Turning 50 with Demi Moore, and Figuring Out What Matters


I first “met” her when my boyfriend showed me a copy of Oui Magazine. She was a virtually unknown pin-up girl and she graced the cover, her first ever. My boyfriend had picked up the magazine because the brown-haired, olive-skinned teenager on the front reminded him of me.

Demi Moore, 1981

She reminded me of me too. This girl and I had similar coloring and bone structure. We were the same height and the same age (just two months apart, in fact). At the time–my freshman year in college–I painstakingly blew straight my naturally wavy dark hair and wore purple almost everyday. I even had a lilac cardigan, although I usually wore something underneath it.

Blonde equaled beauty back in the early 80s. It was unusual to spot a dark-haired model, so seeing “my” image gazing at me from a magazine cover was almost startling. There was something else conveyed in that shot, something I couldn’t quite grasp until ten years later, after Demi Moore had morphed from a pin-up girl to perhaps the most powerful actress in Hollywood.

Stretched out on my green corduroy chaise, the first adult piece of furniture I bought for my one-bedroom apartment, I held the 1991 Vanity Fair issue in which Demi Moore posed nude and pregnant. This infamous Annie Leibovitz shot would become the template for every other look-at-me-I’m-knocked-up-but-still-so-hot celebrity pregnancy photo to follow.

Demi Moore, 1991

Lying on my chaise, I read about her upbringing: abandoned by her dad, subjected to boozy, violent arguments between her mother and stepfather. How she moved forty times while her often unemployed stepfather — who ultimately committed suicide — ricocheted from  job to job. At 16, Demi dropped out of high school to become a pin-up girl and, not too many years later blossomed into Hollywood’s darling.

And then I identified the feeling that had emanated from that Oui cover ten years before: vulnerability. Wasn’t it the real, raw, vulnerable parts of Demi that shone through her green eyes and pulled us towards her in movies like About Last Night, St. Elmo’s Fire, and Ghost? And was her attraction to movies like GI Jane (about a woman who defies expectations when she becomes a Navy Seal) and Disclosure (about a female sexual predator) an attempt to conquer the vulnerability that had been dogging her since her traumatic, impoverished childhood?

Perhaps it was her sense of herself as a young survivor that led her to name her daughter — still in utero on the Vanity Fair cover — Scout, after the plucky 6-year-old heroine in To Kill a Mockingbird. I remember reading at some point about her attempts to better herself intellectually, via nerdy reading glasses and giving her kids bookish monikers (Rumer is named after a British novelist).

Until her recent descent into aging-in-the-public-eye hell — shamed by a philandering, younger spouse; allegedly overdosing on substances favored by teenagers, whip-its and synthetic pot; headed for rehab — her life was the stuff of legend. It is a testament to her strength and resolve that, given her abysmal childhood, she didn’t end up plowing through a soul-crushing series of minimum-wage jobs and abusive men, losing babies to the foster care system.

How could you not feel compassion and awe for someone who rose out of such wretched ashes?

Demi’s very public crash-and-burning has eclipsed a recent, similar mid-life implosion by Heather Locklear, who at 50 is just one year older than Demi. While I feel sad for Heather, I don’t feel the same pathos that I feel for my girl Demi. Heather always struck me as a spoiled California blonde whose rise to Hollywood TV fame had more to do with her ambition and beach-girl looks than with thespian substance.

Although my ex-husband didn’t leave me, he has certainly made it difficult for me to go on with my life. The aftermath of my divorce has been exhausting and destabilizing beyond anything I could have imagined. And while I never used drugs to buffer the pain of a mangled life narrative, I know what it’s like to buckle under the deluge of crushing stress, to be unable to sleep or eat, to watch the face I imagined would be forever youthful face turn gaunt, drained of spark.

Demi Moore, 2012

Demi and I will both turn fifty at the end of this year. Because women’s currency historically has been based on their looks and their fertility, it can be quite a kick in the pants for many of us when we realize that our days of inspiring male rubber-necking have run out, Botox or not.

Last week, I sat with my pretty 20something co-worker in our boss’s office. My dewy-skinned colleague confided that a male staff member had asked her out and she was struggling with how to decline his invitation politely.

I laughed with her and my boss at this cliched scenario until I felt kind of a “huh?” As in, that’s-so-weird-that-he-didn’t-hit-on-me! And then it full-body-slammed me, that somehow, without my realizing it, I am no longer perceived as a pursuable woman (except by my husband, thank the Lord), despite the fact that I still feel that way inside.

As world-altering as that moment was for me, Demi has it about a zillion times worse. She has spent most of her life in front of the cameras, her every public excursion, be it to Starbucks or to a red-carpet event, photographed and critiqued on the basis of her appearance. Look how skinny she is! Has she had plastic surgery? Are those veneers on her teeth?

Add on the part about her marriage to her way-younger husband ending after his public dalliances with a stream of perky groupies, the fact that her other ex-husband just had a baby with his wife who looks like Demi 15 years ago, the likelihood that her copious body-grooming and enhancing has cloaked her fear that she is not “worthy of love,” and that all this has been played out in front of the masses — well, who could blame her for cracking up?

It’s just a shame that Demi can’t crack up without everyone tweeting and TMZing about it. Was is really necessary for the media to release the recording of the 911 call when she overdosed? This event was devastating enough for her and her daughters — at least one of whom was present — without the whole world learning about its lurid details.

Of course, Demi could stand to make some different choices. Stop partying with your children, girlfriend. Find the company of a mature man who will find you lovable when you’re eighty.  And as my friend Laura Silverman, blogger behind Glutton for Life, suggested on her Facebook page, “please move back to Idaho and take those daughters with you.”

My best friend from college threw herself a 50th birthday bash last weekend. Not normally one to fete herself, she decided to do so this year because now that she has officially reached midlife, as she says, “I want to know that I matter.”

We all want that, don’t we? It’s just that what matters changes over time. If, at 50, you have found meaning in your relationships, in raising children if you have them, in work and activities that you enjoy, you will probably feel that your life has been worth something. I realized, after mulling over the Demi Situation, that I have a lot of work to do on reconfiguring my psychological hard drive. In part because I assign way too much value on whether or not I can still fit in my size 4 pants, and in part because of the damage done by my horrific divorce.

For (straight) women whose self-worth is still tied up in their looks and in the amount of male attention they attract, whose currency comes mainly from externals, turning 50 can feel like death.

And it is, in a sense. It is the end of an era, yet it also marks the passage into a phase of life that is potentially richer and deeper — as long as we stop chasing what we see in the rearview mirror.

What about you, mid-lifers? Do you find yourself wading into your past or are you content in your present?

Has what matters to you changed as you’ve gotten older? What matters less and what matters more?

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About perilsofdivorcedpauline

I am a survivor of a world-class gnarly divorce. My dastardly ex-husband is suing me for full custody of my son, and more time with my daughter. He’s super-rich and I’m super-not. You get the picture.
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19 Responses to Turning 50 with Demi Moore, and Figuring Out What Matters

  1. Lori Day says:

    “And then it full-body-slammed me, that somehow, without my realizing it, I am no longer perceived as a pursuable woman (except by my husband, thank the Lord), despite the fact that I still feel that way inside.”

    WOW. That sentence bowled me over. YES. This is it. I am 48. 50 is on the horizon. Like you, I have a wonderful second husband who loves me and finds me attractive. But this sentence…this realization…

    Yesterday I was trying to use PhotoBooth on my computer, and my image suddenly popped up on the monitor. I had this moment of, “Who is that middle-aged woman with lines on her face?” Seriously. I guess we are all that young Demi Moore photo in our minds, but the mirror reminds us occasionally, in odd and unexpected moments, that decades have passed.

    I don’t care about my age and have never been happier in my life than now. And yet, there is that sentence you wrote, which is still somehow true.

    GREAT post.

    • Thanks, Lori — I do that all the time, look at my face in the mirror with incredulity: how did it happen??! I wonder why older, gray-haired men are considered sexy while older, gray-haired women are just considered older and gray-haired. Maybe some day this will change.

      • Lori Day says:

        My husband is 53–five years older than me. But frequently people think he is much younger than me. I just look my age, while he got great genes and looks 40. I secretly worry that as time goes on, he’ll just somehow always look 40 and the perceived gap in our ages will grow! I joke to him that we are about five years away from someone thinking he’s my son. 🙂 But there is a cool side of this. We met on Match, and against the advice of his friends, he posted his real age when he could have gotten away with lying. I thought his photos were very old until I actually met him and realized they were current. He was one of the only men not looking for a much younger woman. One of the things that helped me fall in love with him was that when he was 50 on Match, he said he was looking for a woman between 45 and 55! Now how often do we see men doing that in online dating, especially when they could pass for much younger than their age?? I think aging is just so much harder for women. Men are considered attractive whether they look young like my husband, or old and gray. They are considered “distinguished.” Women are so marginalized. It’s really sad. And even when we are happily married to men who find us attractive, it is still hard to realize we look old!

      • Your husband sounds great! So nice to hear about an “older” man looking for a woman who is his equal.

  2. My husband left me for a woman 20 years younger. She was everything I wasn’t. Petite. Skinny. From an educated moneyed background. Her closet bulged with couture dresses and shoes that cost five times as much as any footwear I’d ever owned. To say it was a blow to my self-worth is the understatement of my life. In the aftermath of the first couple of years, I stayed alive for one reason–in order not to cause any further hurt to my children.
    To be “perceived as no longer pursuable” is a rough road for many women in our society. When our partners dump us in the midst of that slog, the pain can be unbearable. My heart goes out to Demi Moore and her children.
    Four-and-a-half years out from the end of my marriage, I am content in my present. I’m gray (hey, silver is the new blond!) un-botoxed, not nipped or tucked or lifted. What matters to me now is what has always mattered–love, family, trying to be a useful, good, and decent person while still having a heck of a good time. It’s a lot easier to focus on it without trying to hold up a faltering marriage all by myself.
    Hang in there, Demi. Persevere, Pauline. I’m almost 60. I’m predicting it will be better than 50.

  3. Jen says:

    I’m not in midlife, I’m 25 years old, but I wanted to say to you that every year that I get a little older I appreciate and find older women more beautiful. When I was a teenager I thought that 30 was old, but at 25 I see women of all ages and think of how alive they look.

  4. Jenny says:

    This city is so youth oriented that, if you’re over 40 and don’t look like a blonde duck lipped Barbie, no one knows how to categorize you. I can relate to everything you’re saying. And while I too have a man who thinks I’m fantastic, I don’t think these feelings about aging have much to do with our partners. It has to do with public perception, not private admiration. Because, let’s face it: it sucks to suddenly feel invisible. Great post.

  5. You’ve touched on so many issues of contemporary culture in this post, Pauline. Poignantly and directly.

    The beauty of vulnerability (and perhaps, its dangers?)
    Issues of divorce and post-divorce devastation (sometimes we rebuild; sometimes, it’s the never-ending story)
    What it means to turn 50, as a woman, in our society
    Our good fortune if we find love, and trust it (and ourselves?) again
    The way what matters… changes; perhaps hardship makes us wiser and more appreciative.

    I dealt with the 50-landmark myself, already. And some of your other plot lines are all too familiar to me. But recognizing courage in anyone who admits to being knocked down and needing a hand to get back up again – I think that’s one more thing that matters.

    How little we seem to see, most of us, when we’re 20 or 30, and I suppose it’s only natural. How much more compassion we feel, with the additional years and experiences to inform us.

    Wonderful post.

  6. Stan says:

    I know it’s common, but I really can’t understand the men who chase much-younger women. I’m told I could probably get away with it, since I don’t look my age at 52. But I’m just not interested. When I got tossed overboard and had to re-enter adult dating, I started off with a resolution that I wasn’t going to go out with anyone under 40, and even under 45 felt odd, and I was 48 at the time. I just think it’s better to be with someone who is at a similar point in life.

    And for what it’s worth, as women grow older, you’re still attractive and pursuable. Just by a different demographic than when you were 21. The only fly in that ointment is that whole ‘men die sooner’ thing. I gather we get kind of scarce in the upper age brackets.

  7. I have a mirror trick I use to help me over the “whose wrinkles are those?” moments every morning. I have a magnifying mirror for putting on my makeup, and oh, the relief when I finally look into the regular mirror and look so much younger. Those wrinkles have almost disappeared!
    And so long as I feel good, I look good (enough).
    On a related subject, I once saw Gloria Steinem on her sixtieth birthday and she announced to a roomful of women: “This is what 60 looks like.” How depressing. You’d think she would be over her looks by now.

  8. I’ll be fifty in a couple of years, and I look around at my women friends and marvel at how deeply beautiful all of them are. I, of course, don’t think the same of myself, but that’s a whole other story.

  9. Susan says:

    I turned 40 last year and I’m just starting to see a big difference in the women my age who focused on their interests and talents when they were younger versus the ones that received a lot of acclaim for their looks. The second group seems unhappy and a little desperate. It makes me sad that many women still buy into the whole fertility/attractiveness/ sexual availability equals self worth. Culture pounds these lessons home with such a heavy hammer. I feel so blessed that my mom raised me to be a do-er and not a looker. I’m sure it was an uphill battle for her.

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