You get what you get, and you don’t get upset. That’s a handy phrase I learned from my six and eight-year-old nieces recently. They’d heard it at school, in reference to treats being handed out and the inevitable cries of She got more than me! Basically, it’s an admonition to accept what you’ve been given, deal with it and get on with life. Complaining isn’t going to change a thing. I like it, because it’s smart, to the point and on point.
This phrase struck me the other night as I was watching that annual celebration of ego and awkwardness in fancy dress, commonly referred to as the Academy Awards. Amidst the fashion questions, the jokes that fell flat, the self-congratulatory speeches and the genuinely touching moments of triumph, there was a sense that women over 40 have finally taken the lemons they’ve been handed over the past century of the film industry and made lemonade. And DAMN, it’s tasty stuff.
Look at Patricia Arquette. She won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as the mother in Richard Linklater’s brilliant Boyhood. Filmed over the course of 12 years, it is an acting tour de force for Arquette, who gets to play a fortyish, flawed, fleshed-out character living her life out loud, not simply as an adjunct to the man of the house.
On top of that, Arquette didn’t have any “work” done in all that time, a feat nearly unheard of in today’s youth-obsessed Hollywood. Brave doesn’t begin to describe a woman of a certain age in the entertainment industry who lets herself be seen as what she is: an aging human being who has much to bring to the table besides taut breasts and smooth cheeks.
Arquette has bucked a system that demands feminine perfection, despite the fact that her choice may well have lost her jobs. Her acceptance speech was the usual litany of thank-you’s to friends, family and co-workers. Usual, that is, until she spoke out about the need for pay equity for all women, comments which got an enthusiastic round of applause, with audience members like J.Lo and Meryl Streep practically leaping from their seats.
Speaking of the divine Jennifer Lopez, can anyone tell me what Oscar ceremony would be complete without J.Lo making an appearance looking defiantly fabulous in a cut-down-to-WHERE gown? It can’t always be a piece of cake to roll out on the red carpet knowing that she will inevitably face comparisons to women half her age (and younger). But roll out she does, blinged out and bodacious as can be, with no apologies or explanations necessary.
J.Lo makes being over forty sexy. More importantly, she radiates self-confidence, something to which younger women can and should aspire, no matter what their occupation. She’s come a loooong way from Fly Girl to one of the highest paid actresses in Hollywood, and she didn’t do it by looks alone.
Fittingly, this year featured the #AskHerMore campaign, launched in order to counter those ridiculous questions regularly asked of women on the red carpet. Reese Witherspoon (an Oscar winner in her own right) told a reporter that #AskHerMore is “…a movement to show that we’re more than just our dresses”. Because we all know that accomplished, intelligent women should not be reduced to just a sparkly dress and a fancy ‘do. #AskHerMore encouraged the press to ask women at the event about what or who inspired them, what challenges they’d had to overcome and similar questions, rather than just the question we may or may not want to know: Who are you wearing?
If Arquette’s triumph wasn’t enough, we also had Julianne Moore’s win to celebrate. Moore, who has made a career of staying true to herself (not easy in the craziness that is show business), is fifty-three now and reaping the rewards of her choices. Having nabbed the coveted Best Actress Oscar for a role of substance—Moore plays a woman who suffers from early-onset Alzheimer’s in Still Alice—it’s clear that there is no going back. When given an opportunity to see an older woman play someone other than the hunky hero’s mother, audiences are responding positively, forcing the Hollywood establishment to reevaluate what will win at the box office.
As for Moore, I last saw her in Don Jon, educating the much-younger title character about the joys of true intimacy as opposed to air-brushed porn-centric sex. Moore came across in that film as a woman truly comfortable in her own skin, never shying away from mention that she is the senior partner in the relationship. In Don Jon, Moore is in charge, and it feels good. For both of them. Ahem.
To sum up: We are getting there, ladies. After all, Jennifer Aniston made Cake, and Reese Witherspoon made Wild. Two less glamourous roles for women I can’t remember. And yet, the stories were compelling, the acting was amazing and hey, neither of those actresses is within a country mile of age thirty. Did they have to put up their own money to get these films made? Yes, but the fact is THEY GOT MADE.
And thanks to their determination, I know that one day I will see women as grey and wrinkly as Clint Eastwood sitting in pride of place, smack dab in the middle of the Oscars, being lauded for their body of work, rather than just their bodies. Because you know what they say: You get what you get and you don’t get upset. You work harder.