Personas To Adopt When You’re An Old Woman

By Shannon Reed

I can only choose one, of course, because women can only be one thing. So which one to choose?

The Charlotte Rampling: I will appear to be dignified, genteel, even Sphinx-like. People will be stunned by my aging beauty and await the pearls of wisdom that I will deign to share with them, but when I open my mouth, I will say stupid things. People will decide that I am best appreciated as a black-and-white photo saved on Pinterest. I will live in Paris and not talk to anyone except shop-keepers.

The Gloria Steinem: I will campaign for an important cause, one that affects the entire world. I will be complex and entitled, supportive and community-minded. I will write, speak, and organize effectively. People will most often talk about how surprisingly hot I still am.


The Lily Tomlin: I will have magnificent hair, dark with gray streaks, and people will assume that I am a college professor, probably in Women’s Studies. I will wear flowing clothing in earth tones and Birkenstocks with hand-knitted socks. I will have a bawdy laugh. When people speak of me, they will always say, “She’s quite a dame.” I will carry spare copies of The Second Sex to press upon people I meet.

The Jane Fonda: I will have been through hell and back and have the cheekbones to show it. I will always give the impression I have something better I could be doing, and sometimes I will appear to wish I had chosen that thing instead of this nonsense. I will wear artful, sculptural necklaces and bangles in gold and silver. Young women will talk to me about their sexual issues, and I will nod at them, encouragingly. “Tell me anything,” I will say. “I have seen it all.” I will live in Tucson.

The Toni Morrison: I will be the product of my own hard work and deep intellect, and because of that, people will be semi-terrified of me. I will have splendid hair. I will address my people in rich, soaring tones. I suppress a sigh when a reporter asks me what it’s like to be the author of The Color Purple. I will most frequently be asked that in February.


The Betty White: I will define young at heart. Whenever I speak about my rich, multi-decade past, I will be sure to end my reminisces on a cheerful piece of advice. I will work into my 10th decade, and whenever anyone mentions me, they will feel obliged to sing my praises. I will say yes to being in anyone’s selfie. I will show up whenever I receive an invitation.

The Diane Keaton: Everyone will forget the weirdos I dated because I will have aged better than them. I will singlehandedly make wearing a billion layers, even in the summer in Los Angeles, seem like a reasonable option. The cultural value of my career will have been in slow decline for 30 years, but no one will care, because I am both attractive and charming, and seem exactly like your wealthiest friend from college’s tennis-playing mom who invited you to stay at her house in Chatham for one week in the summer. I will have a standing Tuesday lunch at Chez Panisse.

The Old Lady from the Film Titanic: For a brief period near the end of my life, I will be very famous, and get to hang out with Kate Winslet. In interviews, reporters a quarter of my age will speak to me as if I am a child, but I will have Leonardo DiCaprio’s phone number, and that will make up for everything.

The Susan Sarandon: I will still be pretty sexy. Maybe not as sexy as I once was, and maybe sexy in a different way than the way I think I am sexy, but nonetheless: sexy. I will have 800 brown or rust-colored off-the-shoulder sweaters. I will tell everyone to call me a diminutive nickname. No one will feel comfortable doing that, and will continue to refer to me as Ms. Reed. That’s fine. That was my intention.

The Helen Mirren: I will be . . . Oh. Who am I kidding? There’s only one Helen Mirren.

The Cecily Tyson: I will be well over 90, but people will keep asking me when my 80th birthday is. I will do eight shows a week and claim some sort of magical elixir, like cod liver oil, keeps me going, but really I will have no idea what my actual secret is, except that when the lights go down, I turn up, ’cause I’m an old school Broadway baby. I’m actually pretty tired, most of the time.

The Emma Thompson: I will be dry and witty and have everything entirely under control at all times. I will have a thin veneer of wackiness which will effectively hide that I am made of steel underneath and could crush your skull with my side-eye. I will read eight books a week and cook a fantastic curry. I will marry a man 10 years younger than me. I will be everyone’s favorite person. I will also have Leonardo DiCaprio’s phone number.


All images: Wikimedia Commons

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