We live in a society obsessed with youth, afraid of death and allergic to wrinkles.
But actress Mimi Rogers, who is 67, is having none of it.
“This is me, this is my face,” says Rogers, “and I don’t show up with fish lips.”
Rogers has a long-running television role playing Honey Chandler, a powerful and fearless attorney who is comfortable in her own skin in more ways than one. I had never met Rogers, but I’ve seen her work in ‘Bosch’ and ‘Bosch: Legacy’, which are based on the crime writer’s work Michael Connelly. It’s refreshing to see a big name Hollywood actor age naturally and gracefully rather than grotesquely.
Rogers recently emailed me to be furious with the gas company after I wrote about a 102-year-old World War II veteran’s $526 bill, asking if I could talk to her about playing Honey Chandler. Rogers first wanted to make her closing argument, as Chandler might, against what she called the manipulation of energy markets and the inflating of utility prices.
Then she was happy to speak her mind – on the phone and then over lunch – about ageism, long-standing societal pressures on women to look young, the double standard for men, and “the plastic surgery nightmares we’re all about.” see us around’.
“Presumably we are in a time where women are more equal and have more power and respect than ever before,” Rogers said. “And yet we still have these bizarre pressures and expectations about looking youthful. It’s still a terrible social bias.”
Those prejudices and outright discrimination based on race, gender, and age have a long history in Hollywood and the wider culture. At the moment, Rogers said, older writers have been sidelined.
“Mimi’s right,” she said Catherine Clinch, chairman of the Career Longevity Committee of the Writers Guild of America West. “It’s much more difficult for writers than anyone else with regard to ageism because older actors can reinvent themselves. There is always someone older in a script, but that script is rarely written by someone older.”
Rogers said she feels lucky to have been able to consistently find work as she gets older, and she enjoys her current role in “Bosch: Legacy.” Honey Chandler isn’t defined by romantic or family interests – she’s a full-fledged, crafty, and talented lawyer who plays her age as she fights for her clients and her goals.
In many ways, Rogers said, now is a good time for older actors because streaming high-quality shows has opened some doors. But prejudice and double standards are still firmly in place.
“It goes back to when Cary Grant was playing with 22-year-olds,” Rogers said on screen. “I think it’s better in Europe, but a lot of women talk about the idea that after a certain age you become invisible. It’s like your sexual currency is gone, and that currency disappears much faster for women.
We’re in a sort of “turnstile moment,” says a University of Michigan cultural critic Susan J. Douglas, author of “Where the Girls Are: Growing Woman with the Mass Media.” Stereotypes about women’s aging persist, she said, but there has been a pushback and “a visibility revolt” in which actresses, including Judy Densch and Helen Mirren, are “still opening movies and TV shows,” and political figures, including Nancy Pelosi and Maxine Waters, “claim to be visible in public life.”
“Mimi’s position is so important to the rest of us because celebrity culture often sets the standard for everyday women — the standards of slimness and beauty and looking young,” Douglas said.
Many women, Douglas continued, face a “punishment” dilemma — especially those in entertainment and public life. Wrinkles can threaten their livelihood, but “when you go under the knife and don’t look like yourself, you’re under attack because you’re narcissistic or want to hold on to the past. So it is very difficult to win.”
And then there’s the multibillion-dollar “anti-aging industrial complex,” as Douglas calls it, diligently preparing the next cult of warriors in the fight against the inevitable.
“It’s spas, anti-aging creams, cosmetic procedures, gyms, all that, and it’s a really brilliant campaign,” Douglas said. “They’re now marketing Botox to people in their 20s, and if you make people phobic about aging when they’re young, you have an ever-expanding market for your products.”
Rogers says she doesn’t want to judge individual women — or men — for trying to look their best, and she’s not out to condemn all forms of cosmetic surgery. She said she’s not trying to be “holier than you” and acknowledges she’s experimented with minor treatments.
“I’ve tried very small amounts of Botox a few times, and I think it’s important to market that,” Rogers said.
Facelifts, tucks and other procedures aren’t for her, Rogers said, but her right eye tends to droop a bit, and she wanted to see if she could correct that without altering her appearance. Before the treatment, she emphasized, “I don’t want you trying to get rid of wrinkles. I’m at an age where my face should have wrinkles and it would look weird if it didn’t.”
She said she got a little extra Botox to treat frown lines.
“I said absolutely not. I want to be able to frown. And when I smile, I want there to be wrinkles,” she said.
“My problem is the compulsive and somewhat irrational pursuit of youth,” she said. “If I look at you and my first thought is, Oh my God, what have you done, or gosh, your mouth looks funny, or you don’t look like yourself, or your forehead won’t move, that’s for me a fail.”
Until now, there is no anti-aging strategy, treatment or product that can stop or turn back the clock. And addressing the myth “reinforces the idea that aging…is bad, that old is ugly, and that evolution over a lifetime is proof of failure”, Doctor Louise Aronson wrote in her book “Elderhood: Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine, Reimagining Life.”
Aronson describes a scene at her gym, where she realized that another woman’s youthful appearance had been fabricated.
“I saw where her skin had been pulled and tucked and how it was fighting with itself,” Aronson wrote. “Suddenly she didn’t look so pretty. She looked like a fashion model in a horror movie. At some point, when you take one and try to turn it into another, you run the risk of the grotesque. They probably didn’t tell her about this risk; maybe she didn’t care. Almost everyone values the present more than the future.”
Is it possible that, with a few more good role models, we can all think of aging as it is: natural, inevitable, and even dignified?