Photo: George Burns
How do you feel about getting older? In the past six months, I've asked that question of almost every woman over 40 who's been a guest on my show. Barbra Streisand. Cheryl Tiegs. Bo Derek. Christie Brinkley.
Ali MacGraw said, "The message women my age send to terrified 30- and 40-year-old women is that 'it's almost over.' What a gip." Beverly Johnson said, "Why am I trying to keep this teenage body when I'm not a teenager and everybody knows it? That was an epiphany for me."
I ask the question so often for two reasons. One, I'm curious to know how being what the world considers externally beautiful affects your self-image when that beauty is no longer your calling card. I thought Cybill Shepherd's honesty on this point—"I had a great fear, as I grew older, that I would not be valued anymore"—offered terrific insight.
And that's the second reason I like asking the question. We can learn from one another, and there's comfort in knowing that others have felt the same as we have.
If you're blessed enough to grow older, which is how I look at aging (I think often of all the angels of 9/11 who won't), there's so much wisdom to be gained from people who are celebrating the process with vibrancy and vigor and grace.
I've had wonderful mentors. Maya Angelou is 83 and still doing speaking tours. Quincy Jones, who recently celebrated 78, is always off in some far-flung part of the world creating new projects. Sidney Poitier at 84 epitomizes who and what I want to be if I'm fortunate to live as long. He's still reading everything he can get his hands on, continually expanding his fields of knowledge.
For sure we live in a youth-obsessed culture that is constantly trying to tell us that if we're not young and glowing and "hot," we don't matter. The entire television ratings/advertising system is set up to serve the 18-to-54 demographic. Which says to anyone outside that group: We don't care about you. Yet this is a business predominantly run by executives all over 54.
I refuse to let a system, a culture, a distorted view of reality tell me I don't matter. That only happens when we buy into the propaganda.
People who lie about their age are denying the truth and contributing to a sickness pervading our society—the sickness of wanting to be what you're not.
Denial leads to delusion.
I know for sure that only by owning who and what you are can you step into the fullness of life.
Every year should teach you something valuable; whether you get the lesson is up to you. Every year brings you closer to expressing your whole and healed self.
I celebrate that. Honor it. Hold it in reverence. And I'm grateful for every age I'm blessed to become.
Celebrate Your Age
From the May 2011 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
We Hear You!