What Would Ms. Gloria Do?
by Andrew Sarewitz
Someone said, “you look great for 40.”
She replied, “This is what 40 looks like.”
I’m paraphrasing. That was Gloria Steinem.
While sitting at the bar of my favorite Manhattan hangout, I overheard a few older men (which translates to “around my age”) talking about how they think people should dress their age.
When I was 47, I met my friend Margie and her kids, then quite young, for a day at the beach. At 47, I was in good shape. My choice of swimwear was a classic Speedo racing suit. Margie later sent me a photograph she took of me with her son and daughter. I was mortified to see how ridiculous I looked. I immediately threw my Speedos away and bought bathing suits that fit more like fast drying shorts. Cut at the waist like low rise jeans, tying just below my naval, and designed to fall a few inches above the knees. As to the photograph, I framed it, after slicing the image horizontally, erasing a couple of inches I prefer to forget and never expose.
I do not look my age. This is a dilemma most will say is no dilemma at all. That’s not some deluded self image. Genetically, our family doesn’t seem to age at the same pace as the average white person. Though I work out with religious dedication and have for years, I do not eat healthily. I drink too much alcohol and I have to have a pot of coffee to wake me up every morning. Clean eating to me is having tuna straight out of the can, without mayonnaise.
Being a gay man in New York City, where the barometer on beauty is not the same as most other locations, I have always felt insecure about my looks. And in a town where bartenders are often Adonis-like men with movie star looks, who understand their income is tied directly to how much attention is paid to customers, I am aware I have a slanted scale. This isn’t why I’m single. No one is forcing me to spend so much time staring at the unattainable. But it doesn’t help.
Back in high school, as one of the smallest persons in my class, I looked 12 years old when I was closer to 16. My long time friend Rebecca told me I’d be thankful for my genes when I turned 30 years old. It’s something I’ve never forgotten. She wasn’t wrong, but it didn’t help me get through facing adolescence as a short, flamboyant, skinny white boy with pimples.
So what am I trying to say? Be yourself? Act (and dress) your age? Don’t give a crap what others think of you? I’m a street smart guy from an intellectual family who no longer thinks I’m stupid. Even if that’s just how I imagined they saw me, it’s an accomplishment from my side to now feel “smart.” Yet I still grade myself on my looks. At 62, that’s incredibly stupid.
When you’re straight, insecure or overly confident, who you’re attracted to isn’t automatically compared to the specifics of your gender’s make up. You can be a man who prefers a woman with big or small breasts, a big or small butt, long or short hair…you see my point. But when you’re attracted to someone of the same sex, I believe opinions are skewed. In particular how you think possible dates might judge you, based upon what you like and dislike about yourself physically.
I have a theory why sometimes (I repeat, sometimes…) the prettiest girls’ best friend in high school is a plain Jane. They each get something out of it. The pretty girl doesn’t have to concern herself about competition. And the plainer friend feels better about herself because she’s associated with the popular girl. I’m sure I’m going to get crap for saying that.
When I was in my twenties, I had a few male friends who were, by my taste, unbearably attractive. In the establishments where I searched for love, wading through a sea of men where looks are deterrents and invitations, hanging out with gorgeous guys, for me, was not a smart thing to do. I’d like to think I play fair. These friends did not. Though I am glad, looking back, that I wasn’t aware of being handsome (a lot of the time…), keeping me arguably humble. I’m sorry I wasn’t more secure. After a certain blatantly sabotaged incident with a trusted buddy, I began going out by myself. Among the packs of guys who need the crowd to feel empowered, I went the other direction. This probably is also the healthier foundation that brought me to being independent, later in life. Now with the dating ritual primarily taking place on line, none of this may register as relevant anymore.
Life isn’t fair. Something I live by, thanks to my mother. I have little to no patience when people don’t face the truth. Liking the truth and facing it are two different things entirely.
I have friends of all ages. Connections in communication don’t depend on age. I think discrimination based on age is kind of an American nuance. I admit that friends of mine who are 30 years younger — and don’t know who Steve McQueen was, let alone Spiro Agnew — can’t fulfill certain conversational needs, beyond my acting like an older, weathered, teacher. Still, I’m guessing I learn as much from them as they get from me.
I’m also well aware of how fame or power coming from older men magnetically attracts much younger partners. Why the older man is surprised when the younger spouse moves on, amazes me. I realize there are exceptions, like Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones or Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy. But if I didn’t recognize how many male movie stars end up with young beauties on their arms, I’d be denying a cultural truth. Being older now with no money or power to offer, puts me way out of the loop as far as representing the definition of being a catch. Even when people often think I look 10 to 15 years younger than I am.
There is not a single person I have met — beautiful or not — who doesn’t revert to being her/his 13 year old self when facing certain life obstacles. On the days of reflective treason, whether too afraid to ask for a deserved raise at work or being rejected and embarrassed by someone of interest, I believe we fall back to the most vulnerable time in our lives. No longer a child but before adulthood, cliff diving blind into the unknown, we crashed and burned in plain sight, without sympathy or a kind hand.
About the Author
Andrew has written several short stories (links to published work at www.andrewsarewitz.com) as well as scripts for various media. His play, Madame Andrèe, (based on the life of Nancy Wake, the White Mouse), garnered First Prize from Stage to Screen New Playwrights series in San Jose, CA, winning the honor of opening the festival in August of 2019. The script for his play Five Men, Four Beds advanced to the Second Round at the 2019 Austin Film Festival Competition and Andrew’s spec script for his sitcom, The White House is a Finalist in the 2019 Pitch Now Screenplay Competition. Mr. Sarewitz also has authored numerous historical and critical artist essays with a primary focus on twentieth century non-conformist art from the former Soviet Union.