Me and Meryl Streep
I’m feeling, how shall I put this? Old. This afternoon I was out Christmas shopping. (No, I am not done yet.) I stopped in a well-known cosmetics store to get some blush for my daughter. I wasn’t in a hurry, so I wandered the aisles looking at the staggering array of products. Who knew there were so many cosmetics brands with such exotic names? Nars! Urban Decay! Smashbox! I barely manage to wash my face with Cetaphil every morning.
Which leads me to Meryl Streep. I’ve never had the honor of meeting Streep, who for all her fame and glamour seems remarkably normal to me. I’m only a few years younger than she. And I’m pretty convinced that if we ever did meet we’d be best friends because we’re both moms and feminists and wear glasses. Though we don’t look a thing alike. I don’t have her striking blue eyes or heavenly blonde hair or height. Or her marvelous laugh. Though I did get to interview Pierce Brosnan once at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills. And I have a secret passion for Mama Mia! So we have that in common too.
Anyway. Although the store wasn’t crowded and there were half a dozen young salespeople milling about, I might as well have been invisible. I kept craning my neck trying to wrest someone’s attention. But not one person asked, “Can I help you? Are you looking for something?” Are you alive? It was if I didn’t exist. It’s a good thing I’m not one of those Hollywood actresses who get caught wearing sneakers and sweatshirts in public in those cheesy magazine spreads. (“Halle Berry. She shops like us!”) Or believe me there would have been hell to pay from my publicist.
After what seemed like an hour, a young woman with red lipstick and perfectly waxed eyebrows finally noticed me. When I told her I was looking for blush for my daughter, she pursed her heart-shaped lips. “What shade?”
I’m not stumped by much in life. Three years ago I spent a day in the deepest gold mine on earth, outside Johannesburg, just to see what it was like. And because I wanted to prove to myself that I was still the adventurous woman of my youth. But this question threw me. “I have no idea,” I said.
She did not quite roll her eyes, but she clearly thought I’d been born in an inferior century. I scanned the rows of powders. There was pink, peach, and tangerine. There was rose, red, and raspberry. There were variations of nude, beige, and bronze. And the names! Since when did blush become a sexual experience? One was called Orgasm. Which made me reflect that I really need to buy blush more often.
But there’s the thing. Do you think the saleswoman tried to draw me out? I mean, I might not know Benefit from Cover Girl, but even I could have faked some relevant questions. Like, what’s your daughter’s skin color? Is this for everyday? Or for special occasions? But no. She literally just stood there acting bored out of her skull. Not giving me the time of day. I felt like quizzing her, Do you know who the President is? Can you name the female justices on the Supreme Court? Do you know there’s a Supreme Court? Like those street bits Jay Leno does with hipsters shopping on Melrose. Because I’m sure she wouldn’t have been able to tell me.
If it weren’t for a friendly middle-aged woman shopping next to me, who clearly understood my dilemma, I would have been toast. “She’ll love this one,” the woman said, pulling out a tube of blush that is apparently all the rage with women in their 20s, and elucidating its wonderfulness. “Yeah, that one’s good,” the saleswoman said noncommittally. That was all the incentive I needed. I bought the tube of blush.
This feeling that people don’t see me because of my age is happening with increasing frequency. My friends are noticing it too. They walk into a store, and no one pays attention to them. They walk down the street, and no one smiles or looks at them. They’re at a party, and no one talks to them about Newt Gingrich’s rise to the top of the GOP ticket or what they think of Diane Keaton’s memoir or Kobe Bryant’s divorce. It’s like our worth as women has the value of the euro.
That’s what bothers me. It’s not the Getting Older. It’s not the wrinkles or the fact I will never be a jazz dancer on Broadway. Or that I have all these age spots on my face from all those summers of sunbathing as a teenager. Or that I have to exercise like mad or my ass will fall down. Or that I have to pee every five minutes. Or that I don’t have the manic energy I used to. Or that men don’t hit on me the way they used to. (Which is one of the underrated benefits of aging.)
It’s that at a time when I finally know who I am and am pretty happy with where I am in life, and am grateful for all the amazing experiences I’ve had, have earned some wisdom and confidence, that I’m now at my best, everyone thinks I’m useless. (OK, not everyone. Mostly people under 40. And except for the ones who already know me, men.) That my opinion doesn’t count when in fact I have more to say now than I ever have. Whereas for men it’s the opposite. They only get accorded more power, more deference, more status, as they age. Even if they’re overweight and don’t know how to dress. Even if they’re unattractive. Even if they’re as ridiculous as Donald Trump.
Which brings me back to Meryl Streep. This month Streep is on the cover of Vogue. It’s the first time the actress has been on the cover. Think about that. The first time Meryl Streep—Meryl Streep!--has been on the cover of Vogue. When I read that I couldn’t believe it. All those Academy Awards, all those astonishing film performances, all that advocacy on behalf of women. Arguably the best actress of our generation and yet she’s never warranted the cover of the Bible? How is that possible?
But here’s the part that interests me most: At 62, Streep is the oldest woman Vogue has put on its cover. In the notoriously youth-obsessed, airbrushed, Photoshopped realm of women’s magazines, where a woman over 30 is deemed a crone, this feels like a breakthrough. I’m so ecstatic I can’t tell you. It made me want to run to the nearest newsstand and snap up every copy. Only there aren’t any newsstands in my neighborhood anymore.
Could this be the start of a trend? Does this mean that the influential magazine is finally going to recognize older women? Celebrate how wise and accomplished and interesting older women are? Can we expect future covers featuring Diane Keaton, Alfre Woodard, and Sigourney Weaver? Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton? Are older women going to be “hot”?
I wish I could say yes. I wish I could say that women over 50 are going to be considered as desirable and powerful and newsworthy as older men are. I wish I could say younger people are going to start idolizing me the way they do Lady Gaga. But I’m not going to hold my breath.
I’ve lived too long.