Who Am I This Time?

by Sasha Stone

"She's got everything she needs. She's an artist. She don't look back."

Those of us hitting our mid-thirties aren't exactly thrilled at the prospect of getting old. Where bulimia seems the only true solution to the contradiction of being an aim-to-please female (you want me to eat your product? Okay. You want me thin? Okay. Where's the bathroom?), plastic surgery becomes the last hope for dissatisfied women who watch as things droop, stretch, hang, sag. There's a word: sag. How is it, then, that Helen Mirren remains more beautiful than ever? Mirren, though in middle age, is (to quote a dear friend from Boston) built like a brick shithouse. Maybe it's her Jane Tennyson from Prime Suspect, but to me Mirren's a woman who doesn't flinch.

Most women shouldn't flinch. We're elbows deep in gross, starting with menstration. From there, it's broken heimens, poopy diapers, to swallow or not to swallow, that is the question. For me, it's never been about "how to say no and mean it." It's always been about not feeling guilty afterward. Mirren, to me, is a woman who doesn't look back when she walks away. Her no is not questioned. Her anger is not hysteria. Her gaze is direct. You're not going to get lies from her. Why bother lying when the truth is nothing to be ashamed of?

Who else would prance around bare-ass naked for all to see in a Peter Greenaway film? Cellulite and all? Sags and bags. She's out there. The woman's definitely out there.

So, when I think of the role models for women, when I think of who I want to be when I get old, when the future looks bleak and the models keep getting skinnier and younger and tighter and taller, I will take Mirren, straight up, no chaser: Beauty Personified. Truth is, I don't really know what Helen Mirren is like in real life. I don't even know if she has kids. All I know about her is that she's a substantial presence on the screen and she takes chances. That, and she once said Harrison Ford was a bad kisser.

When I was a child, my mother thought I was too sensitive, too afraid. And it's true. I have always been more afraid than not. She tried to toughen me up, she said. She'd always pushed me to do things that scared me. I never did get tougher. My general fearful perspective was challenged when my daughter was born. Not only did I endure pain so intense there is no comparison, but I now have to do things like get rid of rodents, stand up to growling dogs, watch out for predators. Unlike being Linda , being Helen Mirren this time means that I no longer have to worry if Jim Cameron chooses Suzi Amos over me. That stoic, arrogant, indifferent expression of hers says it all. If I can be Helen, if I can wear my aging body like a good suit, if I can be tough enough, I can get through this obstacle course without turning to booze and drugs. I can say no and mean it. I can walk around naked without a running commentary. This time, I'm getting old.

CineScene 1999