Richard Gere, age 40, and Julia Roberts, age 21, in ‘Pretty Woman.’ (Photo: Touchstone/Warner)
A few months ago, at a gathering at the French Consulate, I ran into my 23-year-old friend talking to an older man with white hair and a belly poking out of his gray suit. “Oh hey, is this your professor?” I asked her as the party was sponsored by my university. “Oh, no, this is just…some guy,” my friend replied, rapidly shifting her body language and attention to me. Since then, the man, a divorced Westchester cardiologist has been emailing my friend with invitations to get drinks and dinner. He always starts his email with, “It’s me, the doctor you met.” My friend has never replied to him and really hopes that the grandfatherly figure who she kindly gave her email to (after all, we were taught in career counseling to “network”) would stop contacting her. “It’d be nice to find someone who I’m attracted to and who’s attracted to me,” she texted me. Old men with soft bodies and wisps of hair dating much younger women—it’s a tale as old as time, and what Hollywood would like you to think is normal. As noted by data aggregated by The Cut, Jennifer Lawrence, age 22, was paired with Bradley Cooper, age 37, in Silver Linings Playbook. Emma Stone, age 24, was paired with Sean Penn, age 54, in Gangster Squad. But when older women date much younger men, they’re “cougars.” It’s only slightly more acceptable if they’re devastatingly attractive like Demi Moore (with Ashton Kutcher, 16 years her junior) and Robin Wright (with Ben Foster, 15 years her junior).
A few weeks ago, comedian Kristen Schaal spoke about the Dad Bod phenomenon on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: “What a great day for men! It’s time society finally accepted that a man’s body changes when he has kids. He spends nine months eating too much because his pregnant wife is stressing him out, and then he’s got a screaming baby at home, so he’s got to get out for pizza and beer as much as he can. That’s biology, Jon.” But wait, DiCaprio isn’t even a father! “You don’t have to be a dad to have a Dad Bod,” Schaal tells us. “You just have to be really lazy.” And what about the Mom Bod? “We’re already obsessed with the Mom Bod. Or at least how fast we can get rid of them,” Schaal told Jon Stewart. The segment cuts to clips of male television hosts with beer bellies celebrating their Dad Bods next to svelte female hosts in tight dresses. “We’re all having a great belly laugh! Well, the guys are. If a woman had a belly at all, they would not let her on that show,” Schaal commented.
Compare and contrast: the women and men from sitcom ‘According to Jim.’ (Photos: Disney/ABC)
On Seth McFarlane’s animated sitcom, Family Guy, cartoon curmudgeon Peter Griffith tells his wife Lois, “Men aren’t fat; only fat women are fat.” Even though the characters are animated, the suburban dad is still “Dad Bod” pudgy and the suburban mom is still lithe with the perfect touch of pink lipstick. The dad complains; the mom offers quippy responses with her pouty lips. The Dad Bod looks like he goes to the gym occasionally, but those biceps are hiding under the pleasures of beer and pizza. He’s living a fulfilled life — just look at his belly. We’ve seen it with real humans in sitcoms, too, from Jim Belushi to George Lopez.
I’m convinced that this whole Dad Bod craze was generated by Leonardo DiCaprio’s obviously capable publicist — but the truth is, the Dad Bod shares similar roots to ye olde Silver Fox. Anderson Cooper, George Clooney, Daniel Craig, Pierce Brosnan, and John Slattery seem to “get better with age”— but you’d have to search hard to find the same sentiment describing female celebrities. When women like Jane Fonda and Monica Bellucci, who at ages 77 and 50, respectively, still look as bright-eyed as their younger counterparts, the general sentiment is shock and awe that they’ve found the fountain of youth. Fonda and Bellucci didn’t “get better with age” — they’re described as “ageless,” when to have “more age” is used pejoratively against women.
Perennial favorite Silver Fox Anderson Cooper. (Photo: Instagram)
We see this in how gray hair and aging have been celebrated this year—it is always about being robust “in spite” of your age, and about defying age. Most recently this year, we’ve seen Joan Didion for Céline, Joni Mitchell for Saint Laurent, and Helen Mirren shilling anti-aging skincare for L'Oréal. “Ever feel like you go unnoticed?“ Mirren starts off the commercial. She is indignant at being treated like an old lady. We’ve also seen the new #GrannyHair trend, in which young women who have yet to lose their pigments dye their hair gray anyway. I, too, have gone #GrannyHairDontCare because I know my youthful face and body contrast dramatically with my hair color. Nicole Richie, Kelly Osbourne, and Kylie Jenner have also dyed their hair silver for at least a moment. Color-treated hair product brand Color Wow even recently send a press email with the subject line, “Maintain Your #GrannyHair With Color Wow,” because you no longer want to get rid of your gray hair — you want to keep it for as long as possible. British Vogue’s fashion features director Sarah Harris is well known for her naturally silver hair, but her pulling it off so majestically is a privilege. After all, she is also tall, lithe, in a high-profile career, and impeccably dressed.
Pierce Brosnan, age 62, and still considered a leading man. (Photo: Getty)
When I speak with the low-income families I volunteer with on the weekends, the mothers tell me that going gray is undesirable because “they are already holding onto so little.” My Sally Hershberger Downtown colorist Lucille Javier tells me, “I think men have always taken the token for aging effortlessly. Women in general are always a bit harder on themselves.” She even has male clients who are going gray and who want to take it up a notch into platinum or white or silver.
I used to accompany my young mother at salons when she would dye away her white hairs, and I remember sharing tender moments when she would pluck away my premature white hairs as a child, my head resting against her warm chest. My mom is over 50 now, and the last time I went home for Christmas, I noticed that her hair was peppered with silver strands. She was no longer hiding it—what was the point? There were too many. These white hairs represent a life of sacrifice and triumph and sorrow and not-sleeping-because-you’re-worrying-about-your-eldest-daughter-again.
My mother also has a “Mom Bod” — and I’m not talking about the Tracy Anderson-engineered one Gwyneth Paltrow has. I’m not talking about the tabloid magazines that feature female celebrities who “lost their bodies” after pregnancy, as if female bodies only existed and deserved to exist to be pleasing to the eye. My mother’s pushed out two occasionally obedient daughters, manages a company full-time, has several degrees, and somehow still finds time to read every single article I write on Yahoo Beauty. Her Mom Bod and gray hairs have endured and triumphed and sacrificed. But when I hear about the Dad Bod and Silver Fox and I see the tabloid magazines talk about losing the Mom Bod, I know that hers is not the body that we celebrate in society.