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Not a Has-Been, but a Will-Be: Bacall, Bogey & New Year’s Resolutions

I am not a has-been. I am a will be. – Lauren Bacall

I’m not really one for New Year’s resolutions.

I used to be. I used to wish each year for the proverbial fifteen-pound-weight loss. I used to dream of flawless skin. I used to lust after better clothes or easier-to-manage hair.

But that’s all those things really turned out to be – wishes, dreams, and jealousies.

Some years, I was extra-determined. I had a plan. The plan would work. I would get what I wanted. And everyone else would look at me and say, hey, look at you!

Except the plan never worked. All the things you have to do in order to be skinnier and look better require powerful, long-term, daily-accessible motivation.

And what I look like on the outside was just never enough motivation.

Let’s face it. If I could, I’d live in workout clothes. Under Armour, Lululemon, Columbia, and MEC… I love being comfortable. And there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that – especially if I’m having at ‘at-home’ day.

But change is … un-comfortable.

So uncomfortable, in fact, that some of us think, that’s it, I like being comfortable, and I’m never going to change.

I applaud those of you for your self-acceptance. But the scary thing is, we are changing, whether we like it or not.

Every day I look slightly different than I did yesterday. Each morning I notice another wrinkle or blemish. When I look up close, I can see that my hair is slightly longer than it used to be, or my eyebrows one step closer to needing another wax.

Some of you know exactly what I mean. You might see different things than I do – maybe another grey hair, or a hair that used to be there and isn’t any more. You might see a more permanent crease to your forehead or a greater sag under your eyes.

We call these changes aging.

Now wait, before you run for the hills, screaming, plugging your ears so you never, ever, EVER, hear that word again, all the while chanting, ‘twenty-nine-and-holding, twenty-nine-and-holding, twenty-nine-and-holding….’

Aging doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

(Gasp, I said it.)

Most of us are running – literally – as fast as we can from getting older. And while the pursuit of running is excellent – when done in the name of health – often our motivations are less than satisfying. That deep seeded need to look good and be noticed – and perhaps an even deeper-seeded history of rejection – is so powerful for many of us, that we’re willing to do just about anything to get there.

It’s why the wellness industry is the fastest growing industry right now.

That’s right. Thousands of men and women are making ridiculous amounts of money off our need to look and feel better.

In fact, one writer believes that all of the new millionaires and billionaires will be those that profited from the wellness industry.

One thing I’ve often appreciated about Canadian health care is that – at least where I work – decisions are not – ideally, at least – made based on what kind of money the medical professionals (or companies) will make. In general, we’re looking to avoid drain on the publicly-funded system. People get what they need, not any more.

And in order to keep people from clogging the hospitals, we throw more money into things like prevention, public health, and community nursing.

At least, we did. Some of my friends in public health know exactly how much money there isn’t for those kinds of health care now.

But many of us – like our American counterparts – are starting to catch the prevention bug. We join fitness challenges and weight loss programs. We go to spas. We get facials and massages. We do detox programs. We buy and sell supplements, herbal treatments, vitamins and minerals. We think about how our lives affect the environment and how the environment affects us, and we take steps to make sure both are cleaner.

But at some point, I have to wonder: are we so concerned with living longer that perhaps we’ve forgotten we’re not entirely in control of our destinies?

Think about it. Some of the people with the healthiest lifestyles still get cancer. Some people with exceedingly unhealthy lifestyles never even get a cold. Some people desperate for a baby can’t have one. Others who really don’t need or want more, get pregnant without even trying.

And yet, we run as fast as we can from getting older.

Not only are we running from something we can’t completely escape, but we might be running from something that could be good for us.

At least, Lauren Bacall thought so.

Every December we watch All I Want For Christmas, an early-1990’s family movie about two children’s conspiracy to reunite their divorced parents. I was thirteen the first time I saw this movie and it captivated me. And while my parents enjoyed it, my mom was most excited that the kids’ grandma was played by Lauren Bacall.

I admit, I never really understood the big deal about Humphrey Bogart, so I didn’t know who Lauren Bacall was before All I Want For Christmas. In the movie theater back in 1993, all I could think was, she has the lowest voice for a woman that I’ve ever heard.

I leaned over to my mom. Did she smoke? I asked.

Oh yeah, Mom answered, most people did back then.

Then she looked at me. Oh, you mean the voice? That was her thing.

Apparently, Mom was right. Bacall’s husky voice and sultry looks were her thing. Except they didn’t come naturally.

Born Betty Joan Perske to Jewish immigrants Natalie Weinstein-Bacal and William Perske, Lauren worked as a fashion model and Broadway star under the name Betty Bacall. When Nancy Hawks saw her on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar, she urged her producer husband, Howard, to screen test Bacall for 1944’s To Have and Have Not. It was Bacall”s first starring role – but Hawks insisted she change her first name to Lauren.

Under Nancy’s tutelage, Lauren learned to dress stylishly, move elegantly, and speak in a lower tone. Her masculine and sexy voice became one of the most distinctive in Hollywood.

The Voice may have been crafted, but The Look  was by accident.

Lauren claims, ‘I used to tremble from nerves so badly that the only way I could hold my head steady was to lower my chin practically to my chest and look up at Bogie. That was the beginning of The Look.’

The Look became famous.

And so did Bacall.

Lauren went on to star in over sixty films in the next seventy years. She refused scripts she did not find interesting, earning a reputation for being difficult. She was talented, strong-minded and self-assured. She married her co-star, Humphrey Bogart, in 1945; she had a relationship with Frank Sinatra following Bogart’s death in 1957; and she married – then divorced – Jason Robards in the 1960’s. She birthed three children – two with Bogart and one with Robards – and wrote two autobiographies.

Not to mention that her first cousin is Shimon Peres, current President and Prime Minister of Israel.

But Lauren wasn’t one to sweet-talk her way to attention. She kept everyone around her honest. What other woman of her generation had the guts to say things like: ‘I just wish Frank Sinatra would just shut up and sing‘; or ‘Stardom isn’t a profession; it’s an accident’; or, ‘in Hollywood, an equitable divorce settlement means each party getting fifty percent of publicity.’

Or, here’s one of my favorites: ‘when you talk about a great actor, you’re not talking about Tom Cruise.’

Like her yet? I do.

She also said, looking at yourself in a mirror isn’t exactly a study of life.

The attitude that we’re more than who we appear to be on the outside would pervade her whole life. In fact, my favorite Lauren-ism comes from an interview with Douglas Thompson in 2008:

‘What’s so terrible about growing older and having wrinkles?”

Oh, snap, girl. You’ve got us there.

In my battle with chronic leukemia these past three years, I’ve had several well-meaning loved ones offer me supplements, vitamins, and personal care products they’re sure will increase my energy and force the cancer into retreat. I’ve refused many of them, mostly out of concern that they would interact with the success of my daily chemotherapy, but the ones I tried just didn’t work for me.

I’m sure they worked for those who offered them to me.

But all of us – as well-intentioned as we might be – need to remember, before we offer to cure our sick loved ones with an easy fix, that sick people are vulnerable to influence and we should remember not to take advantage of their needs.

This is the thing that bothers me about the ‘wellness’ industry. It’s an industry. People are making money off of other people’s attempts to get well.

The last eight months I’ve received countless offers and requests to try different products and review them on this blog. I’m flattered that marketers think I could write well enough for their purposes, and perhaps many of them have very good motivation behind their requests. But there’s something about that – the infomercial part of it, perhaps – that seems to fly in the face of what I’m really trying to do here.

And then this last month, I stumbled upon products that are finally, actually working for me. They’re revolutionizing my energy levels and changing my daily life. But no one pressured me to try them. I just decided to, one day. Maybe that’s why they’re working, because I decided to change my life for me and not for anyone else around me. 

But even though I’m excited about these products – and I am, because I can do so many more things now, so much more easily than I could the last three years – I know that no matter what I do or don’t do, I’m not going to be able to completely stop my body from breaking down one day.

I’m going to get older. And someday, I’m going to die.

None of us can cheat death. We can pursue health, but we can’t stop the end – at least, not forever.

And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Lauren says it better than I do:

‘I think the preoccupation with youth is terribly depressing. It’s as if the only alternative is suicide. A friend of mine recently said, oh, you’ve had your face lifted. I said, are you out of your mind?  Can you imagine a friend saying something so cruel? Listen, I’ve stuck with this face. God knows there’s room for improvement, (but) I’ve earned every one of my wrinkles… Cheese ripens with age. Wine ripens with age. Why can’t people?’

Cheese ripens with age. Wine ripens with age.

Why can’t people?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be the person I was five, or ten years ago. I was younger and skinnier then, I had an easier time shopping for clothes, and an easier time with hair, makeup, and skin care. But I didn’t like who I was.

I still don’t. But I’m better than I used to be.

Here’s the big secret cancer taught me: all the things that happen to you, can make you better… if you let them.

We can ripen with age.

But if we fight the process, like grapes that are left out too long or not tended properly, we’ll sour.

I’ve been reading the book, Ecoholic, and for the first year in awhile, I actually have a New Year’s resolution. But it’s more of a life resolution. And I’m motivated this time, because it has very little to do with how I look on the outside.

It’s who I’m becoming on the inside.

So to all of you who have healthy resolutions this year, to those of you joining gyms and cutting out fats and sugars, I applaud you. You are taking charge of your future in the best ways any of us can do.

But don’t let your motivation be only what you see in the mirror.

Let it be who you are.

Better yet, let it be a vision of who you are becoming.

After all, the only changes that last, happen on the inside.

So the next time you find a wrinkle, grey hair, or extra bulge where you wish there wasn’t, I hope you’ll join me and smile.

You are not a has-been. You are a will-be.

And, hopefully, so am I.

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2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Again, your post has struck a chord with me. When my girlfriend passed away just before turning 40 I decided then that the privilege of growing old would be a blessing and not a curse to me.

    I have noticed a big change in my appearance in the last few years and it sometimes surprises me. I have learned my face looks nicer when I smile. Go figure…my mom was right.

    Another thing that you talked about that bothers me considerably is the whole wellness thing. Products sold privately …making some people rich off the backs of ill people. We had that happen in our family and it really was frustrating to watch since it wasn’t our decision to make.

    I love being in my 50’s. I like who I am a little more than I used to and am so thankful there is still time to improve.

    I want to be a will-be too.

    January 5, 2012
  2. I love what you said here, Lovella… so great. We need to keep reminding each other to keep ‘looking ahead’ with gratefulness! And yes, don’t we all look better when we smile?

    January 7, 2012

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