Download a free excerpt from Sheila Nevins’s You Don’t Look Your Age…and Other Fairy Tales!
INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
“Thank you to Sheila Nevins for putting all this down for posterity. Women need this kind of honest excavation of the process of living.” —Meryl Streep
An astonishingly frank, funny, poignant book for any woman who wishes they had someone who would say to them, “This happened to me, learn from my mistakes and my successes. Because you don’t get smarter as you get older, you get braver.”
Sheila Nevins is the best friend you never knew you had. She is your discreet confidante you can tell any secret to, your sage mentor at work who helps you navigate the often uneven playing field, your wise sister who has “been there, done that,” your hysterical girlfriend whose stories about men will make laugh until you cry. Sheila Nevins is the one person who always tells it like it is.
In You Don’t Look Your Age, the famed documentary producer (as President of HBO Documentary Films for over 30 years, Nevins has rightfully been credited with creating the documentary rebirth) finally steps out from behind the camera and takes her place front and center.
In these pages you will read about the real life challenges of being a woman in a man's world, what it means to be a working mother, what it’s like to be an older woman in a youth-obsessed culture, the sometimes changing, often sweet truth about marriages, what being a feminist really means, and that you are in good company if your adult children don’t return your phone calls.
So come, sit down, make yourself comfortable, (and for some of you, don’t forget the damn reading glasses). You’re in for a treat.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
From Cosmo to Ms.
I wanted to be a Cosmo girl. I dreamed of plunging necklines and men falling at my feet. Always sorry that my breasts were too small and that my nipples seemed inverted, I maximized by bra what nature had minimized. There was no Amazon overnight delivery then. I rushed my Cosmo delivery, five days from the post office — a push-up-and-out bra. (Does anyone use the post office anymore?)
I played seductive. High I.Q. Barnard degree be damned. I loved that I could bewitch them, those unsuspecting, dreary male work fellows, and turn them into amours as I played the office vixen. I would be lying if I said I didn't also dream of Helen Gurley Brown calling me up for a photo op. I was young, pretty, and game. Cover-girl potential (except for my tits). I read Cosmo as biblical text. I lived by its psalms. I followed. I was pretty-girl provocateur — buying attention with a too-short skirt.
How could I?
Well, I did!
Don't judge me unless you were there way back then and wanting a fair shot.
Take Mr. Delore, a married man about forty. I enjoyed making his temperature rise. "Yes, Mr. Delore," I would say. "I'll pick up your tuna melt sandwich ... anything else?" I'd milk the pause while sliding my office chair in his direction and watch him adjust his now growing-too-tight pants. I adored the notion that at any given moment some office jerk might be jerking off to me — false temptress trying to advance in the Land of Media. Flitting about town, buying skintight jeans and revealing angora sweaters that plunged and itched. Plunge won over itch. I was at the first step of the staircase and I wanted to climb to the highest floor. Helen Gurley Brown assured me this was the way to the top.
After Barnard I went on to Yale to get an MFA in directing at the Yale School of Drama. What to do after graduation? A girl had to be married in those times. Being single and trying to make it on your own meant there was something wrong with you. So I married a tie and button-down shirt I had known briefly at Yale. Why did I marry him? Just because, and not ever for love. What was a 1960s woman to do if she wanted to travel and see the world and also didn't earn enough to rent an apartment alone in the big city?
Married and seductive. Unavailable — yet available to you, boss man — and dangerous. I was the siren with a cause.
Or so I thought. What did I know?
Yet outside, somewhere, there were women marching for equal rights. They were playing songs, but not for me. Of this I was sure. I was on a Cosmo climb. Ambitious with wiles. I enjoyed being young forever. I was a Gurley by Helen. There were midnight calls from married men from corner phone booths. They couldn't sleep, they said, dreaming of me. Their hands likely on their crotches. I scored with them without them scoring. Well, mostly. I listened obediently to their romantic overtures. So what if I fooled around?
Oh, those late-night calls. Interruptions for more change. "Time's up," said a real operator, interjecting during a passionate (one-sided) late-night call from, say, Married Man #3, Tubby. He was the boss or next in line to be next in line. Tubby would put in more change. Hey, Tubster, I thought, never too much of a young thing? You paid with change for calls then. He added quarters — kerplunk — into the pay phone. (Guess they don't make those pay phones anymore either.) But there is always a marker that never dates — young women and middle-aged married men. To you, Helen Gurley Brown, and because of you, I could cycle through these married men after brief encounters.
I continued to see women outside marching for equal rights and I wondered, what were these women fighting for? What did I care for equality or rights? I was to be the "me" of then — forever.
Or was I? I was standing still. Now twenty-seven. Never promoted. Five years after college. Bored. Used. Married. Restless. Going nowhere. Maybe to bed — my interpretation of wicked equality. That was all I knew. The bureaucracy dominated by men objectified me into a leg-spreading mannequin. And for this wooden performance, I performed on call. Smart college girl! To men in superior positions, I was inferior. I was a call-her girl. Call girl? But why not? House wife not. Wife not. Career not really. So what was I? Gurley Brown, I trusted you. But were you just of the moment? And would the moment last days to years to de cades? Well, not for me, it didn't. Life intervened.
After three years of playing the Cosmo card, drinks, etc., with married men, I felt a bit weary. Where was I going and who would let me go there? I divorced my dictator Yale husband. Gave him the furniture; I took the posters. He made me feel as if I was a loser and not a real woman. After all, I balked at taking his shirts to the laundry and I couldn't cook. He insisted on homemade dinners and clean dishes before I left for work. "Can't I wash the coffee cups later?" I would ask. "No," he would say. "Now." Worse, I was a lefty and couldn't sew on his shirt buttons if they popped. He scolded me for asking the tailor to sew them on. "Women sew," he said.
Maybe I wasn't a woman after all. I had to prove to myself I had what it took to be like other women, so I deliberately got pregnant before I left him. How ridiculous was that? Intentionally not using my diaphragm. I hated him and was not ready for motherhood, especially if he was to be the father. (At least I had proved I was fertile, so I was a woman.) I then had an illegal abortion, hemorrhaging a week later and nearly dying — bleeding and winding up in a New York City emergency room.
Days passed, body wounds healed, but my mind was sore. And I began to wonder ... why was I never really promoted? Why was it illegal to not want a pregnancy? Where was I going? Why did these guys call me panting at 12:53 a.m.? Why didn't I have the balls to hang up? Didn't they think I slept? And why did I feel compelled to go along with these calls? Because, I thought, as Helen had taught me, sex was power, submission my passport. But the truth was I was traveling nowhere. Okay, maybe down. And too far. I was depressed. They gave me Valium. It made me drowsy but stopped the tears and the sense of irrelevance.
What made me give up Miss for Ms.? Helen for Gloria? Was it the blood of the abortion? The garish night in that office building? Being thrown on the mattress with three other trembling sinners? Was it the abortionist who asked for three hundred dollars in cash up front? While my feet were in makeshift stirrups, he stuck me with some poker with his right hand while drinking a Tab diet soda with his left. This quasi doctor who spoke little English came out afterward and told us, "You have successfully killed your babies." I started to cry. The three of us held each other's trembling hands. Then there was the doctor who treated me a week later for hemorrhaging in a legitimate New York hospital. He had given me birth control pills and then one bloody month later was nonethical enough to get my phone number off of my medical chart and call me and ask me on a date, laughing that if I was taking the new pills, we'd be safe in bed. Ha-ha.
Miss for Ms.? Maybe it was the mindless fucking that went nowhere. Or the obligation of bringing Yale husband's shirts to the laundry. Or being scolded for dirty dishes.
Or was it that one day, carelessly throwing my paycheck in my bag, when I arrived home to find surprisingly that the check was not mine. I always looked at the amount because it was hard to believe I could be paid for what I loved, even though it was not much at the time. Somehow a male colleague's check had been put in my envelope. We had the same job title. I worked on even more shows per month than he did. The difference — the amount on his check was twice mine. I steamed and fretted and realized who I was. I was a woman in the early '70s. Were men worth more?
All of this made me cry. All of this made me angry. I wanted a life. I wanted my colleague's check. I wanted that male power. I wanted to be equal. I wanted to play ball in a man's ballpark. I felt doomed by a cunt. But then, as I was sinking, I said to myself, "No way, José."
So how did I cross over the bridge? Why did I give up my tight sweaters for comfy? Why did I embrace sisterhood? Why did I join up and attend marches, crying ERA?
I heard the words of Bella and Gloria. I listened attentively, and they said I was not an object. I was not to be subjugated. That I should get equal pay. That I was a Ms., not a Miss (or a tempfuck replacing a Mrs.). I read Gloria, who said, "Any woman who chooses to engage like a full human being ... she will need her sisterhood." Sisterhood. Hmm. Women bonding with women. Women who wanted equality. I was soon to be a rebel. I wanted what I deserved, and I deserved a right to my own body, equal rights, equal pay.
My seducing days ended. I stopped bringing coffee and as if they read my mind, the guys in the office stopped asking — for everything. And so part two of my life would begin in earnest. I would make a deliberate turn from Cosmo to Ms. as I began to idolize sisterhood. Nevertheless, I thanked Helen Gurley Brown for the hot ride down a crooked path. Had I not stumbled, and hurt so bad, I might never have known. I turned the page, finally, and so it would be that I learned how to spell F-E-M-I-N-I-S-T and to be one. No late-night calls, no flirtations, no courting for success. Earning what was my due. Smart, talented, aggressive, girly to womanly power. Me.
And why not? It was the march I was meant to march in. It was just a slow walk at first — to get the drum, find the sticks, and feel the beat, and finally put it all together. To march. I've got what it takes, I told myself, without wiles, short skirts, and plunging necklines. I reached out to other women, young women. Women in my predicament or those who soon would be.
Let me in, Woman Power.
Time passes. The march goes on.
And even though the climb, for me, has never been easy, Women have power.
Go, Girl, go.
Excerpted from "You Don't Look Your Age ... And Other Fairy Tales"
Copyright © 2017 Sheila Nevins.
Excerpted by permission of Flatiron Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
From Cosmo to Ms.,
About the Author,