Keeping Up With the Joneses

Oh, good lord.  I just heard the “great” news that Shirley Jones, the 75-year-old actress who played the mother on The Partridge Family, may be taking it all off for Playboy.  (See

“She’s still drop-dead gorgeous and, at the age of 75, a natural beauty,” Jones’ husband and manager gushed.

This makes me feel as underwhelmed as when I saw the screaming headlines about Valerie Bertinelli and wondered whether she’d just won a Nobel Prize.  No, as it turns out, Valerie had just gotten into the best shape of her life at the advanced age of 45 and was prancing around in her bikini nowhere near Stockholm.

Similarly, Nancy Sinatra who got the mothballs and cobwebs and varicose veins brushed off her in 1995, so she could pose for Playboy at the geriatric way-station of 54.  That set the “old” record for posing au naturel in Playboy and I bet old Nancy is now screeching at her personal trainer to hit the barbells and get Hugh Hefner on the line.  At the time, I just found it sadly dispiriting, realizing this wasn’t about looking good for your age.  It’s about looking good for your daughter‘s age.

If this exposure is supposed to be so damned liberating, why was it just giving me a migraine, instead?

Isn’t all of that supposed to be over by now? I wonder every time I hear about a new aged centerfold or about the “good news” women can get pregnant till they’re 105 and spawn their own great-grandchildren or something.  Haven’t we already spent too many of the best years of our lives worrying about our looks and our weight and hanging around the OB’s office in stirrups you can’t ride sidesaddle in?

Of course, I’m as hypocritical as the next 59-year-old, certain that my own so-called regimen of yoga and walking reflects a proper, sane balance for the age I am.  I also care about the way I look, to a point, and suffer from occasional panicky impulses to implore the nearest plastic surgeon to do something, anything, to make me look better.  But those moments pass and, blessedly, my eyesight’s not as good as it used to be.  Candlelight, I have decided, is the remedy for what ails me.  What the hell.  So this is what I’m going to look like when I’m old.

A friend of mine, who’s a similar age, recently ran into another cohort at the gym.  The women she saw looked wonderful — with Michelle Obama arms, a tight butt, you know what I mean — the whole works.  Listening to the description made me want to tear into a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and brood.

“Oh!” the aerobicized one said.  “But you could look this good, too!  I’ll give you the name of my personal trainer.”

No thanks, my friend said.  “I just don’t want to work that hard.”

I know exactly what she means.

(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)

6 comments… add one
  • Cindy A Link

    Amen to that, Ruth.  It feels  more and more like women refuse to accept aging. Are we now going to be self absorbed until we die?  Men don’t seem to feel as much of a need to get nipped and tucked and buffed — why do women?

    Remember that bucket list with an F?  Posing in the nude for Playboy is definitely on mine. 

  • ruthpennebaker Link

    Agreed!  No matter how much they beg us.

  • Winston Link

    My mother aimed for the age of seventy.  That’s the age she believed would be the proper time to say whatever she darned well please— to whomever.  Whenever.  Mom used to reminisce about the old ladies in the small town where she grew up, and remark of how blunt they were!  Somehow she had calculated that seventy was the right age for a lady to toss diplomacy out the window with an imperious air of finality— and a thud.

    Mom did reach the age of seventy.  As she fanned out the candles on the birthday cake with her dinner napkin, I asked her whom she was going to tell off first.  Mom’s fanning hand dropped to the table with a THUD!  She was silent for a moment, staring toward the ceiling with that faraway look.  Then she cocked her head and remarked, “Well… I don’t know.  The ones at the top of the list are already dead!”

    Maybe songbird Shirley’s personal cutoff is seventy-five.  Perhaps that’s when she feels it’s proper to DO as she darned well please.  Whenever.  Wherever.  Even if that means striking an improper pose in Playboy!

  • ruthpennebaker Link

    There’s a lesson here, Winston: Don’t wait to do what you want to do, since it may not be there when you’re finally ready for it.  Sorry, though, that I don’t consider posing for Playboy at any age to be life-transforming.

  • Awesome post!!!  I admire older women (or any women) who are in the spotlight because of their good accomplishments, not because of their bodies.   

    One of my friends constantly talks about how old we’re getting (she’s been doing it since we turned 25).  It drives me crazy.  Now she’s obsessing over her knees–she thinks they’re getting wrinkled.  I’m going to make her read this post TODAY! 

    I do understand her feelings.  I certainly spend my fair share of time primping in front of a mirror.  But I’ll be damned if I’m going to worry about my knees.  That’s the last straw.   

    Thanks for a great read, Ruth! 

  • ruthpennebaker Link

    Julie — What a good friend you are.  Can’t believe we’ve never met.  Yet, anyway.

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