"And I know all I can do right now is hold on tight to the little bit of life that's left, cling to the edge of the skyscraper I'm slipping off of, feel my fingers slowly giving way, knowing I'm going to free-fall to a sorrowful demise." (She's 41.)
Elizabeth Wurtzel is someone whom many blame for the current vogue in oversharing and personality-driven youthquaking. Privileged, fucked up, and, of course, pretty, Wurtzel's always had enemies whom she could dismiss, infuriatingly and with some justification, as merely jealous. Although a genuinely compelling writer and a defining voice of her generation, she's someone who's always mistaken candor as a substitute for insight. And with the narcissist's blithely narrow world-view, has always ascribed a universality to her own experiences, mistaking our voyeurism for empathetic commiseration.
Most of all, love her or hate her, Wurtzel was always a professional Young Woman. And as an ambassador of her generation, Wurtzel's aging process is of more than usual interest to the public she claimed as her due 20 years ago. Which makes this Elle article, "Failure to Launch: When Beauty Fades," incredibly depressing. Basically, Wurtzel is growing older. And, in her words, "people who say they have no regrets, that they don't look back in anger, are either lying or boring, not sure which is worse." Not for her serenity and wisdom. No, she is panicking at the thought of losing the power of her beauty, her hold over (horrible-sounding) men, desperate to preserve her youthful looks ("Thank God for La Mer and Retin-A and Pilates"). As she explains with characteristic candor, she was always a beautiful child, a "hot number," a woman who traded on her looks. And she misses it. While she sees the danger and futility of valuing beauty overmuch, she can't help it: panic trumps insight and she doesn't seem eager to stop it. And it's scary to see a smart and accomplished woman so openly in the thrall of others' opinions.
In Salon, Amy Benfer ruefully analyzes this depressing meditation on mortality, and comes away disheartened. While she dispatches Wurtzel's self-deception and lack of insight with a razor-sharp incisiveness (and do read it), there is, as she points out, no schadenfreude to the exercise: it's impossible to take any pleasure in such naked unhappiness. In a way, though, we're grateful to it. While one can't help but come away from "Failure to Lauch: When Beauty Fades" feeling really sad for its author, if she wants to cast herself as a cautionary tale, we're willing to learn the lesson. Early success, education, conventional beauty, a thin body - Wurtzel achieved everything we're taught to want, indeed, helped form the modern mold of what we want. We're told all the time that this isn't everything, but it helps a lot to have that reinforced by an essay like this. Teenage girls should read it. And then they should listen to another youth icon, now turning 50. It was, after all, Morrissey who said, "age shouldn't affect you. It's just like the size of your shoes - they don't determine how you live your life! You're either marvellous or you're boring, regardless of your age."