Age. Wow. Such a tiny word for such a big issue and big subject. I always like the silly saying, “Age doesn’t matter unless you are a banana.” Clearly, that was written by someone who was fourteen years old.
I don’t know why but age has always bothered me, at every age, you’re either too young, or too old, or feel too old when you are young. I hate the numbers. I got off to an early start. I went to college at 15, married for the first time at 18, had my first child (and wrote my first book) at 19, and was always rushing to do something. And by now everyone must figure I’m 102, because I’ve been around for a long time. I actually wrote a book about the issue of age, called “Happy Birthday”, about 3 people turning 30,50 and 60 on the same day, and there is actually some funny and also pertinent stuff in that book.
I HATE landmark birthdays. In fact, I hate my birthdays altogether, and really shouldn’t. I got off to a bad start on birthdays. Mine is in the summer, when everyone was always on vacation, a perfect excuse for my parents not to celebrate it, postpone it, promise to do so later and never get around to it, because after the summer, everyone was too busy. So to me, as a little kid, birthdays spelled disappointment. As a result, I treated my children’s birthdays as MAJOR national events, with birthday parties, balloons, lots of gifts, themes, really fun parties, and I tried to give them the fabulous birthdays I never had.. And my children, in turn, are great to me on my birthday, everyone shows up and celebrates me (we won’t however mention some of the comments, like one of my daughters who looked at my cake with all the candles on it a few years ago and said, “Holy Sh–, Mom, it looks like a forest fire!!” Hmmm….never mind. They are very good to me on my birthday, and their father was too and made a big fuss about it, but I guess our childhoods mark us, and I never quite got that sad feeling about birthdays out of my head, and I always dread my birthdays. I remember thinking I was ancient at 25, practically dead and distraught at turning 30. 35 had me worried, 40 depressed me profoundly, and landmark ages ever since, or every birthday rattle me every year. And although I’m not that old by normal human standards, I look at my passport now and think WHAT? ARE YOU KIDDING??? Whose age is that?? That can’t be me.
Age is such a damn complicated complex weird concept, and even now I’m not sure what it means. Every time I feel ancient, I look at photos of me 5 years ago (when I also felt ancient and wasn’t), and think “hmm….I looked okay then”, but at the time I felt as though I looked like King Tut. What the hell is that about? Why do we feel so old when we’re really not? And why do some people think birthdays are such a fabulous event? My ex-husband used to celebrate his for a week, with party after party after party with his friends. Another friend celebrates hers for a month. A month? Are you kidding, I can barely stand mine for a day. When nightfall comes on my birthday, I think Whew, that’s over with. When people say “Happy Birthday” I wince. Stupid really. We compare ourselves to people older or younger, wonder if we look better or worse. We run into people we went to school with and either chortle inwardly about how bad they look, relieved that we look better or run home wanting to cry because we think they look better and we look worse. And nowadays, 22 year old girls start using Botox on their faces, and far too many women rush to have face lifts, and ruin their looks and even make themselves look older with faces we no longer recognize. I am a profound coward and hate pain, and I’m way too chicken to ever have plastic surgery (or Botox), so I’m stuck with the face nature gives me at whatever age. I’d be too scared not to recognize myself in the mirror. But then I whine when I look at photographs, and worry that I look old. And (kind) people claim I don’t look my age, so whose age do I look? Grandma Moses? Or Brittney Spears? Neither one, I guess. I guess I just look like me.
The weird thing about age is that it is mostly in our heads. Somewhere along the way, the clock stops in our heads, and we wind up feeling 25 forever. I feel no different than I did at 25 or 30 or 35, I’m still young in my head (remaining immature forever will help one feel young at every age!!). Seriously, I don’t feel any different. And I don’t look too dramatically different than I did 10 years ago. So why do we feel old because we are a certain age? Young people beat themselves up for not having accomplished everything they dream of at a certain age, they aren’t married yet, or don’t have a baby yet, don’t own a house, haven’t met the man or woman of their dreams or aren’t running a corporation. Older people feel old because they can’t run as fast, guys may not have as much hair, or a woman may wear a different dress size than she did at 22. But why do we really feel old? I’m not sure. Obviously, health plays a big part at any age, but assuming you’re in decent health, why do we feel old? Who are we measuring ourselves against? Angelina Jolie? Brad Pitt? And there seem to be no rules about what happens when, in life. People have babies older, fall in love and marry at 75 or 85 or 90, success in business comes to most people a lot later than we expect, except in rare instances or fields. I think age is a matter of head and heart even more than years. If you’ve given up on life and have shut down and lost hope, you feel mighty old. If you’re still engaged, involved, have fun at least some of the time, and there is something you like about life, you’re not old yet, no matter what your driver’s license says.
We, particularly women, are also expected to measure ourselves against impossible standards. With 3 daughters who work in fashion, I know some of the injustices of that field. As we turn the pages of fashion magazines, and compare ourselves to the women in them—-those aren’t women, in most cases they are 15 to 18 year old girls, sometimes even 14, and rarely older than 20. One of my daughters chooses the models for her fashion shows while they are still too young to have womanly curves. That’s sneaky, and not fair. How am I expected to look like that?? I can’t, and never did, although ‘womanly curves’ have never been part of the landscape for me, I was skinny as a kid, and have been thin all my life, not curvy. But the fashion icons we envy are girls in their teens. Of course they look great, their skin is perfect, their faces unlined, and their hips non-existent. I’m always grateful when I see beautiful women who are older and have done nothing to their faces (like Meryl Streep)—-thank YOU for giving me a role model I can live with, looks like a real person, and is still beautiful. It scares the hell out of me when I see women my age, or usually a lot older, who look terrible, and I think “Oh my God, do I look like that?” My self-image is not great, and I can never figure out how old I look.
I am full of admiration when I meet much older people who are loving life and doing great things. A woman I knew and loved, who lived to be 100 and was terrific to her last day (and incredibly chic) was constantly taking classes, running around the world, and at 86, decided to learn French by living with a French family for 6 months, in a total immersion program (sharing one bathroom with a family of about 10 people in a tiny house in a miserable industrial part of France). Wow!!! (And she was happily married to a man 25 years younger than she, and she outlived him by many years). When I was 20, I lived with my ex-husband’s grandfather who lived to be 103, was fantastic, used to take me dancing and went to his office every day. And in recent years, I know 3 women who are over 100, are still independent, drive, go out, see friends, have fun and are fabulous. Admittedly, that’s rare, but there are people like that out there. And my role model in life is a dear friend who is now 84, still active as an interior designer, still beautiful, and busier, more with it and more fun than anyone I know. I want to be like that when I grow up. So why do I complain about how old I am, when I am decades younger than those women? I don’t know. And relationships seem different to me now. I always was attracted to men 20 or 30 years older than I, all the significant men in my life were more than 20 years older than I. And now, I just don’t care about age, and am just as attracted to much younger men than older ones, and age seems totally irrelevant. It’s all about how nice, kind, smart, and interesting they are (and fun to be with), and that has nothing to do with age. I no longer care about a lot of the things that limited me when I was younger. And without question, in Europe, younger men are frequently attracted and go out with older women. No one seems to care, so why should I??
So here we are, it’s August and I have a birthday looming, and while I was growling about it tonight, I started thinking about how irrelevant age can be, if you’re willing to think that way. One of my daughters is having a birthday she’s not happy about, and she has no idea how young she is, but I was the same way at her age. Maybe my birthday promise to myself this year should be not to give a damn how old I am, or what the numbers are. Maybe the secret to life and the fountain of youth is to just live your life to the fullest and enjoy every moment and stop worrying about the numbers. And I’m not even sure that ‘youth’ is so much fun. My teens were not happy years, my 20’s were a hell of a struggle trying to figure out who I was, my 30’s were great (success, a happy marriage and many kids), and after that I made myself miserable about how old I was getting, was going to be, would be one day, and worrying about it.
So perhaps the saying that age doesn’t matter unless you are a banana is truer than we think. Maybe it just doesn’t matter, and you just stay busy, keep moving, keep opening doors, trying new things, and learning about life. Maybe that’s what it’s all about. I’m not a tree, I’m not a banana, and I never looked like Angelina Jolie even at her age. I’m just me. So what the hell…..maybe age really doesn’t matter at all. I think maybe I’ll go with that this year. Maybe we should all stop whining about how old we are, or worrying about it, and just celebrate the fact that we’re here and enjoy life. I think gratitude is a terrific antidote for age—better than a face lift. And if someone wishes me a happy birthday, I will try not to growl at them this year!!!
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Celebrate it, you still are here living a full productive life. Your healthy, funny, smart, whats the worry? I live in the moment anymore we are all on borrowed time, we don’t know when our last birthday will be. So every birthday is another road marker of another year in our own personal journey through life. I think we reach a certain time or event that teaches us age is not as important as what we do with our gift of being alive. Think of the years going by how much more wiser we get, what we have learned and what we did with our time and how much of our time is used giving back. Enjoy the day like an accomplishment. Happy Birthday,this year my mom turns 83….wow I am glad she is still here.
Thank you for the nice musings about age. I concur. Additionally, I’d like to comment on the recent L.A. Times article about you by Elisabeth Donelly. it was a good article, as a professional writer/photographer I get similar questions, like “have I read any of your books?” (I only wrote 22, mostly non-fiction). I am beginning to feel that when a man asks me: “Are you still working?” I should answer: “Yes, perfectly well. Are you still working without Viagra?” I’m tired of the condescension of people who think just because you are older, you’re also dumber!
Thank you for continuing your writing. Best regards,
Hello Ms. Steel, I run a free non-profit fashion program for youth in the Bayview District (Visions of La Moda Fashion Studio for Youth). On Thursday 8/1 I was working from home and saw you on “The View”. As a result of watching that interview I came across Catherine Bigelow’s November 17, 2012 article “Danielle Steel’s secret forays to aid homeless”. I was blown away!!
The Saturday after your appearance on “The View” you were the topic of our class discussion. I sent Miss Biegelow an email this past Friday asking how I could send you a letter packet about our program and ask if you would be a guest speaker for our students. I have not received a response from Miss Bigelow. I just read your latest blog (loved it) and thought I would take a shot and reach out to you personally.
When time permits, please go to http://visionsoflamoda.wordpress.com/ and read our weekly student blogs. The kids wrote an extremely heart felt and emotional blog about you and your work. Please like us/friend us on facebook: Visions of La Moda Fashion Studio for Youth. Click photos then albums and see our program in pictures.
I hope to hear from you soon!
Okay, D, I can’t help myself. Happy Birthday on your upcoming day, whatever number that happens to be! Growl if you wish. I won’t hear you.
ok Danielle…its ok….If anyone googles you they would know that your Birthday is Tomorrow.
Of course, I know…and wanted to wish you a very Happy Birthday…we are the same age…although I am 4 months older…you look great…famous last words, right! But you do..don’t stress, I know how you feel, and it is only a number..enjoy your life..its fabulous.
thank you again, for all your wonderful books, which I have read and collect…all of them up to date to your newest…I just cannot find the poems, and the childrens books…but I scan Antique Stores all the time.
HAPPY DAY TO YOU, from Carol O. in So. Calif/San Pedro by the Ocean.
Happy Birthday! I have been reading your books for years. As a kid I grew up in the shadow of alcoholism and mental illness, was in and out of foster care and struggled with addiction in my teens, Your books have always given me the escape I needed at just the right time. I am now 40 married and have 4 beautiful kids, life still has its ups and downs, but overall I am blessed. Guess I just wanted to say thank you, your books are like an old friend… always there when I need them.
Happy, happy birthday, Danielle! You are one of my role models, I amdire you so much for your fulfilling life and your beautiful books, reading your books I’ve started dreaming about becoming a writer myself, and now that dream is coming true!
By the way, tomorrow I travel for the first time to Paris, who knows, maybe I run into you there? 😉 That would be soooo great!
Happy Birthday Danielle…Hope you had a happy one…you deserve all the best…Thanks for all your wonderful books…..you will always be my favorite author…God bless..Wish you good health and happiness and so much more…Take care.
Happy Birthday Danielle…Hope you had a happy one…you deserve all the best…Thanks for all your wonderful books…..you will always be my favorite author…God bless….
Hi Danielle – Happy Birthday – Why don’t you go out with some friends & have a pizza for your birthday – Thats what I would do if it was my birthday – this is feel good food for the Soul – hahaha. I THINK ITS A GOOD IDEA TO CELEBRATE FOR A MONTH – YOU’VE EARNED IT. Sincerely Mike
HAPPY BIRTHDAY EVER, MY DEAR DANIELLE. :)) You have a young soul and that’s what matters.
I would like to see a book written where the lady is 23 years older than the gent.
I could certainly give you ideas.(not that you need them) you certainly do well on your own.
I really enjoy your books and I am 84 years old and still VERY active.
Sincerely L Hendren
Hi Ms. Steel,
I just wanted to thank you for this message. As you know from some of my recent e-mails, I am a twenty-three year old writer who is struggling to be published. Most of my time is spent seeking full-time work, writing in the night, and wondering how I can possibly meet the term called fate. Most of the time though, I am too busy musing over whether how that word applies for the latter effort. Every discussion my friends and I have, typically include some reflection on how we can be independent. Because we cannot attest to any large accomplishments, we simply feel plain and boring. In fact, my mother frequently quips, ‘I am going to be too old to enjoy your children, if you don’t find a man soon.’ Ah well. For all that though, I do appreciate your sentiments. I feel much more relieved knowing, that at twenty-three, I am not the only one who seems to have lost her head.
Best of luck to you through the New Year. And happy very, VERY late birthday.
Me encanta!!!! 🙂
I think you are the most beautiful woman there is, I love the fact you don’t do plastic surgery. I am a young 55 year old. My 3 kids are fabulous adults now. And I would rather be seen reading one of your incredible books than anything. Be happy, be blessed, enjoy your gratitude, enjoy the life you love
Danielle you are so beautiful, you are filled with love and kindness and compassion for the greatest good toward people.you are my mentor and life leader through what you say and do and throughout your books. May you always be blessed with all that you extend to other people.