Sarah Jessica Parker has just been informed that she has “herringbone highlights” and tens of thousands of readers have read a story all about them. “Oh wow! That’s… what are they?” I explain that they are highlights woven in and around natural grays. Her description of this hair-color trend for which she is unwittingly a face is far less catchy: “I can’t spend time getting base color every two weeks. Can’t do it. Nope. Too much.”
This choice, many have said, is not a reflection of laziness or indifference or a crazy work schedule. It is bravery. Maybe you remember, last summer, when Parker was photographed dining al fresco in Manhattan. She was bare-faced, hair scraped back, and the headlines blared: “Sarah Jessica Parker goes gray!!” The images went viral. “It became months and months of conversation about how brave I am for having gray hair,” she recalls. “I was like, please please applaud someone else’s courage on something!” Especially since, as Parker points out, she hadn’t even stopped coloring her hair. Those herringbone highlights were just bleached out from the summer sun.
But bravery seems to be a consistent theme for any woman bold enough to get older (a.k.a., not die). Perhaps you saw the plastic surgeon’s office scene in And Just Like That. Parker’s character — Carrie Bradshaw (in case you have recently joined us from Mars) — accompanies her friend Anthony on a face-lift consultation. Carrie winds up accepting the plastic surgeon’s offer to see a digital simulation of her own potential results. “‘Very brave, Sarah Jessica. You were so brave,'” she says of the feedback she got after that episode aired. The fictional doctor promised, “With the right work and the right touch, the last 15 years are gone.”
Staying in the fantasy world for a minute, I asked Parker what she would do if she could take away 15 years without a knife. “With a finger snap!,” I say. “You would be guaranteed to genuinely look like you did 15 years ago. You wouldn’t look unnatural or strange.” It sounds pretty great and honestly I’m tempted to take myself up on my own offer. But Parker’s going to pass.
“So you’d have that moment and then you’d immediately start aging again and 15 years later you’re in the same place,” she says. “What’s the point? I just… don’t care enough. When I walk out the door, I want to feel OK — according to my standards. I can’t even tell you what those standards are. But you know how you feel when you feel most like yourself, whatever that means. I’m not without vanity. I guess I just don’t care enough about everybody else’s opinion.”
Parker points out that of course anyone with a decent mirror and decent vision is well-aware that they are aging and what that looks like. “I just don’t understand why I’m supposed to be spending that much time thinking about it,” she says. “It’s not that I’m purposefully dismissive or delusional. But I don’t really ponder it. There’s been far more peripheral chatter about my time spent on earth than I’ve spent thinking about it myself.”
At the end of the day, Parker feels pretty good about having lived and continuing to do so. She describes herself as an optimist. And she’s feeling pretty good about her new gig as the voice of RoC’s #LookForwardProject, an initiative devoted to celebrating the power of optimism and how it can improve long-term health and happiness. RoC is working on the project with Daisy Robinton, PhD, a cell and molecular biologist who has done research on aging and women’s well-being, and together they did a quantitative study with 600 women in the U.S. and France to find out how they feel about getting older.
Some of the results were, to put it very un-scientifically, a real bummer. Like this: 90% of women feel anxious about aging, and the number-one driver of that anxiety is related to the way they look. And this: More women (60%) are worried about their aging appearance than about having enough money for retirement (43%). The Look Forward resource hub will include research on the proven difference that a positive outlook can have on your life, and your body, and your mind, as well as practical advice on how to practice optimism.
A solid place to start is with some good old-fashioned gratitude. And Parker has a laundry list of all the things that get better with age. “We spend so much time talking about the accumulation of time spent adding up in wrinkles, and it’s the weirdest thing that we don’t say it adds up to being better at your job, better as a friend, better as a daughter, better as a partner, better as a caregiver, better as a sister,” says Parker. “Instead it’s: ‘How do we suspend the exterior? How do we apologize for it? How do we fix it?'”
And to be clear, these are the questions we ask of the aging woman. “We never talk about that with the other gender,” says Parker. “We don’t say to them: ‘Here’s a cream to pretend this didn’t happen.'” Remember that photo of “gray-haired Sarah Jessica Parker” bravely dining in public last summer? At the same table was her dear friend Andy Cohen, three years younger than she. “Andy has a full head of beautiful gray hair. But no one mentioned him, sitting right next to me,” she says. “Not a soul.”
“I’m not angry, it’s just an observation,” she says with a smile (see? optimist). But headlines picking apart the state of your hair or your face or your hands can bring down even the most positive thinker. “I try to not see it, but sometimes it penetrates beyond, you know, the blackout,” says Parker. “And some of it hurts for a minute, it smarts. And some of it confounds me because of the double standard that is so plainly illustrated. It’s just not a great use of time, of ink, of anybody’s attention. We all need distractions, to take ourselves away from the headlines that are devastating, unthinkable. But is this the distraction we want? Or do you want to read a book or do a crossword puzzle or talk to a friend. I think we can do better.”
And with age comes, at least for this 57-year-old actor, a deep respect for time and how precious it is. “I don’t condemn those who have more vanity than I do, or those that have less. I don’t think there’s a right or a wrong way to have a relationship with aging, living, time spent on earth. But mine is that there are a million things I want to do with my free time, and none of them have to do with preserving [what I look like] now, or trying to get back to 15 years ago,” says Parker. “All I think about is like, ‘Where am I going to eat? What books am I gonna bring with me? Can we get into that strange little restaurant? Will the water be warm enough where I wanna swim? Also, Wordle.”
But do not use this as fodder for “Sarah Jessica Parker Has Chosen Wordle Over A Beauty Routine” headlines. We’ve already established that colorist appointments are happening (just not every two weeks) and “it’s not that I don’t take a moment every night and wash my face and put on moisturizer. I do!” After years of publicly pledging allegiance to La Roche-Posay’s Toleraine Sensitive Fluide, Parker says she’s now fully converted to RoC’s Hydrate and Plump Moisturizer: “I put it on every morning and then when I get to the theater” — she’s currently starring alongside husband Matthew Broderick in Plaza Suite on Broadway — “I mix it with my base.”
And from the neck down, the entire Parker-Broderick clan uses Neutrogena’s Light Sesame Formula Body Lotion — “I put it on my whole body, including my feet, every night.” The woman who inspired a generation of women to squeeze into stilettos does her own pedicures with the aforementioned drugstore lotion + a pumice stone on a wooden stick + Antoine cuticle nippers.
As Allure said when we banned the term “anti-aging” from our vocabulary five years ago: “No one is suggesting giving up retinol. But changing the way we think about aging starts with changing the way we talk about aging.” Words matter and Parker even thinks perhaps we should give another one some careful consideration.
“We also need to reframe the word ‘beauty.’ Sure, skin care is part of it. But what’s arresting and attractive to us is a person who is interesting, who’s going to tell you about a book they love or a village they visited. It’s never going to be about this,” she says, twirling a hand around her face. “I meet women all the time and I’m like, ‘You are beautiful.’ I could stare at them a million years. But I guarantee it has nothing to do with whether they’re 18 or 78.”
Originally published in Allure.com