The actor Keanu Reeves stepped out on the red carpet at an event on Saturday, holding hands with his longtime friend, the visual artist Alexandra Grant. When photos appeared online on Monday, the pair sparked rumors of romance and, predictably, Twitter users were ecstatic.
Many observers are thrilled that Mr. Reeves, 55, is the rare Hollywood leading man dating someone “his own age.” “Of course Keanu has an age-appropriate girlfriend,” the writer Britt Hayes said in a viral tweet echoing a typical response to the news. “He is a Good Man.”
This assessment is a bit of a stretch, as others have noted; at 46, Ms. Grant is almost a full decade younger than the actor. “Keanu Reeves has won an Olympic medal for dating someone ‘age appropriate,’” the former congressional candidate Saira Rao tweeted.
But when the alternative may have been a lifestyle similar to that of Leonardo DiCaprio — a man whose dating track record suggests a belief that women have a shelf life just shy of 25 years — dating age-appropriately in itself seems like a low bar to clear, yet sadly, worthy of praise. And while Mr. DiCaprio is an easy punch line, he’s certainly not alone. Jeff Goldblum, Alec Baldwin and countless others have paired up with women significantly younger.
The part that interests me the most — and I imagine others as well — isn’t that Ms. Grant, who is in my opinion quite striking, is 46. It’s that she 46. And not just Hollywood’s version of 46. Gabrielle Union, Eva Mendes, Penélope Cruz and Victoria Beckham are also in their mid-40s, but money, trainers and sure, good genes might have you think otherwise at a glance.
Would we have had the same fawning reaction had Mr. Reeves stepped out with one of them? At the LACMA Art and Film Gala on Saturday, Ms. Grant was showcasing a luminescent smile and what appears to be her natural, silver-gray hair. Also to my delight: a few noticeable wrinkles — a rarity in Los Angeles.
No, she’s not his age. But if I’m being honest in a way that perhaps verges on impolite, she looks like she could be close to it. And that matters. A few years ago, you’d never catch me writing about a woman’s ability to “pass” for her age, but now as I’ve entered my 30s and have a few lines of my own that even fillers can’t reach, I’d love to stop thinking of the discussion around women and getting older as a transgression.
After all, don’t all adults walk around this earth looking plus or minus a few years of our actual age?
A part of me feels decidedly anti-feminist writing about another woman’s appearance, but we don’t move the conversation forward by pretending the natural outward signifiers of age should never be noticed, discussed or even celebrated. I desperately want to see wrinkles and gray hair as an objectively good thing (look at these lovely markings of your full life on this planet!), or at least as a neutral thing, but the truth is I don’t yet. I’m getting married next year, and much as many brides search around for a hair stylist or makeup artist they like, I’ve been comparison-shopping for plastic surgeons who can do my Botox just right.
I’m not afraid of getting older. I’m afraid of looking older. And to deny that, as embarrassing as it is, would be counterproductive to the many other women my age who feel the same way.
I know the root of my attitude is part vanity and part internalized misogyny, but it also comes from the way the world tends to view and treat middle-aged women — as past their prime, as desperate cougars trying too hard, or worse, as invisible.
But attitudes are changing, and I hope I can change along with them. Last year, I watched Jamie Lee Curtis thrill me to my core in “Halloween” and then take to Twitter to celebrate that the movie had the biggest box office opening with a leading actress over the age of 55. I’ve witnessed a Kathryn Hahn career renaissance deserving of just about every award. I watched Jennifer Lopez, 50, defy gravity and make the fur coat A Thing again while playing a stripper in “Hustlers.” And just this Sunday, I saw Jean Smart, 68, electrify every scene she was in as the Silk Spectre in HBO’s “Watchmen,” where she wields an absurdly large blue dildo and has sex with a much younger man.
Middle-aged and older women, long portrayed as sexless and relegated to wise, maternal roles, are slowly but surely beginning to gain some pop culture representation that reflects the dynamic, complex and sexy figures that they are.
And that’s why this possible romance between Mr. Reeves and Ms. Grant feels meaningful. It matters to see a woman who possesses physical attributes that dermatologists, hair colorists and targeted ads on Instagram have long told me to change, cover up or prevent before they get worse. It would be nice to live without that burden, but for now it’s almost as nice to watch others do so.
For a time-tested public figure like Mr. Reeves to proudly stand there, beaming, with a woman who appears not to be in a battle against time sends a message to the rest of us that perhaps we can put down the snail mucin salves and jade rollers ourselves. It says you can be both desirable and look exactly your age. That’s the representation I’d like to see before I look in the mirror.
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