Reunion reality: Show off to old friends the best version of your current self
By SAMANTHA CRITCHELL
The Associated Press
If it took 20 years to put on, say, 20 pounds, the chances of taking them off in the weeks or days before your high school or college reunion are, let's face it, slim to none.
But come in with a radiant smile, a sense of accomplishment and a slimming black dress, and your thicker middle or graying hair might go unnoticed.
Reunions are a source of excitement and dread that so many people — from recent grads to Baby Boomers and beyond — can relate to. And they're enjoying a high-profile moment with at least two new reunion-themed diet books, countless Facebook pages and a heavily promoted third season of a reality show on TV Land.
"What I find so fascinating about this series is the anxiety — good and bad. But everyone is anxious to get back and see people you have a history with," says Keith Cox, executive producer of "High School Reunion."
"The people who have peace with who they were are fine, no matter who they were. If they were the nerd and are fine with it, then they're fine now. It's the people who don't have peace with it that struggle with the reunion," he says. "A reunion really isn't about what other people think, it's what you think."
All those memories of football games and proms can be an instigator to take stock of the present, adds Christie Mellor, author of the upcoming book "You Look Fine, Really." Instead of trying to recapture your youth, consider what would make you happy now and make that your goal, she says.
It could be losing your pooch on your belly, it could be running a marathon or it could be a promotion at work.
"People will be looking at my eyes to see if I'm a happy, joyful person. ... That's what people take away from reunions — who looks happy," Mellor says, adding "a lot of size 0s can be unhappy."
But Lisa Dorfman, co-author of "The Reunion Diet," says the idea of a little healthy competition among peers can steer you toward an improved version of yourself.
There's no better control group for comparison than your former classmates because everyone started from essentially the same place, says Dorfman, who recently attended her 30th high school reunion. "They're a benchmark of who we were and how far we've come."
High school seems to be "the big one," agrees co-author Sandra Gordon. "Those were the formative years, that's who you were before life got so layered. When you're with your high school friends, you go back to yourself."
In their research, they found that even those who went back to their reunion with a little revenge in mind often fell into old routines with old friends — and were happy to do it. Of course, it didn't hurt if there was acknowledgment from the captain of the football team, especially if he never talked to you back then, Gordon notes.
But the thought of seeing these people shouldn't prompt a drastic new haircut or plastic surgery, Mellor says. "It's a chance to reinvent yourself a little but not do a makeover. It's a great opportunity to present yourself in the way you'd like to be seen."
A lot of people want to look 20 years younger, reports dermatologist Dr. David Colbert, author of "The High School Reunion Diet."
"Twenty years seems to be a magic number — I don't know why," he says.
It can be done — although not overnight, he adds. "The idea for the book is that the people I see looking their best ... are eating their best. Good food is better than Botox."
In the months before the big event, Colbert suggests: cut out sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, give up packaged food and eat those green leafy vegetables loaded with vitamins. When your body is healthy, it shows in your appearance, Colbert says.
Still, there are last-minute beauty boosts that also can help you feel a little more confident, says Liz Vaccariello, editor-in-chief of Prevention magazine, including avoiding raw vegetables, gum, fried food and soda for a few days to keep air out of the gastrointestinal track, which can create the appearance of belly bulge.
A trip to the hair salon for smooth, blow-dried hair can also help you look younger — frizz has the opposite effect — and well groomed, polished nails distract from other parts of older hands, she says.
Well-groomed eyebrows open your eyes.
And, Vaccariello adds: "Stand up straight."
For the outfit, InStyle senior editor Isabel Gonzalez Whitaker, a contributor to "The New Secrets of Style: Your Complete Guide to Dressing Your Best Every Day," says play up your assets but don't get hung up on particular color or silhouette. Try on a lot of options and, once you've made your choice, take it for a test run to a restaurant or party where the stakes aren't so high.
"Look at yourself holistically, through a 360-degree lens. Know your figure and body shape, and work from there," she says.
There's a great little black dress out there for every woman, Gonzalez Whitaker says, and each woman can make it her own with details such as ruffles or an architectural shape, as well as jewelry and fabulous shoes.
"Bring your character to the outfit you choose to wear," adds Teri Jon designer Rickie Freeman. "You are who you are and don't try to be something you are not. Don't be pretentious or try to mimic who you were then."
Still, she says, if you've still got great legs, by all means wear a short skirt.
"Clothes and outfits aren't about age, they are about attitude. If you like a sexy image, go for it. Don't pretend you turned into a librarian because you are probably not one," Freeman says.