second acts

25 Famous Women on Getting Older

Photo: Getty Images; BFA

Dewy, uncreased 20-somethings have long been held up as the essence and ideal of womanhood in popular culture. But you know the mania for youth has reached new heights when glossy magazines allow no more than three wrinkles on the faces that grace their covers, and when selfie-editing apps — emphasizing everything from “kawaii” to perfect skin — are ubiquitous. Sure, there are frequent stories about how “30 is the new 20” or “50 is the new 30,” but rarely do we see women over a certain age — unretouched, unapologetic, not medically intervened upon — held up as desirable or admirable, or even held up at all. (Meanwhile, silver-haired men abound in movies and on TV in seats of power.)

But plenty of women have the guts to face the music — and the mirror — with grace. Here, a collection of thoughts on aging from famous women, including China Machado, Toni Morrison, and Betty White. Read on for words on the power of wrinkles, accepting imperfections, and the joys of getting spoiled rotten at 90 — it’s all here.

Oprah
“We live in a youth-obsessed culture that is constantly trying to tell us that if we are not young, and we’re not glowing, and we’re not hot, that we don’t matter. I refuse to let a system or a culture or a distorted view of reality tell me that I don’t matter. I know that only by owning who and what you are can you start to step into the fullness of life. Every year should be teaching us all something valuable. Whether you get the lesson is really up to you.” —Oprah, O, the Oprah Magazine, May 2011

Maya Angelou
“I am convinced that most people do not grow up … We marry and dare to have children and call that growing up. I think what we do is mostly grow old. We carry accumulation of years in our bodies, and on our faces, but generally our real selves, the children inside, are innocent and shy as magnolias.” — Letter to My Daughter, October 2009

Diane Keaton
“If I wanted to be prettier, fillers, Botox and a neck lift might help — but I think I’m past all that. My feelings come out in my face and show who I am inside in ways that words can’t express. In fact I’m confused by what ‘authentic’ is; am I less authentic because I wear ‘eccentric’ clothes and hats? No. I look at my contemporaries who have had ‘good work’ done; are they less authentic? No! And neither are the women who’ve had procedures that went awry.” — Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty, April 2014

Stevie Nicks
“You have to keep yourself youthful. And I don’t mean looking 22 and going to plastic surgery and looking like a caricature of yourself, a stranger that nobody recognizes so that you can’t even get a table at a restaurant because you really don’t look like Stevie Nicks anymore. I wear the right clothes, age-appropriate clothes. But I can still do some of the things I could do when I was really young and pull it off as a 65-year-old chick … But when I’m 90 years old and sitting in a gloriously beautiful beach house somewhere on this planet with five or six Chinese Crested Yorkies, surrounded by all my goddaughters who will at that point be middle-aged, I’ll be just as happy.” — The New York Times, February 2014

China Machado
“Well, I never had a face-lift, and it’s mostly because I wasn’t rich enough to have a face-lift — I had to take care of two kids, and I never thought about it. I couldn’t spend money on expensive creams, and I’ve never been to a facial. I had other things to do. I was working all the time. And I think that helped a lot! If you don’t do too much to your face and don’t think about it too much, that’s good. The minute you think about it then you think everything’s wrong with your face! Somebody said to me one day, ‘Do you ever think you’ll start doing something [to your face]?’ And I said, ‘Oh, yeah! But once I start, there’s going to be so many things I want to do! Forget it!’” — The Cut, October 2016

Cher
“I do think that when it comes to aging, we’re held to a different standard than men. Some guy said to me: ‘Don’t you think you’re too old to sing rock n’ roll?’ I said: ‘You’d better check with Mick Jagger’.” — Fifty on Fifty: Wisdom, Inspiration, and Reflections on Women’s Lives Well Lived by Bonnie Miller Rubin, November 1998

Diane von Furstenberg
“There is a saying that with age, you look outside what you are inside. If you are someone who never smiles your face gets saggy. If you’re a person who smiles a lot, you will have more smile lines. Your wrinkles reflect the roads you have taken; they form the map of your life.” — The Woman I Wanted to Be, October 2014

Whoopi Goldberg
“Listen, the best advice on aging is this: What’s the alternative? The alternative, of course, is death. And that’s a lot of shit to deal with. So I’m happy to deal with menopause. I’ll take it.” — New Jersey Monthly, May 2013

Iris Apfel
“Aging gracefully is about no heavy makeup, and not too much powder because it gets into the wrinkles, and you know, to not get turtle eyelids, and to not try to look young. You don’t have to look like an old fuddy-duddy, but I believe it was Chanel who said, ‘Nothing makes a woman look so old as trying desperately hard to look young’. I think you can be attractive at any age. I think trying to look like a spring chicken when you’re not makes you look ridiculous.” — Into the Gloss, January 2012

Patti LaBelle
“Here’s what I know: I’m a better person at fifty than I was at forty-eight … and better at fifty-two than I was at fifty. I’m calmer, easier to live with. All this stuff is in my soul forever. Just don’t get lazy. Work at your relationships all the time. Take care of friendships, hold people you love close to you, take advantage of birthdays to celebrate fiercely. It’s the worrying — not the years themselves — that will make you less of a woman.” Fifty on Fifty: Wisdom, Inspiration, and Reflections on Women’s Lives Well Lived by Bonnie Miller Rubin, November 1998

Betty White
“Best thing about being in your 90s is you’re spoiled rotten. Everybody spoils you like mad and they treat you with such respect because you’re old. Little do they know, you haven’t changed. You haven’t changed in [the brain]. You’re just 90 every place else … Now that I’m 91, as opposed to being 90, I’m much wiser. I’m much more aware and I’m much sexier.” —People, February 2013

Yoko Ono
“Some people are old when they’re 18 and some people are young when they’re 90. You can’t define people by whatever society determines as their age. Time is a concept that human beings created.” — The Guardian, February 2012

Isabella Rossellini
“In interviews, the first question I get in America is always: ‘What do you do to stay young?’ I do nothing. I don’t think aging is a problem. What irritates me a little is growing fatter. It irritates me that if I eat what I want to eat, it shows. Yes, my face has wrinkles. But I don’t find it monstrous. I’m so surprised that the emphasis on aging here is on physical decay, when aging brings such incredible freedom. Now what I want most is laughs. I don’t want to hurt anybody by laughing — there is no meanness to it. I just want to laugh.” — Oprah, September 2009

Helen Mirren
“The best thing about being over 70 is being over 70. Certainly when I was 45, the idea of being 70 was like, ‘Arghhh!’ But you only have two options in life: Die young or get old. There is nothing else. The idea of dying young when you’re 25 is kind of cool — a bit romantic, like James Dean. But then you realize that life is too much fun to do that. It’s fascinating and wonderful and emotional. So you just have to find a way of negotiating getting old psychologically and physically.” — AARP the Magazine, December 2016/January 2017

Sigourney Weaver
“When you’re young, there’s so much now that you can’t take it in. It’s pouring over you like a waterfall. When you’re older, it’s less intense, but you’re able to reach out and drink it. I love being older.” — Esquire, January 2010

Sharon Stone
“You have to sit down and take a good look at yourself, particularly as you grow older and your face changes. People are afraid of changing; that they’re losing something. They don’t understand that they are also gaining something … As I lost the fullness in my face, I got in these great cheekbones. I can’t tell you how many doctors try to sell me a facelift. I’ve even gone as far as having someone talk me into it, but when I went over and looked at pictures of myself, I thought, What are they going to lift? Yes, I have come close — but, frankly, I think that in the art of aging well there’s this sexuality to having those imperfections. It’s sensual.” — New You, Summer 2013

Nora Ephron
“Every so often I read a book about age, and whoever’s writing it says it’s great to be old. It’s great to be wise and sage and mellow: it’s great to be at the point where you understand just what matters in life. I can’t stand people who say things like this.” — I Feel Bad About My Neck, 2006

Gloria Steinem
“Fifty was a shock, because it was the end of the center period of life. But once I got over that, 60 was great. Seventy was great. And I loved, I seriously loved aging. I found myself thinking things like: ‘I don’t want anything I don’t have.’…80 is about mortality, not aging. Or not just aging.” — The New York Times, March 2014

Emma Thompson
“If you look after yourself and you’re healthy, then you’ll have the energy to do things. But not to recognize getting older for what it is? I do think the infantilization of our generation is one of the huge issues of our time. People wanting to be 35 when they’re 50 makes me think: Why? Why don’t you be 50 and be good at that? And also embody the kinds of choices that are sustainable at that age.” — The Guardian, September 2014

Charlotte Rampling
“You’ve got to wait. You’ve got not to panic, not to be frightened, and not to change your face. You need your face to grow with you … because then people don’t know what age you are. You look a certain age but there is a problem with that if women can’t live with their faces as they’re growing into them. There’s always a frightening point when your face starts to change, and that’s when you want to change it. But if you go through that change — and it lasts quite a long time, maybe 10 years — then you find actually that you’ve grown into an older face.” — The Independent, April 2012

Patricia Arquette
On aging as a woman in Hollywood: “I’d love to not have to talk about it anymore. I don’t think the men are talking about it at all. Aging is just normal! That is all there is to it. I don’t think the public is shocked by the fact that women get older. It is pathetic, and it looks pathetic, when I hear some 55-year-old actor won’t play opposite a 42-year-old woman because she is too old for him. People aren’t buying this anymore. They didn’t buy it in Magic in the Moonlight.” — Elle, February 2015

Patti Smith
“I considered what it meant to be sixty-six. The same number as the original American highway, the celebrated Mother Road that George Maharis, as Buz Murdock, took as he tooled across the country in his Corvette, working on oil rigs and trawlers, breaking hearts and freeing junkies. Sixty-six, I thought, what the hell. I could feel my chronology mounting, snow approaching. I could feel the moon, but not see it. The sky was veiled with a heavy mist illuminated by the perpetual city lights. When I was a girl the night sky was a great map of constellations, a cornucopia spilling the crystalline dust of the Milky Way across its ebony expanse, layers of stars that I would deftly unfold in my mind … I’m still the same person, I thought, with all my flaws intact, same old bony knees, thanks be to God.” — M Train, October 2015

Dolly Parton 
“I don’t think about my life in terms of numbers. First of all, I ain’t never gonna be old because I ain’t got time to be old. I can’t stop long enough to grow old.” — The Oprah Conversation, November 2020

Jennifer Grey
“I believe whole-heartedly that age is a mindset. Biological age is what it is, but I truly believe it’s more about how you feel—how you feel in your body and how you feel about your body. My energy has always been something that is very integral to my identity, and I know that in order to feel my best, I need to move my body regularly. And in order to ensure that I do that, I need to enjoy whatever it is that I’m doing. I love being physically strong and staying out of pain because pain is not fun. I was always pretty active growing up—taking all kinds of dance classes—but after I made Dirty Dancing in my late 20s, I stopped dancing completely. And then 20 years later, when I did Dancing With The Stars at 50, even though I was in great shape, I could feel the difference between what my body could do then versus before just because of the natural changes that occur due to aging.”
New Beauty, November 2020

Suzanne Somers 
“One thing I love about aging — and I do love aging — I’ve got a wisdom that no young person can buy. You earn it.” — People, June 2020

25 Famous Women on Getting Older