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One of the bonuses of growing old used to be that you could shrivel and no one cared.

My grandmother shriveled. She also sagged, shifted, slouched and slumped. It was as if the floor was the center point of gravity, and with glacierlike movement all of my grandmother's parts eventually came to rest there.No one gave her permission for her body to go from a solid to a jelly state. It was her rite of passage.

Had she lived today, she might not have been so lucky. We live in times of the youthmeisters. There's the grandmother from West Melbourne, Fla., who wrote that she slipped into a pair of jeans one afternoon and buttoned a plain white blouse over it. When she saw her 6-year-old granddaughter, Katie, taking it all in, she wiggled her hips and asked, "Does this blouse look OK with the jeans?"

Katie circled her critically and said, "Yes, Grandma, the blouse looks OK, but if you're ever gonna be a stripper, you're gonna haf to lose those thighs."

There's nothing wrong with hanging onto youth, but we have gone to war with aging. Thirty-year-olds are "doing their eyes" and having skin peels. Why? It's like having a car serviced with only 200 miles on it.

My mother said to me last Sunday, "I'm going to lose this stomach if it's the last thing I do." She is in her 80s.

"Think about what you're doing," I said. "Think about all those women on the Titanic who looked at the dessert cart and said, `No thanks, my waistband is getting a little tight.' "

"You could lose a few pounds yourself," she retorted. "I'll bet you couldn't even fit in your wedding dress anymore."

"I get so few calls for it," I said dryly.

But the pressure is there and will remain there for the rest of our lives. When I'm 90, I will sit in front of my TV set listening to, "Give us a week - we'll take off the weight" and shouting at it, "I don't HAVE a week!"

I looked through an old photo album and found a picture of my grandmother just before she died. She had great skin and the best pair of legs this side of the Ohio River. But she was shaped like an eggplant. It didn't matter. She was beautiful, and she was supposed to look that way. She had earned the right.

1992 Erma Bombeck

Distributed by Universal Press Syndicate