Joni Mitchell in old age | Opinion

By Jennifer Moses

I’m 62, and like so many women of my generation, I grew up under the spell of the singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell: her glittering blond beauty; her enchanting melodies; her autobiographical lyricism; her open mood, bold riffs, artistic ambition and love affairs. Nothing she sang struck a chord with me as I plunged into my own love affairs, poetics, ambition, and desire to somehow make my voice heard.

You know the story. Everyone knows the story. By the time she was in her mid-20s, Joni Mitchell was a star. Soon after, she was world famous, with new records tumbling out of her every year or two, as her fans argued amongst themselves over which was best: “Blue”, “The Hissing of Summer Lawns”, “For the Roses”? But they were all the best. To this day I listen to the same Joni Mitchell records (on vinyl) that I amassed before I was 30.

Joni Mitchel is now 78 years old, and amazingly for someone who has reached mega stardom and never lost it, she looks old. She may be the only super-famous female entertainer in the world to show up as the old lady she is, in her case, plump, wrinkled, husky voice from years of chain smoking, and still recovering from an aneurysm she contracted in 2015.

This is in contrast to, say, Jane Fonda, Dolly Parton, or any number of now 70- and 80-year-old entertainers who were once young and gorgeous and now old and surgically enhanced. I know, because while I didn’t watch this month’s 2022 Grammy Awards, I googled Joni Mitchell’s rare public appearance there, and despite the two pigtails she wore over her ears and the flirty red beret she wore wearing her head, Joni Mitchell looks like someone’s grandmother. Probably because she is.

One of life’s endless jokes is that if you don’t die before your old age, you grow old, and to me neither option is that appealing. And yes, duh, as we get older we get milder, wiser, we learn to smell the roses, and if we’re lucky we’ll have grandchildren and maybe even great-grandchildren. The great wheel of life keeps spinning and we still ride it, albeit with aching joints and poor eyesight and the inability to get off the ground unaided or hold our bladders for very long. And that’s the least.

If you’re me, and so vain that Carly Simon’s song “You’re So Vain” should have been written about you, you seriously wonder if you can handle looking at your less and less pretty face until death finally ends embark on your rambunctious love affair with the mirror. But I don’t have to resign myself to the habits of gravity, not with all the facial enhancement options available: a few drops of Botox for the wrinkles or injections of hyaluronic acid to make my cheeks fuller and therefore some of the sagging that doesn’t completely disappear. but soon recognizable jaws under my chin?

Come to think of it, what would be so bad if I went all out and chose to go under the knife? The American Society of Plastic Surgeons lists 36 improvements for women (with more for men), including “non-invasive” (if painful) “laser skin resurfacing” and the more complicated “buttock enhancement” and “aesthetic genital plastic surgery.” Presumably, your private bits will remain plump and beautiful.

Look, plastic surgery can and often is a miracle, a lifesaver, a huge boost to health and well-being. I know several women whose large breasts not only made them the center of unwanted attention, but also put significant strain on their backs. An operation to reduce their breast size gave them a physical freedom they would not have had without it. Burns, scars, skin that makes you feel trapped behind an crone’s face: can plastic surgery help? Why not? I’m not against it.

For what it’s worth, most of my peers love that there are so many medical options to rejuvenate our appearance, and I suspect their opinion is widespread.

But it pisses me off that with the ever-increasing number of options to reduce the appearance of obsolescence, there is such a thing as pressure or expectation to take advantage of such options. And because treatments like Botox and microdermabrasion run well under $1,000 each, it’s not just the wealthy who can afford them. For me, this isn’t good news, as more options mean more pressure to maintain a non-natural look.

I’m not the only one who knows women who are 10 and 20 years older than me and who look 10 and 20 years younger than me.

My daughter is getting married next year and as the mother of the bride I want to look my best. To Botox or not to Botox, that is the question. But going forward, the real question is, can I allow myself to look the way I look?

Jennifer Moses is the author of various books with fiction and non-fiction† She lives in Montclair.

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