This is a big subject I want to discuss in many posts.

I will show you famous people who have aged horribly and look terrible.

I will talk about people who go through incredible plastic surgery to look younger.

I will talk about the performance artist ORLAN whose medium was once her own body as she directed surgeons to transform her lips, eyes, nose, etc to look like the most perfect body parts seen in paintings and sculpture.

I will mention Botox, hair coloring, dieting and exercise to look fitter and younger.

Let’s start with a True Confession: I color my hair. Here I am in a 2008 photo that shocked and disturbed me, because I thought I looked so old.

old-looking Ira at graduation—6/08

old-looking Ira at graduation—6/08

It’s not that bad for a father aged 67 at his daughter’s high school graduation. But I was very upset. I had been going to the gym and playing tennis, each for about a year. I was OK aging, mainly because I wasn’t sick or lame or inhibited in any major way from doing the physical things I wanted to do.

Maybe I don’t have the reflexes of a 20-year-old. But I have truly felt for years that each birthday celebrated means I lived another year and am glad of that achievement and the life experience. I had some friends who died in high school, and others at older ages. So I am thrilled to still be living and learning and laughing and loving.

But as toned as my body was starting to look with all that gym work and cardio, suddenly I appeared to myself like an old man from the chicken neck up, like my father or grandfather.

Then after months of thinking and hesitating and judging the vainness of doing something, anything, I took the leap and colored my hair. Women start in their teens. Movie stars do it before they are on screen…and a lot more. Why couldn’t I do it too? Yes I was self-conscious. But I always admitted it or volunteered the truth whenever any questions or comments arose. Which was almost never. (“Damn, Ira, you look so good. How do you stay so young-looking?” “It’s easy…I exercise and color my hair.”)

younger-looking Ira—12/09

younger-looking Ira—12/09

Every six or eight weeks, after my hair is looking grey and too long, I head for a haircut and some new pigment. This week when the great change was complete, I looked at myself in the mirror and said to the stylist, “Marlene you are a magician— l look at least 10 years younger…”and better, I thought. It still amazes me. Thank goodness for that blend of delicious dyes named Burnt Sugar, Butter Almond Crunch, Hazelnut and Iced Latte. Who knows why they are all food related.

I resent the Youth Culture mantra that I grew up in and live with. The society that says old and older people are not as valuable as youngsters. They may have lived longer, but those antique “gray-hairs” aren’t as attractive or hip or energetic or worth knowing. Even their wisdom and advice might be out-of-date and easy to ignore. Nevertheless, it looks like I succumbed to part of the message: it’s better to look younger.

I have a woman friend who refuses to use make up, color her hair or do anything about her wrinkles. She welcomes older age and wants to experience it as fully as she can. She is very energetic, used to be a dancer, is very physical and loving toward her children and grandchildren. She knows who she is and is not embarrassed that she looks like a grandma.

But most people don’t do that. Certainly not the women who pay for face lifts, breast lifts, skin tucks, liposuctions, makeup creams and facials, etc etc etc. I believe men are less willing to alter their looks in a serious way involving cosmetics and surgery. Some must think that as mild a change as hair coloring is too effeminate a treatment, even though their most admired, most macho celebrities do it all the time.

Who can explain it? Who needs to? But I have been thinking about how long it took me to become brave enough to do it. How long it took me to risk being ridiculed. And how much better I felt when I looked considerably younger after my little brown-food-named treatment at the hair stylist’s two days ago.

So what do you think? Do I look better to you with darker hair? What does that say about how you-and I—see people and make conclusions about who they really are?