A Tribute to Beautifully Aging Bellas

So I alluded to a random celebrity encounter recently. I had three really cool interviews within the past two weeks. One was with Charlie Murphy, who was as hilarious as you might expect. The second was with Bruce Bruce, who was cool and funny. The third was with Jamie Lee Curtis. She was hands down one of the coolest interviews I’ve ever had. Remarkably self-depreciating, intelligent as hell, charming, gracious, funny. She’s Hollywood royalty: the daughter of Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, Jake Gyllenhaal’s godmother, and wife of Lord Christopher Guest, (which technically makes her Lady Haden-Guest). And she was down-to-earth enough to call herself a loser.

“I have no formal education of any note. I barely got through high school. I am the classic underachiever. So on paper, I am a loser. But in my heart, and in what I do, I am a real success. That’s what I’m trying to teach my kids, that success is about self-worth, and you get that by doing esteemable acts,” she said. We talked on the phone for less than fifteen minutes, and Jamie shared many marvelous pearls of wisdom.

Oh, look how excited I am to meet her! She came to Miami to promote her latest children’s book (yes, I know – yet another celebrity children’s book. But hers are really good and this is the seventh one!) Is There Really A Human Race? Her answer is yes, but the goal is to enjoy the journey rather than speed to the finish line. The book is based on a question that her son asked when he was little.

“I was very taken by the question. I told him that I had to think about it. Then I wrote this answer to him. Ultimately, the idea that all of us, always are trying to win at something – love, family, school, the business world – the obsession with winning seems to have muted the very beautiful act of being a good person. I have never been to a funeral or a birthday party, where they raise a toast and someone says “Boy, was she a great CEO!” “Boy, could she make a business decision!” They say she was an amazing person. She touched my life. She helped me. That to me is what the goal of life is, to be thought of in those regards.” That struck me as incredibly true. Forgive me if I ramble, guys. Jamie Lee got me thinking about beauty and aging and all sorts of deep stuff.

Jamie Lee Curtis has gracefully surrendered the ripe sexuality she was celebrated for in films like Trading Places, A Fish Called Wanda, and True Lies, and moved beyond that into an acceptance of her body with all of its fascinating flaws. She has reinvented herself as a storyteller who speaks from life experience. I love that she has evolved into obvious confidence, self-acceptance, and strength. It’s a journey I wish more women would take.

I took the opportunity when talking with her to say thank you on behalf of women around the world who have surrendered forced youth and embraced elegant age without resorting to Botox or obvious, desperate plastic surgery. I’ve been thinking a lot about aging these days. How difficult and how scary it must be at times, to notice changes in your face and body.

My mom often says “age is a bitch.” She’s still so beautiful to me, but the inevitable issues are there: arthiritis is plaguing her nowadays. Even when her hands ache, she always makes sure to “put on her face” every morning before emerging downstairs. I’m the kind of person who tends to lounge in my bathrobe until mid-morning. I used to scoff at her waking up and putting on makeup as soon as she woke up. Now that I’m getting older, I think I almost understand – it’s a pick-me-up. It gets her ready to face the world. I know something’s wrong when she doesn’t feel to put her face on. It’s a trait that runs in the glamour girls of my family.

My Aunty Aggie certainly was glamorous back in the day. She loved to go to church in fancy outfits that matched from head to toe. She had a hat to match the shoes, to match the purse, to compliment the entire ensemble. After her husband, Uncle Jo Jo, passed, she stopped wanting to go out much. Those beautiful clothes stayed neatly in her closet. Every Christmas I visited her. When I’d ask if we could take a picture together, she always politely declined. She said “I am a fallen star.” Hearing her say that brought tears to my eyes because I realized how her self-esteem had diminished with age. Aunty Aggie is no longer with us, but I think of her often and with tremendous affection. I dedicate this post to her, and to all women who continue to put their best face forward and accept age with grace. If you’ve got an older bella in your life, today’s a great day to tell them that they’re still gorgeous, and that you love them. We might all be participating in this human race, but it’s important to let your relay team know how much you appreciate them while they’re still up and running.

So often we wait until a person has passed to pay homage to them. In honor of my mother, my aunties, and Aunty Aggie, I want to take the opportunity this week to pay homage to some famous afrobellas who are still alive. I’m going to start with a living legend I mentioned in my Janet Jackson post: Miss Lena Horne.

She’s proof that gray haired bellas are still beautiful. Her vivacious beauty is timeless. Lena was a legend long before I was born, but I still feel like I grew up with her. Perhaps that’s because of her memorable appearances on Sesame Street and The Muppet Show. Because of those performances, I don’t think of her so much as the crooning, technicolor beauty she most definitely was, as much as I think of her as a fierce, feisty mama with a penchant for eye drama.

Lena’s 89 years old this year, and although she hasn’t been seen much recently, I hope she’s still as sassy as she is in this awesome transcript, and in this PBS American Masters clip. In this show-stopper of a performance, Lena’s already in her sixties. Watch her show these young girls how the damn thing is done.

I’ve heard people say that Lena was wrong for not wanting Janet Jackson to play her in her biopic. One look at this video clip will help to explain her decision. First of all, Lena was always classy and never trashy. And secondly, although she does start breaking it down during Stormy Weather, Lena is not a dancer. She’s quite simply one hell of a singer, and as much as I love Janet, she could never belt out a song the way Lena does. I sincerely hope the film gets made (I personally think Alicia Keys could do a great job with that role), because in my opinion, Lena Horne deserves a glowing tribute now when she’s still around to enjoy it.

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Comments

  1. Oh Afrobella,
    You are going to make me cry. Its not only your prose; which I might say is magnificent, its brief but resonant, its also the sentiment I feel pouring from you the real live person. I too look at the great beauties in my family, my mother, that although she is ravaged by Alzheimers, still must give approval to her clothes and enjoys the color red, my aunts, and neighbors. I have been taken with your site because I’m trying to find my own beauty too. Thank you for being there, and keeping what’s important out front.

  2. Thanks for this post. Lena Horne by far is one of my favorite “older” beautiful bellas. Along with Nancy Wilson. This is great and very encouraging!

  3. 70ssoulchild says:

    Afrobella, Thanks for reminding me of the gems of women in my own family! My sister’s roommate met Jamie Lee Curtis in an antique shop in Oregon a couple of years ago and said the same thing about her. Very nice and so real and down to earth. I love her because she is aging like fine wine and I’m old enough to remember her from Halloween and Prom Night LOL. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE me some Lena Horne..a timeless beauty. My favorite episode of Sanford & Son is the one with Lena meeting Fred..its a classic!

  4. 70ssoulchild, I watched that episode just the other day. She was just stunning in it, and her sweet, Southern voice made her all the more beautiful and original. This is such a lovely post on an even lovelier site. I think I need to call my mom.

  5. Hi Afrobella! I hae been reading your site for quite awhile, but really never got the initiative to comment – until now. This post was incredibly touching, and I just want to tell you how much I admire you as a person, woman, and writer. My dream is to become a journalist, and after observing your prose, and the effect it as on people, I can definitely say this is the career for me!

    I am an 18 year old Hispanic female who struggles with body image issues, but when I visit this site, it makes me feel so beautiful. There is definitely beauty in each and every one of us. We just have to realize it. Thanks Afrobella! Keep doing your thing. =]

  6. By the way, your hair is sooooo damn beautiful! Black women are truly blessed with their hair. I don’t see why anyone would perm it, or put a weave in it. My hair is so limp, and dead. and It takes me forever to even try to curl it. =(

  7. u look gorgeous darling, i luv ur hair that color and um u preservin’ that sexy with the lip gloss, u definitely are my pick 4 afrobella of the week!

  8. Bella, that was some good reading, thanks!

  9. Yay, Lauren!!!!!!!! FYI readers, Lauren is one of my best friends in the world. Thanks for posting! I promise to do a jewfro post just for you! Ha ha.

    Thanks so much for your comments, guys. I had so much to say here, the words were jyst flowing out in a rush. I really think it’s important for all of us to realize and celebrate how beautiful we are. I’ve got quite a slate of aging bellas to celebrate, but if you can think of any, please write and let me know who you want to see honored. Coming up next is an interview with my mom! =)

  10. Love it! You’re very talented! How wonderful it must have been to meet Jamie Lee Curtis!

  11. jerseybred says:

    My Grandma and Lena Horne are in the same age group and I swear they have the best skin. Its so smooth and beautiful. I pray I get to see their days.
    And Jamie Lee Curtis, I am lifelong fan. I love watching Halloween…

  12. jamie-lee curtis always reminds me somehow of julie andrews, another gracefully aging bella.
    walk good.

  13. mochachoc says:

    I came across your website today. How wonderful. I wish I had taken the time to remind my mum how beautiful she was before she died this summer. I feel like I’ve found a like minded person. Beauty in all its guises is so important and for some reason becomes increasingly important to me as the world seems so ugly right now. Keep up the good work.

  14. hey there, afrobella! i’ve just stumbled on your blog for the first time and i love it…great job! please keep it going. i, too, am a natural haired sista from the northeast. i really enjoy reading what you have to say. thanks for the great photo of lena horne. i didn’t know she was still alive! wow. anyway, happy new year and i’ll be sure to keep checking back to your site in 07, although i’m crazy busy writing my dissertation these days. pray for me that my data analysis goes well so that i may graduate in feb!

  15. Lena, Sarah, Ella, Billy Eckstein, Joe Williams, Nat King Cole, I remember them all singing melodiously from the radio when I was a little girl. I always thought these were the classiest people ever. A little gossip here and there because they were celebrities but nothing scandalous: they were class acts even in their personal lives .. at least my generation thought so. You’d be hard pressed to find their kind in this day and age!

  16. Hello,
    I was contemplating adding a backlink back to your website since both of our sites are primarily
    based around the same niche. Would you prefer I link to you using your site address: http://www.afrobella.com/2006/10/05/a-tribute-to-beautifully-aging-bellas/ or website
    title: A Tribute to Beautifully Aging Bellas .
    Please let me know! Cheers

Trackbacks

  1. [...] When I decided to give tribute to a series of beautifully aging bellas, I thought long and hard about who influenced my style the most. Lena Horne, Eartha Kitt, Tina Turner, and Chaka Khan all provided inspiring images of strong black womanhood, but none of them could have had a bigger impact than my mother. [...]

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