christieChristie Brinkley turned 61 this year, and she looks pretty great. Incredible in fact. How does she do it? According to some vegan blogs and facebook posts, she credits her vegan diet.

That’s funny, because I’m about Christie’s age and have been vegan for some 25 years. And despite my diet, the years haven’t been quite as kind to me as they’ve been to Christie. It’s no big mystery as to why that is.  And it has nothing to do with the way we eat.

In a People magazine article last year, Christie said this: “I think that there are so many other noninvasive choices that address sagging, wrinkling and discoloration. I go to my dermatologist about once a month and get special facials. I like modern-technology stuff.

I like modern technology stuff, too. And I also go to the dermatologist fairly often—twice a year. I was a freckle-faced redheaded kid, which means I am at high risk for skin cancer. (This is also a phenotype that doesn’t age particularly well, no matter what you eat.)

My dermatologist likes to scrutinize my aging skin and remove anything that looks like it could turn into cancer, which I appreciate very much. But I don’t partake of any of the modern technology that Christie probably uses—things like laser resurfacing or hyaluronic acid fillers, or botox. I’m not saying I’d mind having those things, but my health insurance company gives them a big thumbs down. This probably doesn’t create much of a barrier for Christie.

It’s not just money, though; there is more than a little bit of luck involved as well. Christie was born to be beautiful. She has no doubt nurtured and protected that beauty through a healthy lifestyle, including a healthy diet. Because yes, dietary choices can affect how your skin ages, something I wrote about at length in Vegan for Her. But genes still have a lot to do with it. Brad Pitt—another aging beautiful person—said it best: “I’m one of those people you hate because of genetics. It’s the truth.”

I don’t hate you, Brad. And I don’t hate Christie either. She seems like a lovely person. She has a heart for animals, for one thing. And I thought she was delightful in Parks and Recreation.

I don’t like it though, when vegans over-hype the benefits of a vegan diet. Recently I’ve been immersed in the research on ex-vegans in preparation for a talk at Vida Vegan Con last month and one at the Animal Rights National Conference next month. People abandon vegan diets for many reasons and one of them is that they lose faith in the benefits of eating this way. Is it any wonder? We tell them that the pounds will just melt away or that vegans don’t get cancer or that vegans can count on aging as beautifully as Christie Brinkley. And what do you know–somehow they figure out that these things aren’t true. They figure out that they can drink kale smoothies from now until forever and they still aren’t going to look like a super model or be bullet proof when it comes to chronic disease.

They might look at other celebrities like Catherine Deneuve (age 72), Meryl Streep (66) Michele Pfeiffer (57), Sigourney Weaver (66), Emma Thompson (56), Annie Lenox (61). None of them are vegan (to the best of my knowledge) and they all look pretty great. It’s not too hard to figure out that many wealthy gorgeous women manage to age beautifully no matter what they eat.

There is also this—I find it tiresome when people tell me that this supermodel look is what I’m supposed to aspire to. It’s sexist and it’s ageist. Because there is nothing wrong with getting wrinkles and gray hair. There is nothing wrong with looking your age. Or even with looking older than your age. The only thing that matters is how you live your life. You don’t have to be slender and wrinkle-free and toned and firm and disease-free in order to be a voice for animals. You just have to choose an ethic of justice and integrity and compassion.

And unlike perfect health and supermodel looks, that ethic is available to anyone. It also appears to be more effective in helping people stay vegan for the long-term. That’s one of the things I learned as I waded through the surveys and studies on how to best promote effective behavior change and a long-term commitment to veganism. I’ll share a little bit more about that next week.