Aging Gracefully

Susan Estrich Syndicated Columnist
Wednesday, June 23, 2021
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If ever I heard of an oxymoron, that’s it.

There is nothing graceful about all the medical tests — and enhanced risks — that seem to come with each decade.

Some people drew luckier than others in the DNA game. My lawyer and longtime dear friend, the legendary Bert Fields, is the only lawyer in his fine firm who actually goes to work in the office every day. And he has been for months, since he recovered from COVID-19 last March.

Of course, it’s easier for men, we women tell ourselves, and it’s true. Men look distinguished. Women look old. And all those ads for men’s hair dye are there because men are buying. Botox for men is huge, I’m told by a friend in that industry. And facelifts, of course.

Good luck to them.

I remember when I was young and stupid about these things telling my mother she had to wear her long blond hair in a bun at the Democratic Convention lest she embarrass me, the first woman to run a successful primary campaign. I wish I could take it back. She was beautiful. She loved her long hair. There are so many things you want to take back when you have decades to look at them, when you know how the story turns out.

I wrote my case comment for the Harvard Law Review about the then-very current Age Discrimination in Employment Act. For purposes of the law, age was defined as 40, which made perfect sense to me at the time and now strikes me as entirely ridiculous. Older workers are fired every day, replaced by cheaper, more tech-savvy young people. And unless you have idiots in HR (some firms do, and HR is so full of women that some call it a dumping ground for women), firing people “lawfully” — so as to defeat every claim of dis crimination — isn’t very hard.

Everybody says, “look at Joe Biden,” he’s old. I know. So does every person with an internet connection. I have enormous respect for our president. But as I recall, the big issue he faced every day was his age.

I believe passionately in the rule of law, in the possibility that by teaching justice and practicing politics, we can change the world.

But the rule of law doesn’t have a doctrine about how you are supposed to age gracefully in a society in which being “old,” however that is defined, requires you to make yourself invisible to survive.

I know women who have built big followings of people who have no idea how old they are or when the pictures were taken. And there are tens of millions of us buying every product that claims to be “scientifically based,” even though I know that means nothing about what it will do for my lines.

“I’m not going to age gracefully,” she says. “I’m going to fight it all the way.” And lose, of course.

The Guardian recently reported on a new study that, using data from many other studies, has concluded that there is no cure for mortality; that while we live longer lives because of better health care, our cells are still getting ready to die on us.

You can try to look younger and act younger, but your cells aren’t fooled one bit.

I cannot age gracefully. I live in Los Angeles. When I moved here 30 years ago, I was already old. My skin has been pricked and pulled and polished. It hurts, costs money and sometimes leaves you looking at a face that no prince would look at twice.

And yet, I am so much more experienced than I was 30 years ago. My judgment is so much better. If the life of the law is logic and not experience, to quote Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., how come my phone was literally ringing constantly with attractive offers that I turned down because I had two small children — and never came back.

(For more about Susan Estrich, visit



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