On Sunday, Gail Collins published a beautiful homage to Steinem in the New York Times entitled "This Is What 80 Looks Like." The piece took up the entire front cover of the Sunday Review with an illustration of Steinem's face; its title is a play off Steinem's self-described "most quoted line," which she once told New York magazine "was said completely off the cuff":

Some other editors at Ms. magazine were throwing me an omelet party at some restaurant in the neighborhood for my 40th birthday. And a reporter said to me, kindly, "Oh, you don't look 40." And I said, just off the top of my head, "This is what 40 looks like — we've been lying for so long, who would know?" Age really was a great penalty for women.


In her piece, Collins writes that "very few people have aged as publicly" as Steinem, citing her hosting of a "This is what 50 looks like" party on her 50th birthday to raise money for Ms. magazine as proof positive of her embrace of old age. (For her 80th, Steinem held a "This is what 80 looks like" benefit for the Philadelphia Shalom Center.) As Collins explains, in her later years, Steinem has been more willing to speak about her looks as they have become more of a fascination and less of a defining characteristic of her personhood. Instead of fixation on how how her ageless beauty might be at odds with or beneficial to her work as a feminist, How does she look so good?! is the refrain Steinem gets now:

Ever the positive thinker, Steinem composed a list of the good things about starting her ninth decade. A dwindling libido, she theorized, can be a terrific advantage: "The brain cells that used to be obsessed are now free for all kinds of great things."

"I try to tell younger women that, but they don't believe me," she said in a pre-Botswana interview. "When I was young I wouldn't have believed it either."

Her famous hair is colored, but otherwise, there's been no outside intervention. She likes to recall a friend who proudly reported having rebutted the feminist-got-a-face-lift rumors by announcing: "I saw Gloria the other day and she looked terrible."

Actually, she doesn't look terrible at all. She looks great. She looks exactly the way you would want to imagine Gloria Steinem looking at 80.


"I think for her as an individual, in one sense aging has been a relief," writer and feminist activist Robin Morgan told Collins. "Because she was so glamorized by the male world and treated for her exterior more than her interior."

Though it's not the way she intended for it to go, Gloria Steinem's personal and professional struggles with her looks have been one of her greatest feminist lessons. She taught us that looking good and being a feminist is okay, but that you can't ignore the power of aesthetics. If you're a woman, what you look like won't ever be uncomplicated. Scratch that, if you're a person it won't ever be uncomplicated. We're animals; we have opinions about appearances. It's what we do about those opinions that matters.


Images via AP/Getty