Thursday, April 19, 2012

I Want to Age like Jane Goodall. (What about Kelly Ripa?)

Stuck in a waiting room this past week, I had the bizarre delight of watching Kelly Ripa get chimpanzee-dominated by Jane Goodall. Ripa had asked Goodall about how chimpanzees communicate (there's an upcoming film, linkage), and Goodall spoke to her in chimpanzee, cuddled and patted Ripa's very shiny hair. Ripa made a joke -- about wanting to learn to be more dominant and mentioned her husband.

But there was something really incredibly tender and intimate about Goodall holding and patting Ripa -- like some infinite divide in cultures had been momentarily bridged.

I don't watch daytime tv, but Ripa -- when I've seen her here and there -- can be really funny, in an edgy but never over the edge way, which is not an easy line to walk. I like her.

She's pretty, too, of course -- petite and blonde ... and very perfect looking. And within her world, she will have to remain perfect looking for as long as humanly possible.

Which is why it's so interesting to see her next to Goodall -- who is also incredibly beautiful -- with her gray hair swept back in a ponytail and her face without any heavy duty make-up. She's stunning. Who has aged more beautifully than Goodall?

For the past few years, it's been distracting for me to watch many actresses over 40 on film. I edge toward the screen, trying to discern what exactly is different about their faces and what procedure might have gotten it to look that way.

Our brains are so incredibly evolved in facial recognition that a baby, minutes after birth, can distinguish between faces, knowing who's who. (Chimps can also do this face recognition upside down.)

Humans know faces. We've evolved over time to read the slightest hints in expression. We know when modifications have been made. Do we, deep down, read a certain falseness in a person with a lot work done? Do we distrust them on some level? (Wasn't there a study a while back that said that people with Botox treatments were found to have less sympathy when shown images of people with different facial expressions -- as if our own facial expressions in reaction to others trigger or guide our emotions?)

Or is it like braces ... At one point, you could tell when someone had braces-straight teeth. But over time so many people got braces that braces-straight teeth have become a norm and buck teeth surprise us.

Our brains have evolved but they're also supple. Braces-straight teeth came to equal a certain amount of childhood affluence, and now are a middle-class right of passage.

Will this also happen with work done? Will we eventually see it as a given -- something one does with ones money? I've lived in the South for 8 years and have worn more make-up here in one year than five up north. Why? Because wearing make-up is a courtesy here -- or so it feels to me. It's something you put on out of politeness to your company. You spruce up for them. Will a facelift be such a courtesy? Will it become the thing that's done so as not to distract and disturb others by your persistent aging?

One day, instead of obsessing over the faces of actresses (and a few actors), trying to decide what work's been done, will I instead stare at the faces of women who've had no work done at all, to remember what a woman looks like in the natural aging process -- like a rare bird sighting?

I want to age like Goodall. And, the truth is, Ripa might want to age like Goodall, too, but our culture and her role in it will apply a lot of pressure ... well, it already is. (There are endless discussions of Ripa's size, weight. Did she once weigh herself live on air?)

I'm guessing the trick of Goodall's aging however isn't a simple one. (First of all, it wouldn't be right not to mention that Goodall has a classical beauty and always has -- beautiful bone structure ...) But her current beauty doesn't require one to just steer clear of cosmetic surgery. No. Hers is an active beauty. Goodall is lit from within. Her beauty -- which she radiates with incredibly high wattage -- is a very specific beauty -- that of purpose.

And that beauty -- at any age -- is rare indeed.

[To check out some of Goodall's inner beauty loosed on the world, visit her institute. ]