Editor’s Note: Andrea Askowitz is the author of the memoir “My Miserable, Lonely, Lesbian Pregnancy” and cohost of the podcast “Writing Class Radio.” The views expressed here are her own. Read more opinion on CNN.
Justine Bateman, a star whose age I’m approaching, played Mallory Keaton on “Family Ties” in the 1980s as a teenager. In her early 40s, she says, she typed her name into Google for research, and the search engine auto-populated “looks old.”
Bateman, now 57, said she was incredulous. “I couldn’t see what they were talking about,” she recently told “60 Minutes Australia,” adding that the way her face has changed represents authority.
She said she likes seeing herself as a different person than the teen she played on “Family Ties.”
But Bateman didn’t come to terms with the public’s negative perception of her aging face overnight.
I recently searched my own name online. No one is out there calling me old, but not because I don’t look old. At 54, I do. Apparently, for too many in American society, that’s not OK.
At a party recently, I ran into a friend I knew in college. Thirty-five years ago, she was adorable — full cheeks and a giant smile. I had full cheeks back then, too.
“You look great,” my friend said to me. “You haven’t aged.”
I took it in. I said thank you and felt good for a second.
But here’s the thing: I have aged. Thirty-five years. I weigh about the same as I did in college, but that weight is distributed differently now. I no longer have the baby-fat cheeks. My smile lines never go away. My hair, once black, is now more gray than black. My hair used to curl in perfect ringlets. Now, it’s a frayed mop. Everyone — and I mean everyone I know or even meet once — is quick to suggest a hair product.
My mom has loosened up on her hair-dye campaign because she knows it’s a lost cause. She went hard about five years ago, when I was nearing 50. Back then she thought I’d want to try to stay young-looking. She said, “Dye that mop. You look like an aging hippie.”
The truth is, I look older since the last time my friend and I saw each other. The other truth is, I look better, at least to me.
I never felt beautiful growing up. I felt bulky and awkward in my clothes. I relied on other charms. I feel cheated because now that I feel beautiful, most people can’t see how beautiful I am. They can only see my age. I’m not just talking about the beauty that comes with confidence. Frankly, I look better physically. Now, I like looking like an aging hippie, and tight jeans and a T-shirt just fit.
My friend looks better now, too. She has the same big smile and friendly demeanor, but there is something about her face that I like more. I didn’t stare. I don’t know exactly what about her face is more pleasing, but it is.
What wasn’t pleasing to me is what happened in February after Madonna appeared at the 2023 Grammy Awards. The internet went crazy over the work Madonna had done to her face. Madonna tried to defend her position in an Instagram post, writing, “I am happy to do the trailblazing so that all the women behind me can have an easier time in the years to come.”
I consider Madonna one of the most influential leaders of my generation, a cohort including my friend — and Bateman.
When Madonna’s book “Sex” was published in 1992, I was 24. I had just come out as a lesbian. The book was scandalous — pictures of Madonna fully naked, explicit sex shots, homosexuality across the pages. Whatever you thought about the book then, Madonna changed cultural perceptions of sex and all kinds of sexual expression. She helped paved the way for queer people, including me.
Madonna clearly sees herself in a leadership role, too. Madonna’s fake face, though, is bad leadership.
But I don’t expect Madonna to carry the burden of influencing society’s views on age and beauty alone.
During her acceptance speech at the 95th Academy Awards in March, Oscar best actress winner Michelle Yeoh, 60, said, “Ladies, don’t let anybody tell you you are ever past your prime.”
And best supporting actress winner Jamie Lee Curtis, 64, called herself “an old lady” in an E! News interview on the red carpet ahead of the Oscars event. She said her goal in life was simply to say, “Relax, you are enough.”
Bateman also told “60 Minutes Australia” she wanted women to stop being consumed with how they look and to get out there and live their lives. “Forget about your face,” she said.
Attitudes are changing because of Hollywood stars like Yeoh, Curtis and Bateman. But we non-celebrities also play a part, too.
If we can’t stop talking about looks altogether, let’s at least stop saying, “You look great — you haven’t aged.”
I tried a similar approach with my friend at the party — something radical. “You look great because you’ve aged,” I told her.
And like that, we changed the dynamic around aging, at least in that moment. Because she agreed with me.
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