I bought an annual pool pass last week for the 26th year in a row. Having spent so many hours at the local swimming hole, I’ve seen a huge variety of bodies plunge into the cooling waters on hot summer days … and none of them have looked like Barbie.
The reason I mention Barbie is because the doll made by Mattel has been on the market for 50 years now and doesn’t look a day over 18. And that, among several things about the doll, is a problem.
It’s a problem, because only about 5 percent of the post-adolescent people at the pool would not feel embarrassed to have their picture taken in a swimming suit. I’m guessing only 1 percent would feel OK about having their picture printed for all to see in the Review. God didn’t make many women who could look like that even if they tried. If the doll was a 5-foot 6-inch woman, her measurements would be 39-21-33.
Yet here is Barbie at 50 years old looking like she did in high school, so to speak. Now, I have been receiving the AARP magazine for 11 years, which means that I’m at the age where even though I weigh what I did in college, somehow a lot of what used to be muscle has turned to something else and has shifted to my middle.
So, what are those of us who are Baby Boomers to think of our bodies in comparison to the Barbie or Ken ideal? A writer named Catherine Mayer has coined the term “amortal” to describe people like Madonna or Simon Cowell from American Idol who want to look and act forever young. “The defining characteristic of amortality,” writes Mayer, “is to live in the same way, at the same pitch, doing and consuming much the same things, from late teens right up until death.” And, we should add, get tummy tucks and Botox and hair coloring and whatever else they need to look like they have been legal drinkers for not more than 10 years.
On a hot July afternoon, you can usually see a few teenage girls in bikinis who hardly ever go into the water. What they do is lounge and tan and then, in twos or threes, strut around the pool. Their objective is to attract the attention of the boys their age. The girls usually accomplish their mission.
I guess that’s normal – if you’re 15. When I was in high school, one of my friends took 10 minutes to comb his hair one day. When he finally finished the preening, he looked one last time in the mirror and said, “Don’t you ever die.” That may be normal for a teenager, but trying to look and act that way as you approach Medicare eligibility is trying too hard to be something you’re not.
One of my favorite regulars at the pool is a boy who is approaching adolescence and is cognitively impaired. The wonderful thing about this lad is that he’s not self-conscious at all. He climbs up on the diving board and carefully makes his way to the end. He glances at his dad, who is watching his son from the deck with a look that tells you that this kid is the apple of his eye. The boy smiles and exuberantly leaps into the water, climbs out of the pool and does it all over again.
That kid is my role model. As I age and gradually lose my figure, my memory and my hair, I want to learn how to climb up on the diving board, smile at the friends I still have left and plunge into life. I don’t want to worry if I don’t look like an Olympic diver.
Come to think of it, for the 95 percent of teenagers who would be embarrassed to strut around the pool, my favorite kid is a pretty good role model for them, too.
Tom Holmes has worked in Forest Park since 1982 as a pastor and as a writer. He is grateful that his children grew up in this town and finds inspiration in the personal relationships he has developed with so many.