Shondaland's Betsy Beers: Why I'm No Longer Hiding My Age in Hollywood (Guest Column)

Illustration by Kiersten Essenpreis

Shonda Rhimes' producing partner (who has worked on 'How to Get Away With Murder' and 'Scandal') comes clean after decades of ducking the question every woman dreads.

This story first appeared in the 2015 Women in Entertainment issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

In 2010, a fine publication was doing a story about showrunner types, in which I was included. Now, I am someone who takes pride in being forthright, and I'm usually more than happy to tell brutally honest stories about myself to anyone who will listen. But when they asked my age, I gave my usual response, which was simply to ignore the question. In response, the plucky magazine decided to do some digging and wound up assigning me a number — a number that was, in fact, seven years younger than I actually was.

Hooray! I had successfully hornswoggled the Hollywood community and got younger in the process! So why did I feel like a piece of crap?

Sure, we're all afraid of getting old. And for women, it's especially scary. But in Hollywood, where there are far fewer job opportunities for women and youth is generally valued over experience, it's especially extra-super scary. Do you remember the day The Beatles broke up? Did you see the original Star Wars when it was first released? Do you regularly walk into meetings and realize you're the oldest person in the room? Then be afraid, lady! Be very afraid!

Why is the experience that comes from living longer so much less valuable for women? Men seem to admit their age with ease. Outside Hollywood, I see older female doctors valued for their years of hard work, academics rewarded with tenure and politicians honored with statues. Why not us? Why for us is every wrinkle a ticking time bomb, every sag a sign that we might be unable to stay current?

The fact is, I'm proud of the years I spent getting better at my job. My experience makes me an extremely valuable asset. Which is why, when that magazine got my age wrong, I felt rotten because I had lost part of who I am — seven years, to be exact.

I go out of my way to mentor women who are advancing in years, yet I wasn't supporting that by doing the simplest thing possible: telling the truth. If I, a woman with relative and rare job security, couldn't be honest, what kind of role model does that make me?

So how old am I?

I saw Star Wars the week it came out. I was around when The Beatles broke up — and I was even around when they first got together! Your age doesn't mean you're living in the past — it just means you have one. This month I turn 58. And thank you for asking.

Beers is an executive producer on the Shonda Rhimes dramas Grey's Anatomy, How to Get Away With Murder and Scandal.

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