so many magazines make a point of specifying these decades over and over, month after month. Their advertisers want to sell clothes and skincare products to 20-year-olds and 40-year-olds. My guess is that demographic research has convinced the editors that this is about as wide a net as they can cast and still keep those valued 20-year-olds, who are also – surprise -- turning into a big new market for anti-aging products. So Glamour can have a full-page ad for Aveeno “clear complexion foaming cleanser” (to fight acne) and also one for Neutrogena “anti-oxidant age reverse day lotion” (to fight aging). Gosh, there’s even one full-page ad, for Revlon Age-Defying Makeup, that screams “DEFY AGE” in huge red letters.

More magazine, in contrast, covets advertisers who are selling to women 40-plus, and they try – again, way too hard -- to define themselves in terms of that particular golden demographic. In this magazine, it’s the 20s and 30s who don’t exist. Virtually everything in More is devoted to reminding one of one’s age; I can hardly get through an issue without throwing it across the room. Jeez, give me a break! I’ve ranted about More magazine before and will do so again; for now, let me just say that, although it often contains wonderful writing from insightful contributors (all over 40, of course), it’s based on a concept at odds with my philosophy of truly “ageless living.” Sure, it puts a positive spin on aging, but it also puts a not-so-positive spin on my head by obsessing relentlessly over everybody’s age.

This particular issue of Glamour is just about as bad. I say “just about” because there’s still quite a bit of content that’s more like their usual thing, with no reference to age. They have a spread on “the best fall clothes for your body type” as opposed to “for your age,” and another one on “a power look at every price” as opposed to “for every age.” They include tips for making more money, losing weight and enhancing one’s understanding of the male animal – things women in general truly are interested in. (Aside: I listed those three things according to relative difficulty.)

But then we get to page 253, and the headline: “20, 30, 40…Hot at every age!” Here, we get to see which decade of life all our favorite Hollywood stars (under 50) are currently enjoying. Superimposed in a little circle over each star’s picture is – you guessed it – her age. Who’s 20? Who’s 30? Who’s 40? We have to know! Who’s younger than we would’ve guessed? Who’s older, but passing for younger? Who’s had plastic surgery? (My guess: virtually all.) Have you had enough? Ready to throw the magazine across the room yet?

But then, turn the page, and there’s something that, in spite of the “20, 30, 40” in the headline, I actually like: “Doing it all wrong at 20, 30, 40. Women explain the value of throwing out your timeline.”

All right! We hear from a woman who moved back in with her parents at 31, graduated college at 37, had a baby at 45. No, these are not the same woman. Three different women made choices that ignore the traditional timetable, and they’re glad they did. It’s a great message -- although the parents of the 31-year-old might disagree.

On the very same page, though, is another groaner: “The Perfect Woman In Each Decade.” This pushes me towards the precipice of violent rage, for so many reasons. But here it is: According to a Glamour poll, the perfect woman in her 20s is (for men) Jessica Alba, 26, and (for women) America Ferrera, 23. Men and women agreed on the perfect woman in her 30s; that would be (ugh) Angelina Jolie, 32. Wow, they sure didn’t ask me. They also agreed that the perfect 40-something woman is Salma Hayek, 40.

Does everything have to be broken down into decades? Is our view of ourselves based entirely on the fact that we use a base-10 numerical system?

I turn the page in frustration, and there’s more: “Celebs at 20, 30, 40,” which shows how 40-something stars have changed their looks through the decades, and “We asked guys, what do you love about women in their 20s, in their 30s, in their 40s?” I don’t even want to hear it.

I turn the page again, and this is the worst part of all! “Guess the star’s age! 20? 30? 40? A good outfit never tells. (Bonus points if you can spot the 61-year-old!)” Yes, it actually says this! We see six fashionably-dressed celebrities, but only from the shoulders down. You check a key to see if you guessed right; it turns out that 61-year-old Jaclyn Smith is third from the left.

So, okay, I have to admit, one woman over 49 does appear in this magazine. But does the picture of a headless woman thrown into the mix as a novelty in an age-guessing game really count?

It just goes on and on. In “The Secrets To A Happy Life, three generations of smart, successful women mouth off about what happens to your head and your heart (and your knees!) as you grow from 20, to 30, to 40 and beyond.”

Oh, wait! I’ve spotted someone else over 49! It’s Kathleen Turner, identified as 53, saying, “I had a great time being young, but I have no desire to look the same now.” I find it meaningful that the picture of her they chose to run was taken when she was much younger. It even says, “Turner in her thirties.” Apparently, the editors desire that she look the same.

Even the feature story, “It Took Three Women To Make This Baby,” leads off this way: “When a couple in their forties, an egg donor in her twenties and a surrogate in her thirties used science to create a child…” Normally, I’d find a story like this interesting, but in this context, I’m thinking, “Enough already!”

Towards the back of the magazine, after some luscious fashion spreads, there’s “Look And Feel Your Sexiest At 20, 30, 40!” We learn that Claire Danes thinks her metabolism is slowing down at 28, that Queen Latifah has lost her sexual hangups and is now happily enjoying the “dirty thirties” at 37, and that 43-year-old Mariska Hargitay says, “You hit your forties, and you’re fearless, you’re just unstoppable.”

Okay…

If my blog about this magazine seems unusually long, remember: it did say that it would tell you EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW about being 20, 30 and 40. So, hey, I had to cover a lot of ground! Now, it’s time to sum up with what I think is wrong with this whole approach.

When I see a magazine like this one, I know I’m on the right track with my beliefs about age. It’s why I write this blog, and one big reason why I perform “My Ship Has Sailed.” My dream is for one’s age to be thought of as essentially meaningless, like one’s shoe size. Maybe someday we’ll get there, but, judging from this magazine, I think it may have to get worse before it gets better. I hope that twenty years from now, my nieces -- for the record, now in their twenties -- will find this old copy of Glamour in a garage sale somewhere and just laugh and laugh.

What does it mean to be in a particular decade of life? This question was on my mind this past weekend, because it was the fourth anniversary of my mom’s death. Mom died of something totally unrelated to her age; the hospital was never forthcoming, but I think she developed an infection there that shut her organs down two days after a routine appendectomy. She’d been in great health all her life, and I think she would’ve lived many years longer. Over the past few days, I’ve been thinking back to where my mom was in her life when she was in “my decade.”

It was totally different. She was dealing with the personal problems of a husband and two daughters; I’m married but have no kids, unless 16 parrots count. (Mom would never have had parrots!) She had a great head for business but no career. I’ve worked all my life as a writer and performer and am only now shifting the career into high gear. Mom and I were so different; she didn’t really share my interests in the arts or theatre or humor. She hadn’t taken care of herself well and in “my decade” underwent a complete facelift; something I wouldn’t need at all and can’t even imagine contemplating for many years. In “my decade,” mom even became widowed; my father died tragically at a young age. She lived for two more decades as a widow, spending most of her time taking care of her grandchildren as they arrived and, as far as I know, not going on even one date for the rest of her life.

So what does it mean to be 20, 30, 40? I say there’s no way to answer that question. I say it’s a stupid question. I can only conclude that it’s a stupid question that sells magazines.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Men: The Good, The Bad and the Bald

Every day, I see stories in the news relating to The Big Age And Beauty Thing, but today it's an embarrassment of riches - mostly embarrassing to men, I'm sorry to say. Where to start?

First of all, did you know that when choosing women to date, men look almost exclusively at appearance? It's true! Let me tell you, I was shocked. Researchers from Indiana University who studied speed daters in Germany found that while women considered such things as wealth and status, commitment to family, good health and, yes, physical appearance, men kept it simple and concentrated on physical appearance. I'm guessing that by "physical appearance" they meant "breast size."

To be fair, women were looking at attractiveness, too. Interestingly, even though they said they were looking at numerous traits, the men they picked tended to match their own self-assessed level of attractiveness. Coincidence? The researchers think not; their report speculates that women know what they can get and aim for men who are about as attractive as themselves. They don't "overshoot" by picking men who are more attractive because a gorgeous man might run off with someone hotter.

This is called "the Jennifer Aniston Principle."

Personally, I think women hesitate to choose men more attractive than themselves because they hate to have to share the bathroom mirror.

Men have always been open about their tendency to rate women by appearance; in fact, I've always hated it when a man would say that a particular woman was "out of his league." Of course, this means that beautiful women will most often get asked out by men who think of themselves as outrageously attractive. Ever date a man like that? Ever want to again?

So the man and the woman are both thinking about relative hotness, but at different levels of awareness and for different reasons. The woman is thinking long term: would he stick around?? The man is thinking in the moment: can I get her to go out with me and sleep with me on this date??

Sometimes I think it's amazing that most of us remain heterosexual.

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It gets worse. Did you know that women are pickier about whom they'll kiss than men are? (I know, another shocker.) A New York State University team surveyed over 1,000 students and learned that women use kissing as a way to assess a man as a potential partner and increase bonding, then later to maintain intimacy and check the status of the relationship. Men, on the other hand, kiss to increase the likelihood of sex, and they're willing to have sex with someone whom they don't find attractive or think is a bad kisser or whom they haven't even kissed at all.

Especially at closing time, after many beers.

It seems that men are driven to have sex with virtually anyone, even someone they would never kiss! Of course, there are women with this attitude; they are called "hookers."

And, to think, women agonize over what flavor of lip gloss to wear.

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Here's another study about men, sex and age that'll make you cringe: Researchers at Stanford University believe that humans live as long as we do because of horny old men. They say that generally, living beings die soon after their reproductive stage ends, but human males are able to continue reproducing long past the age at which females go through menopause. Because men in their 70s are still able to impregnate younger women, and often do, humans have evolved to live well past the age at which women lose their fertility. The implication: we women should be grateful!

The researchers stopped short of saying that post-menopausal women had no real reason to keep on living. Perhaps there are reasons for non-fertile women to exist: for example, to care for the grandchildren if their own daughters run off to live with Hugh Hefner.

Just think, now that we have Viagra, soon we'll all be living for 300 years.

I'm wondering if evolution is perhaps lengthening the time of a woman's fertility as well. I recently heard of a record-setting birth that took place when the woman was 59. The conception was completely natural; she'd taken no fertility treatments. It only makes sense that, as human lifespan increases, the span of fertility will increase as well.

But men will still be chasing 18-year-olds.

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Okay, I've bashed men enough for one day. Though you might not be able to tell so far, this blog is actually for both women and men as we all deal with issues relating to age and attractiveness.

So let's talk about something men typically face with either resignation or blinding fear. That's right: baldness! Humorist Matt Wixon (mwixon@dallasnews.com) has a column about his hair, or lack thereof, in the September 3 issue of The Dallas Morning News. It was inspired by the fact that after using the same photo in the paper for six years, he now has a current one -- one that shows him with a different shirt and, by the way, with decidedly less hair. Wixon's column, besides being really funny, testifies to the pressure men as well as women face to keep looking young and, uh, beautiful.

I love his speculation about where his hair went, especially that a bird might have picked up some of it and used it in a nest. (Birds love our hair; some of my pet parrots like to gently preen and "style" my long locks, while others don't know their own strength and can end up snipping off a strand!) Perhaps his hair is just trapped inside a vacuum cleaner bag, he writes, but maybe it's in an exotic part of the world.

I'm reminded of what Charlie Brown says of Pig Pen's dirt in "A Charlie Brown Christmas": "Think of it as maybe the soil from some great past civilization. Maybe the soil of Ancient Babylon. It staggers the imagination..."

"I'm OK with balding," Wixon continues. "It was a difficult adjustment, however. How could it not be? Our superficial culture values appearance, especially youthful appearance, over just about everything. There is no "aging gracefully" anymore. Nips, tucks and facelifts are the way to go, even if some people eventually look like an off-brand knockoff of a human."

He describes a commercial for Rogaine that ran a few years ago (I never saw this one!): "A man steps up to the camera and, with his wife or girlfriend in the background, asks, 'Will she still feel the same way if I lose my hair?' 'Sure,' he answers to himself. 'She'll just feel it about somebody else.'

"Classic!" Wixon remarks. "I'm not sure if that's more demeaning to men or women."

What a great comment. I swear to God I did not ghostwrite his column. And this is coming from a man. I've got to get a tape to him of my song parody "My Man"; it's about the way women still love their men as they (the men) grow bald and flabby -- at least when they don't resort to those ridiculous combovers.

In spite of that ad campaign, Wixon did try Rogaine, but he stopped using it; it's for mild-to-moderate balding, not Yul-Brynner-style balding. Plus, you have to use it all the time or the hair just falls out. "It's like you're paying protection money to a neighborhood thug," he says. LOVE IT!

Wixon also had to consider that his self-assessment of attractiveness (see today's previous stories) was not high, with or without hair. "It's not as though lack of hair was the only element keeping me from being stunningly handsome," he says.

The picture in the paper is small and didn't print sharply, but I think he looks good. I can't see the very top of his head, though; the photo cuts it off.

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Finally, a sad note about a very funny and talented lady who sang cabaret in Manhattan. Dottie Burman, who wrote and performed humorous songs and also worked as a motivational speaker, helping people get past the "age thing" to do what they wanted at any stage of life, has died. I only just found out, though she died last November.

Dottie was a late bloomer herself. She seems never to have considered her age an obstacle. More of a personality than a trained singer, she nevertheless graced some of Manhattan's most well-known cabaret venues with hilarious songs such as “Age Discrimination,” “Let’s Have A P.C. Holiday” and "When The Palm Trees Grow In Central Park," about the bright side of global warming.

Though we had never met in person, we were mutual fans via phone and e-mail, and I had hoped to visit her the next time I was in New York. She wanted to take me around to her favorite cabaret open mic nights and have me sing for her friends there. But it is not to be.

At least I can remember her by her wonderful songs. Her website is still up, and it's still possible to see some of her performances, read her lyrics - perhaps even to order some CDs.