This is Helen Mirren at the 55th annual Emmy awards last Sunday, 27 August. According to the IMDB, Ms Mirren was born in 1945, which would make her around 61. She looks lovely here, I think. The tan is lovely. The buttercream color of her gown is lovely, as is the gentle blonde of her hair. She is clearly happy, radiant even, upon winning her award for her role in the BBC/HBO production Elizabeth I. (Click on the photo if you want to embiggen it.)
These are the original Charlie’s Angels, Farrah Fawcett, Kate Jackson, and Jaclyn Smith, in a picture taken the same night at the same event. From left to right, the years of their birth are 1947, 1948 and 1945, making each of these women Ms Mirren’s contemporaries.
These women don’t look quite so radiant, in no small part due to the fact that they weren’t there to win awards; rather, they were there to pay tribute to Aaron Spelling, who gave each of them a start in television. They, unlike the sunny Ms Mirren, are dressed in somber shades of black and brown. And they, unlike the glowing Ms Mirren, have had what could really only be termed buttloads of plastic surgery.
Kate Jackson’s eyes no longer match; one is slightly rounded, the other oddly triangular. Farrah Fawcett’s ever-slimming nose is dwindling to a Michelle Pfeiffer/Michael Jackson slenderness. Jaclyn Smith’s face has a kind of waxed-fruit fecundity; there is a strange immobility to her shiny, full features, as if she has been sculpted by the masters at Madame Tussaud’s. Each of them has that taut fixed expression that registers as something between mild surprise and total enlightenment. Each of them has been nipped, poked, tucked, implanted and tweaked within an inch of their lives.
In pointing out these pictures, I don’t intend to take a broad swipe at plastic surgery. For one thing, that would be redundant—it’s altogether too easy to turn a page and find writers dissing plastic beauty and touting the natural kind. For another, it would be hypocritical. I have breast implants and I love them (they are fake and they are spectacular). I believe that the first thing we own is our bodies and that we have the inalienable right to do what we want to them, as long as we aren’t hurting others in the process.
I will champion to the ends of this expanding galaxy Jocelyn Wildenstein’s right to spend her hard-won money on multiple surgeries to make herself look like a cat, or The Enigma’s right to turn himself slowly blue as a smurf, or the rights of vampire fetishists to sharpen their teeth to Dracula points, or whatever anyone wants to do to his or her body because to make those choices is a basic human right.
But even if I support these personal freedoms, it doesn’t mean I have to like the results of them.
Because, frankly, I wish the Angels had had a little more Mirren in them. And a little less Botox, Restylane and Collagen.
Looking at the three of them, I have to wonder, how bad would it have been to let their eyes droop a bit? How bad would it have been to let their lives line their faces like well-traveled maps? How bad would it have been to abandon the hair of their twenties? How bad would it have been to let themselves grow up?
In short, I wonder, how bad was it for them to get old? Because frankly, at 43, I’m soon on the verge of getting old myself, and these women are up there on that bright-lit stage in full post-surgical tweak silently shouting that it’s pretty fucking bad. If it’s better to have mismatched eyes and melting noses and frozen faces and preternaturally burnished cheekbones, getting old must pretty fucking bad indeed.
I don’t mean to judge the Angels. I know that each of them have had multiple personal trials—Kate Jackson alone spent a decade battling breast cancer. I don’t mean to suggest that this inviolable will to lift and inject and separate and implant is merely their vanity walking the vanity walk, or that they are superficial people. They may be; they may not be. I don’t know them, and I wouldn’t presume a fulsome understanding of their decisions.
I do think, though, as the glaring differences between Helen Mirren’s and the Angels’ visages suggest, that we Americans have a fucked set of expectations for our female celebrities. Clearly, Helen Mirren and the Angels trio are not exactly equal. Ms Mirren is a Serious Actress, and she is British. She may have been good-looking—she certainly is now—but she was never a Total Babe. Her career was comprised of stage and film. The Angels, however, were Total Television Babes. They adorned the insides of lockers. They posed in red bathing suits and in shorts and knee-socks and on roller-skates. They are icons, and whatever Ms Mirren may or may not be, she is not an icon, not in the same way that Ms Fawcett is.
Fewer are the people who have wanked to Helen Mirren; many are those who have jacked off to Farrah Fawcett.
And stubbornly, we don’t want our Total Babes to age. Perhaps their crumbling faces and portly bodies might remind us of our own decrepitude. Perhaps their decay would uncomfortably make us think of our own demise. Or perhaps it’s something else.
There are lots of European actresses who made the transition from Total Babe to Serious Actress. Sophia Loren. Catherine Deneuve. Monica Bellucci. Diana Rigg. Anita Eckberg. Anouk Aimée. Audrey Tatou.
For some reason, it seems more acceptable for European women to be beautiful and intelligent and powerful. It seems more acceptable for them to grow up.
Sure, Sophia Loren has had a lot of surgical help. So has Catherine Deneuve (rumors are that her face rests on tiny gold filaments threaded under her skin). And yet, these women have matured. Neither of them has held on to their youth with the kind of white-knuckled ferocity seen in American ex-starlets. But then they, like Ms Mirren, were all film stars, not television babes.
Maybe, then, it’s a problem with television. We Americans treat our televisions with the care and attention we treat pets. We grow up with them, we are on intimate terms with them. Their stars are not ten feet high and luminous, untouchable as gods. Movie stars are unreachable and distant galaxies. Television stars are tinier than we are; they are wee. They are freely available every week, and if they are in syndication, they may be infinitely accessible. Hot and cold running Seinfeld. Free-flowing Friends. An infinite tap of Cheers.
Maybe it is the intimacy of this genre that makes us want to freeze-frame our stars, to keep them coppered like baby booties, to make sure that no matter how we change, no matter how we grow or move or sag or droop, they at least will carry on, maintaining that home-like utopia, and the warm glowing, glowing warmth of nostalgia. Maybe we find their intransigence comforting. Our worlds will not falter as long as Farrah still has layers and a gravity-defying bosom.
Looking at the Angels, though, I can’t help but wish that they had accepted going gently into that good night, that they had not raged quite so hard and so long, cut by knives, wrapped in gauze, stuck by needles and buffed by acids, against the dying of their light. I wish that they had found a way to like what they saw in the mirror just a bit more so that they could do to themselves just a bit less.
I wish that they had been a bit more fearless, and a bit less ageless.
I wonder if I can find a poster of Helen Mirren. Because she’s my hero.
If you enjoyed this feminist musing, you might enjoy this piece on women, culture and weight.