Raquel Welch: "'Old'" is the Last Remaining Dirty Word for Women"

The iconic sex symbol talks with Oprah about trying to age gracefully

When Raquel Welch first embarked on a modeling career 50 or so years ago, she was rejected. The reason? LA casting agents "hated" her body.

Her body, FYI, looked like this. And that was AFTER having a child at 19.

"Everything was wrong,' the iconic pin-up, now a mind-blowing 69, told Oprah Winfrey yesterday during an episode called "Brilliantly Aging Women". "There was too much here, too much here."

Then she landed a role in the film 1 Million Years BC, and the image of her in a doe skin bikini propelled her to international – intergalactical, even – sex symbol status.

THAT’s what Oprah wanted to talk about. What is it like to be every man’s fantasy, to hang on bedroom walls and be worshipped like a shrine? "What does that do to your psyche?" she asked Welch.

As it turns out, it does a whole lot, and it’s not all good. Being a fantasy symbol was fun, in part, she admits, but it was also scary. Welch wanted to be taken seriously as an actress, but was strongly encouraged not essentially stand there and look pretty. She recounted a story where she approached the director of 1 Million Years BC to discuss an idea she had about the script. She started to tell him, "I've been thinking..." but he cut her off and simply said, "Don't."  Don't think. No one wanted or needed to hear what was going on in the pretty girl’s mind; her cleavage and hips spoke for themselves.

During the course of the Oprah interview, it jumps out at viewers just how difficult it has been for Welch to age gracefully. Some examples:

Oprah calls her a sex and beauty icon. Welch corrects her: "Was" a sex and beauty icon, but not now.

Oprah asks, "Do you feel as good as you look?" Welch replies, "Rarely. I have my mornings where I really like myself, but 90% of the time it's, 'Oh my God.'"

Welch tells the audience, "To be an aging sex symbol is not a picnic.” In her book, Beyond the Cleavage, she writes, "'Old' is the last remaining dirty work for women. You can be called a ho, a porno slut…but none of that means anything" unless someone calls you old.

The interview really hiked my eyes open to the realities of aging; particularly, how hard it can be for someone who’s made her living, by design or not, off of her looks. In our culture, youth reigns and, as Oprah puts it, by age 50, things are pretty much over in terms of women being regarded as sexually desirable. As a result, older women are developing eating disorders, getting plastic surgery and working out like maniacs in a desperate attempt to compete with 25-year-olds.

I’m only 33 but I truly feel like I can relate to Welch and what she was saying. Already, I feel some of the pressure to maintain the physique I had in my 20s, a feat which is increasingly growing less and less attainable. I used to have a smooth, practically concave belly - the kind that begged for a belly ring (which I got) and ridiculously low-slung jeans (which I rocked). In the past few years, however, a small layer of chub has begun to cling to my lower abs. A baby muffin top, if you will…except I haven't yet had a baby, so a large part of me is screaming, "Failure! You don’t even have an excuse for this! What are you…OLD?" It sounds hopelessly cliché, but I absolutely feel my body changing as I get older and, for the most part, it doesn’t feel all that great.

Then something will happen like I’ll spend time with my 85-year-old grandparents, as I did last night. Jean and Morty are totally with it – he works full time as a CPA fraud specialist and is knee-deep in tax returns, she teaches second grade Sunday school, mentors Northwestern grad students and goes out for three-hour-long lunches with her girlfriends. Their lives are unbelievably rich with family, friends, career, tradition, and looks matter about as much to them as a bride’s hopes for nice weather on her wedding day matter to Mother Nature. After 63 years of marriage, my grandpa continues to gaze at my grandma with the sort of enraptured attention typically reserved for, well, men staring at a posted of Raquel Welch in a doe skin bikini. Being around them helps me realize how minute and insignificant my own mini-concerns about aging gracefully are.  Because what really matters has nothing to do with cleavage or sexy hips.

But just in case you still need some encouragement that aging brilliantly IS possible (from the outside, I mean), consider these women who seem to get more gorgeous as they grow older:

Tina Turner, 70

Susan Sarandon, 63 

Lauren Hutton, 66

Helen Mirren, 64

Andie Macdowell, 52 

Monica Bellucci, 45  

And for a funny, snarky, savvy take on aging gracefully, I encourage you to visit a fabulous website called FormerlyHot.com .Created by Stephanie Dolgoff, a magazine writer and editor who has penned numerous articles you’ve read in SELF, Parenting, Health and more, it’s a place for women to talk about what/who they used to be, and how that jives or conflicts with the women they are now.

"I started Formerly Hot after my sudden realization that I was no longer who I'd always been-a pretty girl who navigated the world partially aided by the advantage of her looks," Stephanie writes. "After 30 some-odd years, Spanx had found their way into my lingerie drawer, and men who asked me if I ‘had the time’ really just wanted to know what time it was. Imagine! I had crossed a line into strange, uncharted life territory, one in which I no longer felt like me. I joked to friends that I was 'formerly hot,'  and clearly I struck a nerve. There are so many women like me, bitchslapped into this new category of person: adult ‘tweens,’ not quite middle-aged, but no longer our reckless, restless, gravity-defying selves."  Definitely check it out!

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