debbie millman

Sunday, March 02, 2008


These days, it seems as if everyone who is young wants to be older, and everyone who is old wants to be younger. Teens and ‘Tweens are in a mad race to reach the legal drinking age, models in magazines are 14 but made up to look like adults and young members of MySpace pretend to be older in order to appear cool. Meanwhile, more people than ever before are trying to look younger. The cosmetic surgery industry is currently a $15 billion industry just in the United States; last year alone over 12 million youth-inducing beauty procedures were performed, including over 300,000 eyelid lifts.

Most of my life I wanted to be older. Somehow I felt that older was happier; and when I was younger I would fantasize all sorts of scenarios for my future. Whenever I did, the imaginary story lines included a swanky pad to live in, a brilliant boyfriend who spoke Spanish and really fabulous white shag carpeting. I was so consumed with “growing up,” I recall feeling as though I achieved something special just by going into the third grade! I’ll never forget the few months before school started that year. I spent the summer at sleep away camp, and as I made my way from the canteen to the cabin I shared with a gaggle of 8-year-old girls, I remember feeling a profound sense of pride at my made-up milestone. And as I watched the sun slice and bounce its way across the shallow, little lake that was connected to the campground, I planned my very grown-up “first day of school outfit” in my mind.

When I was about 13 or 14 years old, I stumbled upon a copy of my father’s Playboy subscription, and when no one was looking, I snuck the magazine into my room, opened it right up to the centerfold and gaped. I had never seen a grown up woman look quite that grownup before, and I couldn’t believe that I would ever, ever, ever look that way. After I analyzed all of the pictures, I started reading about Miss January or July or whatever month it happened to be, and found out everything I could ever possibly want to know about this particular Playmate's likes and dislikes and what turned her on and off in the little hand-written survey that accompanied the photographs. I was riveted by the elaborate details of this totally foreign creature as I evaluated her vital statistics, including her measurements, her weight and her astrological sign. When I got to her age, I did a double take. She was only a few years older than me! How was this possible?? How could she look so sexy and alluring and ethereal? How could she look like such an ADULT? In my wildest, most rampant imagination, I couldn’t conceive of ever looking that grown up no matter how grown up I got.

Last week the reverse occurred, twice. The first was while making my way through the new show at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan, “Design and the Elastic Mind” with my friend Paul. As I was wandering through the exhibit, he motioned me over to an installation he was admiring. As we stood marveling at the work, Paul smiled and pointed down. When he saw I was confused by what he was smiling at, he directed me to the age noted on the plaque in front of the piece. The artist was born in the 1980s. We shook our heads in disbelief and considered how amazing it must feel to have a piece of artwork in a museum while still in one’s twenties. But privately I felt jealous, envious and old as I realized that at 46 years old, I could easily be the artist’s mother.

The second instance occurred while browsing through a magazine store and coming upon a recent copy of Playboy. Having not leafed through an issue in decades, I picked one out of the rack and turned to the centerfold, and once again I was shocked by what I saw. First of all, I couldn’t imagine where all of her pubic hair went, and I wondered if she felt chilly without even a landing strip to warm her. When did sexy turn into completely hairless? Furthermore, I couldn’t believe that this particular Playmate was born in 1987. 1987! In 1987, I was grooving to Madonna in Danceteria and getting ready to get married. This didn’t seem possible.

I am not sure when exactly the tables turn on what we wish for as we age. What is the tipping point when age goes from being something coveted to something to scorn? At what point in one’s life does age change from being a desirous aspiration to a dreaded monster?

Some people say that age is a state of mind, but I'm in the monster camp. A few days ago, I watched the movie “In The Valley of Elah,” and I found a strange comfort in the way Tommy Lee Jones councils a young boy about being scared with a story about David & Goliath:

The first thing David had to fight was his own fear. He beat that; he beat Goliath. Because when Goliath came running David just planted his feet, took aim and waited. Just a few more steps and Goliath would have crushed him...and he let fly with that rock. Do you know how much courage that takes? That's how you fight monsters, you lure them in close you look them in the eye and you smack them down.

Perhaps it has to do with expectations. Maybe I’m feeling old simply because I am not as young as I used to be and that scares me in the same way monsters do. Perhaps I am doomed to want what I can’t have. And perhaps it is all about perspective. Last night, while surfing through the latest news about the race to the White House, I started reading an article attempting to deconstruct why Barack Obama is so popular with young people. The author of the article suggested age might be a factor; after all, he was the youngest, most vibrant and most charismatic candidate of the group. When I realized that I had no idea how old Senator Obama actually was, I looked it up and was confronted by the odd realization that we are exactly the same age. I am exactly the same age as the man likely to be the next President of the United States. Maybe, if I am lucky, there’s hope for me yet.


Anonymous The Curated Object said...

This is one of the most thoughtful and sincere things I've read in quite some time. Thank you for your candor ~ Truly lovely.

3/06/2008 02:27:00 PM  
Blogger minus five said...

i don't know why your age matters to you anymore than i know why not being able to envision my future matters to me. All of our fears seem to boil down to time. We created the concept of time and we even invented calendars and clocks to manage it, but we can't control it. we all get numbers in the beginning, but who created those numbers? who decided where things should begin and end and what what part is the middle? numbers and ages and outlines of life seem as absurd to me as trying to install a fence in space.

in any case, if we're going to deal in numbers, you're the youngest 46 year-old i know.

3/07/2008 11:42:00 AM  
Anonymous Jay, writer said...

It's not anything new. Kids can't wait to be adults. Adults would do anything to be young again. It makes me wonder if there is one age level that generally everybody is content at. Or is age really the issue at all or the person's current situation that determines this kind of behavior.

3/07/2008 12:21:00 PM  

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