By Nancy McKeon
This essay first appeared on.
MARTHA STEWART’S cheesecake. Yum. Martha Stewart AS cheesecake? Um . . .
We’ve now had ample time to digest, as it were, the well-choreographed vision of the 81-year-old Martha Stewart, and her “melons,” on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue. It’s what we SI staffers used to call the annual “Please cancel my son’s subscription” issue.
This year it’s the “aging gracefully, thank you” crowd (and possibly those sons!) who may want to opt out. And the questions, rather than fading away, keep popping up.
How COULD she? (Would I?) How DID she? (Are there enough vials of Juvederm in the universe to do that for me?)
And finally, with all the cloaking and camouflaging and styling, what’s with the saggy boob cleavage?
Bonus question: As Martha chatted on the Today show about her latest publicity coup, did those filler injections work? Did they leave her looking like Martha Stewart? Or some slightly distorted simulacrum?
“The whole aging thing is so boring,” she told the Today audience. And she managed to say it with a straight, well-plumped, slightly distorted face. She also said she’s hoping that her SI cover will encourage “good living” and inspire women not to be afraid of trying things, of . . . “change.” Except, I guess, of any change that lets your face and body show your age.
But here’s an even better question: Why on Earth would she want to rise to that borderline-tawdry bait? If women
looked up to her or envied her, it wasn’t her come-hither glance they wanted to replicate (not sure she even has one). Her strength has been her business savvy and steely resolve, the way she transformed a one-off catering job into a billion-dollar publishing and TV empire.
But nothing has ever been enough for the domestic goddess (witness the penny-ante insider stock trading, and lying about it to the Feds, that sent her billionaire behind to the slammer 19 years ago), so that question practically answers itself.
Of course, we could blame Sport Illustrated. It was looking for a new show pony, a gimmick to sell extra mags. So it found 23 women, some well known, to feature inside, and four women on four different covers, of whom Stewart was the oldest by a factor of, I dunno, 28? The younger beach bods are shown in publicity footage yapping about “empowerment,” but I suspect that’s not what they and their skimpy suits are inspiring among teenage boy readers. (Moms, please note, you can order one for your kid for $15.99, or the whole four-cover set for $54 plus $4 shipping. Or you can . . . not.)
By being “inclusive” (gotta love that word), the mag is saying aging can be great too. Yeah, as long as you live the regimen of a diva who’s always camera-ready. As Jane Fonda, now 85, once said about why she looks so good, it takes “good genes and a lot of money.”
Stewart clearly has the money for all the beautification efforts she has acknowledged: frequent facials, filler injections, Pilates, even a recent full-body spray tan and waxing. In the gene category, she has that luminescent Polish complexion, plus just enough extra body fat. Yes, Stewart carries a little extra around the middle. But here’s the deal: Fat in the face keeps wrinkles somewhat at bay. And what finds a happy home in fat cells? Estrogen, the only real youth serum.
Some women have applauded Stewart’s rising to the “challenge”; some have lambasted it. One has posted a challenge of her own: A mere stripling of 74, real estate entrepreneur and Shark Tank star Barbara Corcoran responded with an Instagram riposte. “You’ve seen Martha Stewart . . . But have you seen me?” accompanied by her own version of the white bathing suit, billowing cape, and pose of extreme foreshortening (and much more inspiring boobage).
Okay, where does aging gracefully enter the picture? If such a thing exists, surely it’s Helen Mirren, 77, baring all of her crow’s feet and smile lines, and looking supremely confident while doing so. Meryl Streep can act anything, so no wonder at 73 she acts her age (and oh, that glowing complexion). Gloria Steinem, at 89, still looks like Gloria Steinem. And as noted earlier, Jane Fonda looks spectacular, though “aging” has long been her sworn enemy.
Does aging gracefully mean we’re not supposed to do anything, just droop on into mortality? Or maybe it means not fighting it every step of the way but each of us drawing the line in a different place: Stop at peels? Inject a little here and there? Go for the full lift?
There does come a time when you look in the mirror and you’re not sure you recognize the person reflected there. Perhaps you see your mother (Is that so awful?), perhaps a disconcerted stranger (When did this happen?).
What you won’t have to deal with, though, is the look of confusion on the face of a person who has seen Martha Stewart’s swimsuit cover—and then meets her in person.
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