“The secret of staying young is live honestly, eat slowly and lie about your age. –Lucille Ball
As amusing, often outrageous and always exhausting the days were, these guests taught me one important thing that empowered my life. I discovered that it wasn’t the surgical procedures that changed their lives. No matter how minor, the procedure was just a kick-start–a trigger, to a change in attitude.
The very first time I realized this was a phone call from a celebrity-diva who went home still in bandages and spent her first day cleaning out her closets. Why this person, of all people, would go home and clean out closets, she had plenty of assistants and housekeepers? But, what was really weird, I was told this same story again and again. Then it hit me. These women were not just cleaning out closets they were cleaning up their lives. It wasn’t about “looking” younger. It was about “feeling” younger; guests were behaving younger with a new attitude. They had a renewed energy and stronger confidence trusting themselves to make better choices.
Weeks and even months after their procedure, celebrities would call excited about a part they landed, which they never had the guts to go after before. I never understood how fearful it is for an actor to take on riskier roles after years of being known for a particular character type. The fear of failure is great in the movie business and everyone is watching as you fall.
Many guests, weeks later, would appear at the front door with gifts, eager to share their renewed lives with me. Who else can you trust with the insecurity and fear you went through for an elective surgery, even the possibility of death?
I felt I lived 4000 lives during that time and knew 4000 personal secrets. I learned how one empowerment leads to more empowerment. One trigger leads to another trigger and soon guests became open to major changes in lifestyles: marriage, divorced, career changes; moving West Coast to East Coast; an edgy new haircut; and not just cleaning out their closets, but giving away shoes!
There is such a misunderstanding about cosmetic surgery. It does make you look younger and I love that! But, it’s really important for me to make clear, that looking years younger is not the answer to agelessness. You will always age, a facelift does not stop you from aging, but cosmetic surgery is an excellent “trigger” to changing our mindset. I believe that the final answer to youthfulness is our “attitude”.
It is through my years at The Hidden Garden and my personal experiences with these women, celebrities, not so famous, and not famous at all, I found there is a huge female population who don’t want to become old, but instead want to enhance their life, stay active, retain a youthful look and be the person they want to be. These women, like myself, want to becoming ageless. And I believe it’s “attitude” that makes us “ageless”.
With years of observations and interviews, it became clear an enhanced self-esteem changed the way I perceive myself. It was meeting Joan at the Hidden Garden that started it all. Joan was the beginning of my new lifestyle.
Joan blew my mind away. I met her before her procedure as she came by to make a room choice. She had given me her registration form and I noticed she was fifty-nine and only days from her sixtieth birthday. Then she mentions that the facelift was her gift to herself. This was very typical; women were treating themselves to facelifts all the time. Joan had a light step in her walk, great skin and a fantastic figure. In fact she looked much younger with her long blonde ponytail. When I complimented her, she told me she was an Olympic swimmer in her youth and swims every day of her life. Now, I was even more impressed about her skin. Obviously she was taking good care of herself.
When she arrived after surgery, she asked the nurse to speak to me privately. I couldn’t help but see how great she looked, not a bruise and only a drop of swelling. Her skin had a rosy glow rather than the usual pale, lifeless look that was common after such a procedure. She looked so good; I’d never seen that. Then she motioned to me and leaning over whispered in my ear:
“In case a problem arises during the night, I want someone to know, I lie about my age, I’m not 59. I’m 69.”
I didn’t believe she looked fifty-nine when I met her. And I couldn’t believe that the next day she would be seventy! Joan wasn’t having a facelift for anyone else but herself. She didn’t need one for an upcoming film or TV series. She said it makes her feel good and has more energy when she knows she looks good. And she felt she had to live up to her looks. The facelift was her trigger to continue her lifestyle.
“I’m a grandmother. Just not the same kind of grandmother all my girl friends are.” She told me.
She didn’t care about negative age stereotyping. She was being true to herself, had a feisty attitude about life and in return for taking care of herself, she was healthy and looked ageless. Joan was not giving in to societies expectations. And it was then I became more aware of age and health.
Joan and I had long talks. She opened my eyes to the negative age stereotypes, that we unconsciously assimilate as we age predict detrimental physical function. These negative self-perceptions become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Joan didn’t go around preaching her lifestyle and her thoughts on older women, but she had me as her audience for a few days and I was fascinated about her feeling about aging. I teased her that I thought she was going to have a problem after her procedure. If I thought she was 59 before the lift, she’s going to look like 49 after. And she had the body to o with it!
I didn’t want to blow Joan’s cover, but I couldn’t stop thinking about her philosophy of growing old. Joan did not do anything outrageous. She simply lived a healthy lifestyle. What she did do was to keep on it. That is, whenever she gained a few pounds, she lost it. She would drink socially, but not too much. Never smoked. When she couldn’t swim, she walked. She kept an eye on herself knowing that it’s harder to get back into shape than it is to stay in shape. I think the reason Joan looked so good was that she found a sport she loved and did it every day. And Joan acted younger. She acted her physical age–her biological age–not her chronological age. I learned in the cosmetic surgery world how important blood flow was to the healing wound. And that exercise increases circulation, which is so good for healthy skin, our brains, our muscles, just about everything that makes our bodies work. Aerobic exercise pushes more oxygen to the brain giving us better reaction times to process information; with regular exercise both our biological and psychological age can slow down. That’s why Joan’s age does not define her.
I decided to be a Joan.
I began making more youthful choices in other habits—my clothes, makeup, upbeat attitude–over time my life changed. We act more youthful, crazy as it may seem, is this not the fountain of youth?
So what is aging? Aging means change. The day you turn 50, a decade marker, does not mean you are now a different person than you were yesterday at 49 and 364 days. Age follows your name wherever you go: driver’s license, medical records, job applications, bank accounts and marriage announcements. It is part of your identity. Yet, age does not really tell you anything about the person.
Joan refused to accept aging. She helped me change my mind about how I perceived myself. Once you tell yourself you are forgetful all the time, you will become forgetful all the time. “I’m having a senior moment,” should not be part of your vocabulary. I got it! I now avoid the aging stereotypes and focus on my everyday behaviors that pinpoint aging. I know I am years younger.
The problem with numbers is that they portray a fact. And when applied to our chronological age puts us into boxes with generalizations when these categories are not true for everyone. Labels can wrongly identify us. Labels are not truths. They limit us. They can prevent us from having a rich and exciting life. Take the label: retired. Retired does not mean we are dead to the world. Retired can mean a chance at doing something we have always wanted to do, even another job. The nurse at the Hidden Garden, Edie, was a grandmother at 28. She was not like any grandmother I ever knew.