Back in June, I wrote a post entitled Madonna, Penelope and Hollywood’s Age Problem.

WELL, BREAKING NEWS: Hollywood still has a big fucking age problem.

Last night, Vertigo star Kim Novak — who is 81 — presented the animated feature awards alongside Matthew McConaughey at the Oscars.

She’s had some extensive work done — and, of course, people on Twitter were real boob punches about it.

“Quick, someone get Kim Novak an epi-pen” joked one. There were also several variations on “Kim Novak’s face won for Frozen.”


As Farran Nehme — aka Self-Styled Siren — details here, when Novak broke into the industry in the ’50s, it was Columbia’s Harry Cohn who transformed her into a Hitchcock blonde.

She was put on a restrictive diet. Her teeth were capped. Her hair was bleached. She was even assigned a personal makeup artist.

It’s little wonder, then, that Novak would appear at the Oscars with her face plumped beyond recognition. (Many news outlets used the word ‘shocking’ to describe her visage.) If she wasn’t good enough back then, why would she be good enough now?

Novak — like so many actresses — has been told, for her entire career, that her value lies in her youth and beauty. She’s a player in a horrible game.

As I’ve written before, in Hollywood, old = obsolete. That’s a terrifying prospect for a woman who has launched a career with her face — only to have that face betray her with lines and wrinkles.

Hollywood may be unkind to an aging woman, but Hollywood is downright cruel to an aging woman trying to look young.

Still, our culture wants it every which way.

We don’t want women to appear old for realz because ew — but we also expect them to ‘age gracefully.’

As Amanda Hess points out in her great response at Slate, Sally Field (a fellow presenter) and Meryl Streep (a nominee) were lauded all over the Internetz for “daring to age naturally.”

Writes Hess:

But we don’t know what Streep and Field do to maintain their looks — all we know is that they have successfully navigated Hollywood’s dual requirement to look amazing post-60 while never signaling that they’ve worked at it. That means avoiding obvious plastic surgery, but it can also mean spending your life investing in the habits, trainers, diets, creams, and treatments that add up to a “natural” look in old age. (Dodging illness and disability — Novak survived breast cancer in 2010 — surely doesn’t hurt.)

Ah, yes: when it comes to one’s looks, one must never look as though they’re trying too hard — or trying at all.

We talk a good game about how we wish these women would ‘age gracefully’ while, often in the same breath, complimenting another actress on ‘looking awesome for her age.’

Of course, it’s easiest if you never had to age on celluloid; that’s why our culture fetishizes actresses who die tragically young because they remain beautiful forever.

It’s a scary thing when death is preferable to growing old.

Photo by Kyle Monahan on Flickr used under a Creative Commons License