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Justine Bateman rips youth obsession: We need to get over neurotic fear of aging

Justine Bateman was a breakout star in the 1980s, playing the fashion-conscious Mallory Keaton on the hit TV show, "Family Ties," which just celebrated its 25th anniversary.

Justine Bateman of Family Ties reveals diet and workout secrets
Creative Commons, M.Loccisano/Getty Images

In an exclusive interview, Bateman shared her fitness secrets, her thoughts on aging in Hollywood, and being a college student at age 48.

Bateman just wrapped up her sophomore year as an undergrad at UCLA (literally, on June 12), where she's majoring in computer programming. Justine is incredibly articulate and computer-savvy — a stark contrast to the academically unmotivated TV character she's most identified with.

Justine, a happily married mom of two, credits portion control and an active lifestyle for her age-defying good looks. Bateman said her beauty secret is embracing yourself (warts and all, since no one is perfect), and being confident.

"I think the most attractive people are the confident ones, regardless of their literal appearance, so I strive for that," Bateman told me. "Basically, I think you'll always be the size your body needs to be if you only eat if you are hungry. If you never eat for any other reason, you'll be just the right size for your body."

Justine shared her views on being back in school and explained why we as a society really need to get over our fear of getting older in this exclusive Q&A:

Question: How is undergrad life treating you (for readers who aren't familiar with your College Life blog)?

I always loved school, growing up, so I feel really lucky to be in a position to return to classes. I like that guaranteed feeling of getting a return for your investment; if I put a lot of effort into a class, I'm going to get a good grade. Even if I were to only show up and not work that hard, I'd still get the units.

So much of my professional life has consisted of proposals,' whether it be work for an audition or writing a treatment for a script, or writing a script and a distribution/promotion presentation for a project. There's never a guarantee that you would get the role, be hired to write the script, or gain funding for your project, so it's really nice to be in a situation for a while where I have a guaranteed reward for my effort.

Question: What inspired you to go back to college later in life? It is so inspiring and shows it's never too late to be what you might have been (to quote George Eliot).

Honestly, I just reached my limit regarding the disconnect between where I saw the entertainment industry going and the industry's stubbornness in moving at all. There's a host of reasons why filmed entertainment has not integrated the technology currently available (part of the theme of my senior thesis), but I don't subscribe to any of it.

I knew that if I wanted any of my concepts to live, I was going to achieve them by circumnavigating entertainment, and not by going deeper into it. I also love technology and needed to be in a business sector that was moving forward instead of circling back on itself. So that drove me apply to UCLA and major in 'Digital Media Management and Computer Science.'

Question: As a celebrity in age-phobic Hollywood, what are your thoughts about getting older?

I think aging and maturing is really interesting and it's a shame that Americans are so panicky and paranoid about it. First of all, there's an assumption that your late teens and 20's are to be the 'highlight of your life' and everything after that will be downhill. I'm not sure where that comes from exactly without doing some research, but it permeates our society.

The next assumption is that as a woman, the birth of your children will suck your youth, beauty, and ambition from you. As a man, children will suddenly make you seem less exciting and less attractive. Next up is the number '40.' For a woman, the impression is that of the film 'Logan's Run,' where a brutal, public death awaits you when the gem in your hand changes color on your birthday.

The film's characters were screwed at age 30, but you get the idea. After that age, there's really no map, no future, no hope, except that which you make for yourself. There isn't a groundswell of guidance in society for basically the second half of your life. With this kind of landscape, it's no wonder people often feel 'afloat' post-40.

I had a clear view of what I wanted to be like as I got older. When I was in my teens and 20's, I looked to older Italian and French women. They always seemed so incredibly attractive to me because of their confidence. And because their faces had evidence of age: lines, dark circles, and half-lidded eyes, it made that confidence so rebellious. And that was incredibly attractive to me.

That was an attractiveness you can't have if you have a young, pretty face. It's just an untouchable level of
attractiveness to me. Needless to say, I couldn't wait to have an 'older, more interesting face' so that I could possibly achieve that attractiveness.

Another element for me regarding aging is that I never contemplated stopping my own evolution or development. I see a lot of women around me who seem to stop developing as individuals after marriage and children. I don't know what kinds of pressure they're under, but I think it robs the world of 'the older version of Judy or Wendy,' or whomever. It robs the world of the next iteration of them and I don't think that's right.

Because I didn't ever have much of a regard for my age, never had certain 'goals' I felt I needed to have at certain ages. Probably because I had so much surprise success at a young age, I've never done things that are 'age-appropriate.' I don't think wearing tall boots and short skirt is age-driven as much as it's personality-driven.

In the same way, I don't think going to college is age-driven, either. You want to learn new things in a classroom setting or you don't, and no one can stop you. Of course, one has to be in a situation where they can jump out of the workforce and afford to just study for four years, but provided one is in that situation, their age shouldn't be part of the decision. Anyway, I could go on and on about how much more interesting I think both I and my life are as a 48-year old than as a 20-year old.

The bottom line is that we believe a lot of lies about who we should be and how we should act as we get older because we fear being isolated from the pack, but it's a dead life to live. I've found that if I risk that, I get to see over the hill into a valley where there are other people who have also bucked convention regarding 'societal rules' about behavior or age, etc. These are people I couldn't see from my position down with 'the pack.' I had to be willing to risk rejection in order to see the people with whom I'd wanted to connect all along.

To read more of Justine's thoughts on college and life in general, check out her blog or follow her on Twitter @JustineBateman.

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