The number 2 woman at Vogue magazine, creative director Grace Coddington, doesn't look or act the part.
She wears baggy, black ensembles. She has long, bushy, rather unkempt red-orange hair that flies away from her face. She hates make-up and, by the looks of it, has never had plastic surgery. She has a long-time, live-in boyfriend, she "swears like a trooper" (her words), and she's 71.
If you're an older woman who has leafed through the pages of Vogue and felt that the photos of the beautiful, young, unimaginably thin women in the microscopic skirts are not connecting with you, then put down the magazine and pick up Grace's just-released autobiography from Random House, Grace: A Memoir.
Here is a role model for all women who have ever lamented the loss of their youthful appearance or the culture's stubborn insistence that they (older women) remain perpetually youthful and sexy in the way they were during their reproductive years. That's a kind of in-your-face, grab-it-while-you-can sexiness. An older woman's appeal is subtler and, one could argue, more intriguing. Maybe sexiness in older women is less superficial because it comes from confidence, experience and intelligence. It is a mature beauty. And Grace Coddington seems to be very comfortable in her own.
Grace is a former model who herself was a cover girl for British Vogue back in 1962. She was beautiful and made money off her beauty for a number of years. She still makes money off the notion of beauty and youth and all that goes with it.
But personally, she is able to let go of the stereotype of what a woman, young or old, must look like and ascribe to. She appears content with her 71 years. And her whimsically art-directed Vogue shoots reveal a tongue-in-cheek attitude toward a fashion industry that can take itself much too seriously. Grace doesn't always buy what they're selling, she seems to be saying. Maybe she has too much wisdom for that.
If you're a woman entering your 50s, 60s, 70s or ages beyond, you may have too much wisdom to buy into everything our culture is selling you about what it means to grow older. Now is the time to be unconventional. Seek out role models who eschew society's cliched view of women--young or old. Take a page out of Grace's playbook. Or take the whole book. It's available at www.amazon.com
*The Wall Street Journal's weekend edition featured an interview with Grace Coddington in the Off Duty section today, with a beautiful photo of a beautiful woman. (Nov. 24-25) www.wsj.com
*The New York Times ran a delightful article about Grace Coddington last weekend (Nov. 18) on the front page of its Sunday Styles section. Read it at www.nytimes.com