Dame Helen Mirren, actress and senior sex symbol, was on The Late Show with David Letterman to promote a Broadway play she’s in. Turns out she’ll be 70 in July. This is the same Helen Mirren who appeared in a bikini in a popular magazine when she was 63. Seven years later, she’s still sexy.
I realize that those in the public eye can usually afford an entourage to help keep them in good physical shape. But hearing that Dame Helen is the same age as I am set me to looking around for body images more typical of my age group. I discovered that the most appropriate symbols now come from the vegetable patch. To illustrate these types, I looked for examples among people who should be familiar to most of us.
Many men in their sixties and seventies put me in mind of the Pillsbury Doughboy. Men can get away with going to seed; women can’t. This body type has a pasty, doughy look, especially the cheeks. You feel that if you pushed your index finger into their cheek, it would leave a permanent indentation. William Shatner has one of those faces. So does the closing-in-on-sixty Alec Baldwin. I know: Alec is a sex symbol. That just proves my earlier point.
We also have Chevy Chase and Senator Mitch McConnell, neither of whom would be described as sexy. Chevy's face looks better than McConnell's, but he’s still doughy. The comments about his physical condition after the Saturday Night Live 40th Anniversary Special showed concern, not derision. “Chevy Chase Worries Fans After Massive Weight Gain” (LifeandStyleMag.com) and “Fans Fear For His Health” (HollywoodLife.com). If he’d been a woman, the Twittersphere would have lit up with snark. “She Let Herself Go.”
In our seventies and eighties, some of us start resembling string beans. A few still retain our sex appeal, but again, it’s more likely to happen for the men. Take Clint Eastwood, for example. Scrawny as a beanpole these days, but as sexy as ever. If you think he still attracts young hotties because of his money, you’re only half right. No matter how thin he gets, he still has those eyes. Likewise Ian McKellen. Hmmm. Maybe it’s all about the eyes, ‘bout the eyes, ‘bout the eyes.
Women have trouble pulling off the string bean look even when they’re young. (Remember Twiggy?) Once they’re past sixty, it’s called “character,” not sex appeal. Have you seen pictures of Lily Tomlin lately? Or Vanessa Redgrave?
Most older women have to look to other vegetables for our body image. One that comes to mind is the butternut squash, where the inexorable downward drag of gravity causes everything to settle at the base. Well, almost everything. The sexy version comes with two acorn squashes at boob level. Two great examples are Kirstie Alley (especially when she’s fallen off the diet wagon) and Patricia Arquette. Arquette isn’t even fifty yet, but she’s already a butternut-acorn hybrid. If she’s lucky, she’ll still be one in ten years, because the alternative isn’t pretty.
After sixty, we see more dimpled-melon bodies on women. This type has a smaller melon head and a large melon torso; both have lots of dimples. If you’re having trouble picturing this, Google images of Margo Martindale and Angela Merkel. Merkel will turn 60 this year, so she’s only now beginning to take on her melon identity.
When the two melons start to merge into one, we get a Barbara Mikulski, the retiring Senator from Maryland. At 79, she’s the longest-serving female member of Congress. A timeline of her photos shows what that job does to a woman’s body.
Angela Lansbury, Gena Rowlands and Doris Roberts, all well into their eighties, show us what a well-cared-for upper melon can do to divert attention from an ever-more-dimpled torso. Sadly for us women, preventing those facial dimples from turning into deeply-wrinkled creases is a major challenge. A history of Roberts’ images shows us what can happen as we close in on 90.
Most faces of women over 80 are so wrinkled that they cry out to have seeds planted in those furrows. The only good news in this is that they’re not deep enough to grow any vegetables. Then again (bite my tongue, because I love her), have you looked at any recent close-ups of Maggie Smith?