CherI was up later than usual last night. It was one of those sleepless nights. I don’t usually watch TV when I can’t sleep, but I had it on in the background for company while I worked on my laptop, and David Letterman came on. My curiosity peaked when he announced that Cher would be joining him, so I kept it on.

I have no idea whether or not the show was current or a re-run, as I rarely watch Letterman, but it was at the very least “recent”.  Cher, born in 1946, is 67. Cher, according to the blurb on Wikipedia is an “American singer and actress. Recognized for having brought the sense of female autonomy and self-actualization into the entertainment industry (the italics are mine).

Her entrance: Sitting high above the stage in a swing, wearing short shorts and fishnet stockings, properly posed with legs crossed, Cher was lowered to the stage with some sort of fanfare in the background. Letterman walked over to greet her and ushered her regally to a waiting chair. Her hair perfectly coiffed, her face frozen in place with something of a smile etched into it, she had not one visible wrinkle, blemish or expression mark.

I watched the interview for the next 20 minutes in utter shock, disbelief and profound sadness. Perhaps, not really shock, or even stepfordvdisbelief,  as there’s far too much of this going on in Hollywood to be surprised, but definitely sadness and very real disappointment. Cher is an icon for women of our generation. She has power and presence and incredible power at her fingertips. What is she doing with it? “Autonomy and self-actualization” are not words I would even put as close as down the street with Cher.

To my way of thinking, self-actualization is “real”; it’s truth, honesty, transparency, integration, transformation, evolution of body mind and spirit from a life time of living. Cher, self actualize? Not on your life. I don’t want to hear about show business or even business as being the reason, or the explanation behind the choices she made to show up on national television in some kind of senior citizen rendition of the Stepford Wives. Ironically, her new album is title “Closer to the Truth”. From where I’m sitting she couldn’t be further from the truth, as I see it.

We all evolve at our own rate and in our own way. As women in the 21st Century we each struggle with our relationship with our culture’s obsession with youth and it’s utter refusal to value, or even acknowledge, an aging population. And yet, every day I see women fighting and winning the battle; making inroads and broadening perspectives. Many are in the public eye and are wearing the battle publicly. I think of Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren, Tina Turner, Judi Dench, Betty White, Angela Lansbury, Valerie Harper; or Hillary Clinton, Maya Angelou, Condolezza Rice; or Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Martha Beck, Byron Katie, Caroline Myss, Louise Hay, who are not so much in the public eye but having their impact.

We have a choice, each of us. We can choose to participate in self-actualization as I understand it, or we can choose a Stepford Wive’s version of aging.

Keeping Up Appearances

7 Replies to “Self-Actualization….Really??”

  1. Hi Dorothy…I didn’t see the Letterman show you mention but it does bring up a couple of thoughts for me. I agree that thinking of Cher as “self actualized” doesn’t seem quite right. But I do feel that she still deserves some credit having her music out there and commercially successful at age 67. While it is a shame that she isn’t more willing to serve as an example of aging gracefully and honestly, she still has an impact. Her new video for her song “A Woman’s World” is inspiring for many reasons. Cher has always been almost a caricature of a woman anyway–she’s always taken on a role of being like a dramatically dressed up porcelain doll (before Lady Gaga was even born)–so I’ve never taken her looks to be real anyway. So with that said, Cher might have some really GOOD qualities going for her–but being “real” and fully self-actualized doesn’t seem to be ones I’d include.

    On the other hand, like you I so applaud the women who are visually active in the entertainment industry who have taken to pledge to stay real and true to themselves. I so agree that we can do that too–or do the Stepford Wives thing (of course a Stepford Wife can be young OR old and they are pretty much the same!)


    1. I realize I’m picking on Cher. She’s far from the only woman, or person for that matter, who has chosen a facade over the real deal. I’m railing more against a culture that reveres the artificial as long as its young and beautiful. I just happen to admire older women who are exactly who they are. I find that much more beautiful.

      1. I definitely agree Dorothy. I live near Palm Springs CA where there are more plastic surgeons than there are GPs because there is so much money to be made from women AND men trying to look younger than there age. While I have no trouble with people wanting to look their best–I personally draw the line when the knife comes out. Besides, I maintain that a person with a smile on their face and someone who loves their life is the best beauty product ever! I think it ALL depends on what we find valuable in this life–and inner beauty and confidence hits the top for me too. ~Kathy

  2. While I understand and support most of what you’re suggesting, perhaps we have more choices than to participate in a self-actualization which is confined to your definition. Perhaps we have the choice of defining self-actualization and redefining it for ourselves, to meet our own needs, to illustrate what is most important to each of us, to make our individual lives more meaningful and purposeful. I’m not sure it’s an either or proposition between doing it your way or choosing to be a “Stepford Wive’s version of aging.” Do I want to follow Cher’s life choices, no. Do I want to follow Meryl Streep’s or anyone else, no. As a mature, independent and self-actualizing woman, I will do it my way and not judge other’s choices.

  3. Self-actualization was not my term, nor my definition. It came from the humanistic psychology theory of Abraham Maslow and describes an individual’s pattern of growth toward the satisfaction of a hierarchy needs that ends in a person who is fully functioning, an ideal self, if you will. And I believe Maslow would agree with you that we each individual moves along this path in their our own unique manner. As far as judgement is concerned, I think we are fooling ourselves if we do not acknowledge that we judge. We make judgments hundreds of times a day. It’s how we navigate life. Even saying we should not judge is in fact a judgement. In our valiant efforts to be PC I believe we’ve watered down our value judgments to the point where we often do not stand for anything. I believe that people who choose to be in the public eye have a greater responsibility to stand for something. I actually would like to hear what Cher has to say about her choice to pretend she is not aging. I would like to hear what she feels the impact of her choices over the years have had on young girls as they struggle to value themselves apart from their appearance. There was no such conversation on Letterman for sure. Rather than flirting with Cher, I would like to have heard Letterman say, “Hell, Cher, your 67 years old! Why don’t you have any wrinkles? You must have really good genes.” That’s all.

    1. Self actualization actually was first coined by Kurt Goldstein and suggested that people would strive to reach their full potential. Maslow developed the term believing that few people would ever successfully reach self-actualization. Together it suggests a striving to be the best we can be as human beings.

      Your point about judgement is valid. We all do judge, but is that the kind and generous approach to dealing with others, or does it just make us feel superior. Does judging help us to reach self-actualization? While we do judge, perhaps we need to strive to lessen the frequency.

      Regarding the notion of aging…… How many of us color our hair? How many of us wear make-up? How many of us squeeze ourselves into Spanx? How many of us take hormone replacements? Where do we draw the line of what is acceptable and what isn’t? I would suggest that it’s a very personal decision. Even Letterman uses many of these options. Why would he draw attention to something that is common place in the entertainment industry, and more and more common place in society in general?

      Perhaps the point is that we can’t look to people in entertainment and sports to be role models.

      1. I agree with all you say, Pennie! Except that what we see on TV is hardly common place in society. What it is, is an in-your-face ideal that too many women think their supposed to strive to obtain; some spend their lives doing so only to wake up one day and discover it really doesn’t matter. I support independent film makers precisely because they take a different look at women over fifty and most of the time I exercise my right NOT to watch Letterman. Every once in a while I think it’s good for us to challenge the status quo. The Indie films being created about women of our generation are not afraid to get into the nitty gritty of what being a woman in the real world is actually like. I will always voice my opinion in opposition to a culture that denigrates women and encourages them to aspire toward something superficial. Indeed, it will always be the individual woman’s choice.

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