Whitney, Demi and the Famous Aging Female

With the death of Whitney Houston and the apparent downward spiral of Demi Moore competing with each other for the most gossip rag headlines this month, I’m compelled to throw a couple of pennies into the pile.

As a former actor I can certainly relate to the chorus of outraged females who hold up the tales of these Hollywood queens as tragic examples of the industry tearing a woman down as soon as she begins to age. It’s a small part of the reason I left the business—I didn’t want that for my future, glimpses of which I caught even before I turned 30. As a female performer, you are led to believe that as you age roles will become fewer and farther between, the only roles you do land will be of the less interesting and more maternal variety, and you will need to work doubly hard at keeping up appearances even if it means going under the knife a few times. I imagine the pressure to buy into these edicts grows exponentially in proportion to how famous you are.

I’ve also been reading the lengthy defenses of Whitney and Demi from swarms of bleeding hearts who point to addiction as the real culprit. It’s a disease. It ruins lives, famous and not. These women are victims just like the droves of people streaming in and out of AA meetings every day in every town in the country, they just didn’t get out in time. It’s too late for Whitney; maybe Demi is still salvageable.

It’s mostly women making these proclamations. A contributor to Forbes who wrote a piece on Demi Moore called “No Country for Old Women,” in between laments about how sad it is that such a “trailblazer” has turned into a figure deemed “pathetic,” claims that “we can all try to wash our hands of Demi’s Hollywood demise, but we are all ultimately responsible for it.” I’ve read a number of bloggers desperate to remind us of the woman that Whitney used to be, before her dark turn down the path she was led…by her addiction and fame. This is all an honorable effort, sure. Everyone should be remembered at their best.

But—and I say this as a woman who considers herself a feminist—it seems almost insulting to these women, and to any woman, to continually refer to them as a victim of some larger force that somehow they were too weak to escape. After all, there are women who manage to live long and healthy lives in the spotlight. (Ahem, the Iron Lady anyone?) They just chose a different route. I don’t mean to disregard the power of drugs and fame and yadda yadda. They are vicious and monsters and boogie men for adults. Money can be a true force of destruction too, but we’d all take a little more of it. And everyone who takes drugs at some point chooses to take them. Everyone who is famous wanted it. Why do we always need someone else to blame when the once mighty fall? They have as much control over their lives as the next American, if not more so.

You might be thinking “for an anti-cynical blogger that is a totally cynical perspective.” I may even sound downright cold. Well, (let’s not forget I’m a natural cynic but in any case) au contraire. I think it’s actually a liberating notion, to put the responsibility of a life in the hands of the person living it. These women are not kittens in trees; we should not be asking ourselves why no one is rescuing them. If these struggling, aging, famous women are going to go down, let’s at least let them go down with their power of self, even if it’s the only power they have left.


Postscript: Whew! February is henceforth to be named Feisty February. My posts are breathing fire this month! I promise to chill out a little by March.

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One Response to Whitney, Demi and the Famous Aging Female

  1. Rex Berkshire says:

    the clock ticks for us all. Most of us don’t have the media attention or market checkout rags pointing at us saying “OMG look at him/her now!” To age gracefully under the spotlight of massive scrutiny requires near superhuman moral strength. Perhaps if the spotlight were turned off we could achieve a kind of peace with the process of aging. Even when no one is looking we age, and in our quiet inner moments we wrestle with the fact life is, for us all, terminal. Enjoy your passage.

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