The best thing about Downton Abbey is Maggie Smith. For me, it goes farther than simply appreciating a skillful, wily acting job. She has become my role model for getting old.
Seeing Jane Fonda, all slick and slim, depresses me. Yes, I could do that with unlimited financial resources and unlimited appetite for slimness, which would fuel my trips to the gym. Jane has two new hips; she has not escaped the aging bug. She just LOOKS like she did. “It is better to look good than to feel good,” says Billy Crystal in a line that became a classic. I admire the life she has led, but she is like a polished statuette to me, and it’s, well, depressing.
Maggie Smith has overcome a bout with cancer, which may have aged her more than her years. Every wrinkle is still there, accentuating the life in her eyes. Her posture is important, and her gestures. She’s a more realistic role model for me. Keep my shoulders back and down, stop bending just a bit forward, stretch, exercise a bit, and movement becomes attractive. I don’t always remember those things, but the challenge is more welcome than lifting weights in the gym.
Maggie has become thick around the middle. Having grown up wearing a girdle, I recognize the smooth line that Maggie’s girdles create in her period costumes. She has helped me relax into the inevitable, stop thinking about liposuction, and tone down the self-punishment for not doing a hundred pushups. Fighting nature is exhausting. My softened, broadened tummy is the flag of over-70. People do not expect me to be gorgeous any more (lol, as if I ever was), just respectful of myself.
Being over 70 has its good side. When you forget things, people forgive you. When you opine on stuff, they listen. They open doors and smile at you. I don’t know if this holds true for a disabled or dottering 70-year-old. I may find out some day. All I know is when my husband and I went into the city after I broke my foot, the waiters and other diners bent over backwards to make way for the old lady on crutches. The staffperson in the theatre, a man, turned his head away and swept his other arm back to open the ladies room door for me. I smiled, but wanted to laugh out loud; he was so touchingly unafraid to embrace his inner gentleman in the presence of a vintage dame.
Hail the defiant Maggie, visibly absorbing the insults of age and throwing them back in our face with a performance that has enchanted millions. By 70, we have polished our skills.