2595514709_2d4fbf4688.jpgYesterday I was on line at my neighborhood CVS waiting to pick up my prescription, my basket full of peanut M&Ms and Diet Coke, which I’m sure you’ve figured out by now are the keys to eternal youth. Some alter cocker up at the register was arguing with the young Asian pharmacist, operatically calling into question her qualifications as a pharmacist–indeed, as a human being–because she calmly declined to refill his prescription without authorization from his doctor. He, a man  “what has lived through that which I have lived through in my lifetime, may you never know!” There were many hand gestures on his part, much nodding and repeating of instructions on hers.

I live on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. In a neighborhood that is home to many, many elderly folks, retired teachers and union guys, large Orthodox Jewish families, hipster types, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, and is right next door to Chinatown, with its pan Asian throngs, such exchanges are commonplace and inevitable and fun to watch (except when you’re in a huge hurry, which luckily I wasn’t yesterday).

It was clear to me and the handful of people in front of me that we were in for a long wait. Two young women ahead of me grabbed a magazine, Us or In Touch, I’m not sure, and began dissecting the celebrities. “She looks good,” one said. “Uh-huh.” “No way she didn’t get liposuction, I mean, please.” “Serious.” “Yeah, but she looks good.” “Of course she looks good. She gets paid to look good. I would look that good if I got paid to look that good.”

Then they turned to a story about Natasha Richardson, the actress who died at 45 a few weeks ago of a traumatic brain injury. Please note that they seemed like nice enough girls. They murmured to one another about how tragic the accident was, and how devastated her family must be.

Then one woman said, “She looked really good, for her age.”

She clearly meant it as a compliment. But damn, would it have killed her to say she just plain looked good? What is up with that qualifier, “for her age”? I know I’ve got a stick up my butt about this issue, but it struck me as all the more icky given that that they were talking about Natasha Richardson–a woman who appears to have been universally respected and is being mourned for having died so young. So she was too young to die but too old to be considered gorgeous without an asterisk?

I am aware, of course, that when a person dies, her looks are the aspect of her that is least likely to be missed by those who loved her.

But pull back from Richardson for a minute, and away from that whole Die Young, Stay Pretty Blondie thing we all grew up with. Can we just dispense with that qualifier, “For her age”?

Precocity is rewarded in practically every other positive trait–intelligence, patience, thoughtfulness, resilience, athletic ability. Yet you’re supposed to look 25 forever in order to be attractive? After that, you’re like a building with a crumbling facade that people think is beautiful, but feel compelled to remark upon the cracks and the fact that your bricks need serious repointing.

Well, feh! Natasha Richardson was plain beautiful before she died at 45, and not just “for her age.” And a gazillion other people think so, too, so maybe the qualifier is obsolete, merely reflexive at this point.

Or not. I hope whether someone looks good can someday be pried away from her age with a crowbar or some other implement yet-to-be invented.

Let me know when that happens. Until then, I’m going to eat my M&Ms and drink my Diet Coke. And punch anyone who tags a “for your age” onto a compliment they pay me.

Photo by Khedera CC