TGIF book review: How not to look old at work

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I don’t do book reviews because I don’t read books. This has not stopped the publicity department of every major publisher from continuing to send me workplace, business and management–related books. I collect them in a bin, and when the bin fills up, I drag it down the hall to the dump (not really: all over the TIME offices, there are shelves and tables where others can indulge in their desire to read Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity).

It pains me, a lifelong bookworm, to say this, but as a perennially time-strapped working mother, I must confess: these days, I read when I have to, which is to research articles. The most recent book I read was Why Women Should Rule the World, by Dee Dee Myers. (Look for my Q&A and podcasted interview with the former White House press secretary today on Time.com, or come back here and I’ll link.) Before that, I read How Not to Look Old, by Charla Krupp.

From which book did I learn more? Hmm. You know what? It’s a toss-up.

How Not to Look Old has a lavender cover, is slightly oversized like a magazine, and features a blown-up image of the author on the cover. The author, Charla Krupp, is the wife of one of TIME’s longtime editors, Richard Zoglin. She worked for a time in the building, and has made her way around many New York–based magazines as a well-regarded beauty editor. She has appeared over 100 times on the Today show. She is petite, blonde and obnoxiously gorgeous. Her book is on the New York Times Book Review’s Top 10 list for how-to and advice. Though she wrote a book about aging, she adamantly refuses to reveal her own age.

I hate her already, right?

charla_krupp_0103.jpg
Charla Krupp knows how not to look old.

But when my colleague Andrea Sachs pushed for a magazine article on the phenomenal success of the book (read Andrea’s fun Time.com Q&A here), our editor Jan Simpson asked me to weigh in. I said perhaps we could do something fun on how baby boomers are flocking to buy anti-aging treatments in order to look hip and happenin’ at the office. I even suggested an eye-candy layout: two head-to-toe images of 50-ish folks, with arrows pointing to various treatments they may or may not try (butt lifts for men! hair plugs for women! and who can’t use a little jowl tuck?).

That’s how I came to read Krupp’s book. And you know what? It was good. It was really good. The tone is lively; the photos are delicious (come on; no one doesn’t like a before-after makeover); the advice sane, actionable and apparently well-researched. I didn’t find Krupp condescending or overly chipper, two beefs I have with many women’s magazines nowadays.

Why should you be reading about this on a workplace blog? Here’s the thing: the main reason many Americans want to avoid looking old is because they work. According to the AARP, 79% of boomers plan to work into their retirement years. That’s because so few of them have saved anything remotely close to enough to fund their golden years—but in no small part too because boomers don’t really think they’re all that old, and they want to keep doing what they do.

It’s one thing to feel young. It’s another to look it. Once upon a time, one was allowed to grow old gracefully in the relative privacy of retirement. But today, you’ve got to do it in full view of all your colleagues, clients and bosses.

Who said you have to have collagen to pull off an excellent growth-analysis report? No one, of course. But when you’re surrounded by pert young things in the office, a lot of people may become more conscious of their saggy butts and spotted hands.

There’s been some backlash. Critics have charged Krupp with fueling widespread nervousness among boomers about how a few stray grays might affect their professional and financial viability. In an article about the book in the New York Times titled “Nice Resumé. Have You Tried Botox?” Natasha Singer writes:

Many people would shun a book if it were titled “How Not to Look Jewish” or “How Not to Look Gay” because to cater to discrimination is to capitulate to it. But the success of “How Not to Look Old” indicates that popular culture is willing to buy into ageism as an acceptable form of prejudice, even against oneself.

I don’t agree with the book’s wholesale write-down of the beauty of age. For instance, I’m firmly on the side of the no-hair-dye faction (an argument the author Anne Kreamer made most persuasively and eloquently in this TIME article and also in her book, Going Gray). My own mom started going gray in her late 50s, and she keeps her silver-black hair stylishly short. Besides, I just can’t be bothered with the hassle and expense of regular treatments. In my region, the cheapest of salon coloring easily costs $100. That’s $1,200 a year I’d rather put in my Roth IRA, or blow on a flight to Hong Kong.

I also object strenuously to Krupp’s refusal to reveal her age. That’s just weird. How are women supposed to be taken seriously in the workplace if we get all coy and old-fashioned about a simple biographical statistic? For the record: I’m 36, and soon I’ll be 37. If that admission torpedoes my ambition to compete on American Idol, then the public will simply have to live without my Carly Simon stylings. See who’s so vain now.

But then I read Krupp’s endorsement of bangs. Try it, she writes; it’ll take years off your face. I picked up a pair of scissors, and snip, snip, snip—I was a beauty-book sheep. Did it work? I don’t know. But I felt I had taken control of my appearance, for no cost and with little effort. Maybe it gave me a little more confidence at the office, where of late all people can comment on is my expanding belly.

How Not to Look Old was worth my time. Now, back to Madeline’s Rescue.

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