Helen Gurley Brown, now 71, doesn't bat fake eyelash at aging

ALICE STEINBACH

March 25, 1993|By ALICE STEINBACH

Sooner or later, Helen Gurley Brown's got to give it up.

CSooner or later -- even with the plastic surgery, personal trainer, silicone injections, hair coloring and fresh vegetable broth for breakfast -- Helen Gurley Brown, the woman who created the Cosmo Girl, is going to have to let go of the youth thing.

After all, Helen Gurley Brown is 71 years old.

So sooner or later, like the rest of us, she is going to have to go with the flow and accept as a biological fact the arrival of cellulite, wrinkles and a lower center of gravity.

Isn't she?

Well, don't bet your bosom blusher or wind tunnel-strength hair spray on it. In Helen Gurley Brown's world, all women are born girls and all women die girls.

And a Cosmo Girl does not -- I repeat, does not -- grow up to be a Cosmo Woman. Perish the thought.

What an aging Cosmo Girl does do when facing the inevitable march of time and loss of youth is to entertain the idea, as Brown did, "of throwing myself in front of a Mack truck."

She altered her plan, however, when a helpful psychiatrist suggested that it might be psychologically healthier to write a book than to take a dive under the wheels of a truck.

So Brown, the author of the 1962 best seller "Sex and the Single Girl," sat right down and wrote a self-help book called, "The Late Show: A Semiwild but Practical Survival Plan for Women over 50." It's full of advice on how to feel marvelous, glamorous and, of course, that old standby, amorous until you drop dead.

But unlike Germaine Greer -- whose recent book, "The Change," advised women of a certain age to just relax and forget about looking good for men -- Helen Gurley Brown has no intention of giving up the good fight against wrinkles and aging. Like Dorian Gray she will do anything to turn back the clock.

Or at least stop it from moving forward.

And if she can do it, so can other Cosmo Girls who are now in their 50s or 60s or 70s. And no matter the age, a Cosmo Girl never gives up on sex.

In fact, in the chapter on finding a date after 50, Brown tells us of a 92-year-old woman who happily reports having had three different lovers over the course of a very busy weekend.

But a word to the wise: Women of a certain age would do well to seek out lovers with very bad eyesight. Or as a woman named Chloe tells Brown: "My lover can't see the rug beneath him without glasses, so cellulite doesn't exist for him!"

Still, this does not mean the aging Cosmo Girl should eschew dieting or in some way keeping herself trim. In her chapter on health, Brown offers a tip on losing weight. "I would like to put in a good word on diarrhea," she writes. "The pounds melt away."

But the aging Cosmo Girl does not have to choose between making herself look better or making the world a better place in which to live. She can have it all. And proving that she is no slouch when it comes to being politically correct, Brown writes: "You can still take the world seriously; do whatever you can to make it better and fit in exfoliation and lip gloss."

Now you can laugh or you can cry at such stuff if you want to. But before you do either, consider this: Cosmopolitan -- the magazine that was and is the brainchild of Helen Gurley Brown -- remains the best-selling magazine on college campuses today.

Whether or not this means that young college women are buying into the Cosmo Girl philosophy and rejecting the views of such young feminists as Naomi ("The Beauty Myth") Wolf and Susan ("Backlash") Faludi is unclear.

The simple explanation may be that today's young women are just as confused about how they want to relate to men and to the world of work as their mothers were.

It is an observation, ironically enough, that could be applied to the life of Helen Gurley Brown. In what seems a paradox, work -- not men -- always has been the driving force in Brown's life and her professional accomplishments are quite remarkable.

Still, Brown seems never to have shaken the feeling that the real value of women -- at least in men's eyes -- lies in possessing youth and beauty. And that such attributes are potent weapons in the war to manipulate men.

But time marches on. And so does Helen Gurley Brown. Still hanging tough.

And still trying after all these years to become the world's oldest Cosmo Girl.

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