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Posted at 1:01 PM ET, 02/11/2010

The Curious Case of Meryl Streep

By Paul Williams

Meryl Streep is a beautiful woman.

If you don't believe me, read a sampling of the comments from the YouTube clip of her 2010 Golden Globe interview session.


"Meryl dress looks STUNNING!! And she looks nowhere near 60. BRAVA Mrs. Streep."

"Hello Goddess....we love u"

"When I saw Meryl Streep, I thought of her talent, grace and humility. That's why I forgot to see how beautiful she is!!!!!!!!"

"She is such a beautiful woman, both inside and out."

"Intelligence, grace, and beauty: She is a great American, cultural icon!"

"I can't believe she's freaking 60. She looks gorgeous!"

People love them some Meryl Streep. After a hot streak of hit movies ("The Devil Wears Prada," "Mama Mia," "Julie & Julia" and "It's Complicated") it's hard to find an article, blog post or interview that doesn't mention how beautiful or sexy she is. This will usually be followed by some comment that contrasts her looks with her age, as if most 60-year-olds are gorgons in need of the nearest ice floe.

Many of Streeps contemporaries and elders evoke a similar response: "I can't believe how good (insert Sophia Loren, Susan Sarandon, Sigourney Weaver, Helen Mirren, Julie Christie, Jessica Lange, Debra Winger) looks at her age."

But there's an important difference; those actresses have been lauded for their beauty or sex appeal over the course of their careers, in a way that Streep only suddenly, mysteriously has become.

A Nexis search for "Meryl Streep" within 2 words of "beauty, beautiful or sexy" from the years 1980-1990 produced 17 references.

The same search from 2000-2010 produced 142.

Okay, while not exactly scientific, but that's a huge discrepancy. Why has Streep's appearance become a much bigger part of the discussion of her as a public figure than it ever used to be?

Part of it, surely, is that she's taken on a greater number of lighter, sexier roles this decade. But Lange, Winger, Weaver, etc. took plenty of gritty roles in the '80s while still coming across as glamorous in a way that Streep did not. There's also, I think, a PC desire to laud her for not having plastic surgery like so many other actresses as they age.

Or is it something simpler -- has she gotten more beautiful in her 60s? Has our definition of beauty changed so much over the last 20 or so years?

I honestly don't know, but I think it's odd and interesting that I can't think of another woman Streep's age who gets more acclaim for her looks now than she did 20 years ago. I welcome any and all theories and explanations in the comments.

By Paul Williams  | February 11, 2010; 1:01 PM ET
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Read her press for Kramer Versus Kramer. Streep started out as eye candy.

Posted by: nowaynohowFyou | February 11, 2010 1:16 PM | Report abuse

Earlier same situation for actress Maurine O'Hara. She was far more beautiful at 60 than at 20!

Posted by: lufrank1 | February 11, 2010 1:32 PM | Report abuse

Here's the main reason reason: no plastic surgery.

At least four of the other actresses mentioned have had noticeable facial surgery. They are now caricatures of their former selves.

Posted by: pfallsgirl | February 11, 2010 1:44 PM | Report abuse

1980-90 articles were mainly written by professional journalists and publicists. in the last decade we have seen the rise of the overwrought shriekers with access to blogs, tweaks, facebook, youtube, etc. and even more shallow pack activity.

Posted by: george32 | February 11, 2010 1:46 PM | Report abuse

Oops! I only meant to mention one "reason"; not two.

Also: I think it's spelled Maureen O"Hara.

Posted by: pfallsgirl | February 11, 2010 1:47 PM | Report abuse

She has grown into her nose; it no longer overwhelms her face.

Posted by: rw-c | February 11, 2010 1:58 PM | Report abuse

My take re Streep: The fact is, she is so talented, such a great actor, that her looks have been overlooked. Of the other women actors listed here, only Mirren can compare as a performer, and she doesn't have Streep's ability to take on so many different colors. Contrast Streep's work in The Bridges of Madison County (midwestern farm wife) with her work in, say, The Devil Wears Prada (fashion mag fascist). She is like Alec Guinness--she can vanish into a role.

Posted by: purdyjack | February 11, 2010 1:59 PM | Report abuse

In the US, that would be Helen Mirren.

The Brits have always known how beautiful she is. Her recent Golden Globe/Emmy/Oscar march of a few years back - where she displayed how to look gorgeous and age appropriate - made Americans take notice.

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | February 11, 2010 1:59 PM | Report abuse

Who wrote and/or edited this article? They need to have their collective heads examined with such an outrageous butchering of the English language.

Posted by: mrk_lsn | February 11, 2010 2:03 PM | Report abuse

OK, throw snowballs at me, but this is my theory behind the media focus: Meryl has a long, pointy nose. When she was younger and thinner, it kinda overwhelmed her face. Now that she is older and more filled out (I mean that in a good way -- then again, I thought she was a total babe in "Holocaust" 30+ years ago, subject matter aside of course), her nose is less prominent and her overall face (sum of all parts) is more "acceptably" pretty now.

Posted by: td_in_baltimore | February 11, 2010 2:29 PM | Report abuse

I think purdyjack's on to something; Streep is an incredible actress who also happens to be lovely, and I think her raw talent has allowed her to stay on in the public eye past most actors and actresses' sell-by dates. I think it's also because she looks naturally beautiful, probably because of the no plastic surgery thing. Instead of looking like a flash-frozen twenty-five year old, she looks like a beautiful older woman- someone who has obviously aged, but has done so beautifully and gracefully.

Posted by: Bawlmer51 | February 11, 2010 2:32 PM | Report abuse

Do you mean Meryl Streep has helped to change the old adage, men get better looking as they get older, women don't.

That would be quite and accomplishment.

Posted by: brng | February 11, 2010 2:43 PM | Report abuse

You can tell that Liz is on vacation by the mere existence of this post.

Posted by: epjd | February 11, 2010 2:54 PM | Report abuse

" if most 60-year-olds are gorgons in need of the nearest ice floe."

Funniest thing I've read all day; absolutely priceless!

Posted by: ozpunk | February 11, 2010 3:06 PM | Report abuse

For me, Meryl Streep has always been luminous and classically beautiful, like a Grecian statue. Sigourney Weaver has the same classic beauty, Helen Mirren and Susan Sarandon both have an earthier sexiness. All four appear to be aging naturally and gracefully (almost unknown in Hollywood) ... perhaps that's part of why their age is mentioned along with their beauty. Jessica Lange appears to have had some botched plastic surgery, whereas Sophia Loren has just had way too much.

Posted by: Californian11 | February 11, 2010 3:07 PM | Report abuse

I'm closing in on the really big 5 - 0, and yeah, the relentless drumbeat is that women over 40 should only go outdoors wearing a cloak of invisibility, lest some hot young person gaze upon us and turn to stone.

That's okay, I'm whittling the end of my cane to a knife-like edge.

Anyway, I do recall Streep having been described as beautiful earlier in her career, despite her somewhat unconventional looks. I mean, she's no Heidi Montag. I also recall reading that she was her high school homecoming queen, so maybe she never had a gorgon phase.

Posted by: trichobezoar | February 11, 2010 3:30 PM | Report abuse

trichobezoar, I seem to recall that Streep was a high school cheerleader, and also starred in her school musical. Paging "Glee."

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | February 11, 2010 3:36 PM | Report abuse

I don't care the reason people are just now paying attention to how beautiful Meryl is....just so they do. I think alot of it has to do with she is finally happy in her own skin...and it shows...SHE IS STUNNING!

And also it is so nice to read an article on Meryl that does not mention Sandra what's her name.....QUITE REFRESHING.

Posted by: 3timeoscar4meryl | February 11, 2010 3:41 PM | Report abuse

I watched Kramer vs. Kramer this past weekend, and she was hawt. She's still smokin'.

As a child of the late 70's, 80's, I always thought that her name was synonymous to attractive. It's nice to see that it still is, which I don't find all that shocking. Attractive people who take care of themselves generally age well.

Posted by: MzFitz | February 11, 2010 3:50 PM | Report abuse

great post! enjoyed the nexis search stats, it really is interesting how society has embraced her in this new way. Could it also be that since she has proven herself to be a box office power house, that we areused to liking that to looks?

Posted by: bravegal | February 11, 2010 3:56 PM | Report abuse

Sophia Loren is at least 15 years older than any acctresses in the list. It's like comparing Queen Mum with Princess Di (both dead, luckily).

Sophia should learn from Claudia Cardinale how to dress age appropriate, at the SAG awards she looked pretty sagged drapped in the lace.

Posted by: Silly_Willy_Bulldog | February 11, 2010 4:33 PM | Report abuse

Hey now lets not hate on Produce Paul (*cough ep cough*). He tried to put up an article worthy of discussion, even though I think it would've been perfectly acceptable to just post a slideshow of Scarlett Johansson and Christina Hendricks.

Posted by: DorkusMaximus1 | February 11, 2010 4:35 PM | Report abuse

TD's got it. It's the nose. It's all about growing into her nose.

Posted by: Roxie1 | February 11, 2010 5:16 PM | Report abuse

I will never forget her in the The French Lieutenant's Woman!

Posted by: lalava1953 | February 11, 2010 7:38 PM | Report abuse

I'm a big fan of Sophia, but she could handle it better. Streep is a more versatile actress and brings class to every role she plays.

Posted by: reddragon2 | February 11, 2010 9:18 PM | Report abuse

Discerning men (I would be one!) have long been aware that, as many women age, they become more beautiful. Yes, that means, no smoking, moderate drinking, and, ok, a few good genes.

Posted by: hp3kanalyst | February 12, 2010 1:35 AM | Report abuse

Keep in mind that all of the cosmetic surgeries the above-named celebrities have had is what makes them look young for their age.

Posted by: lskloven1 | February 12, 2010 2:38 AM | Report abuse

Meryl Streep has always been beautiful, but her beauty did not fit the "cover girl" wide eyed, upturned nose look that was in fashion in her earlier career. She has aged beautifully, and her brand of good looks is also much more in vogue; witness Amanda Seyfried, a young beauty whose looks would not have been appreciated as much 20 or 30 years ago. Thank goodness Streep has never tried to fit the current look!

Posted by: catsndogs | February 12, 2010 8:08 AM | Report abuse

I think there are many factors at play here: 1) your internet search means nothing, considering how late the internet appeared as a strong "media" outlet (I started using e-mail/internet in college, in what, 1995?); 2) beauty standards have changed (and evolved) over time, we are now more attracted to "interesting" or "different" looks, so we are likely readjusting our perception of beauty (which is not to say that she wasn't beautiful when younger, but her features do not fit a Mia Farrow prototype); 3) she is a successful actress who can stand tall because of her talent and the quality of the movies in which she appeared--there is a glow that comes from that kind of satisfaction with oneself that is not easily found because her qualities are not easily found; 4) she does not look artificial or plastic, which automatically makes her more attractive to just about anybody else in her generation in Hollywood; 5) she looks happy, and happy is beautiful, and people aren't blind...we are picking this up laud and clear. Just look at her smile. And her presence, a little like Sophia Loren

Posted by: Olga6 | February 12, 2010 11:15 AM | Report abuse

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