Most of us passed through early middle age in a blur of child rearing and/or attention to our professional goals. We could have been forgiven for not paying much attention to the aging process. And, unless we were unfortunate enough to go through the dissolution of a marriage and subsequent entry into the world of dating, we might not have been aware that when we dug out the dainty unmentionables that had been a mainstay of our early dating years, they looked like Barbie underthings.
Suddenly, somewhere around the threshold of fifty, we might have made an alarming discovery about ourselves: We were no longer young. And many of us then began a fruitless search for something that doesn’t exist.
Here’s the truth: No lotions, no matter how expensive, can restore youth. No surgery, no matter how adept the scalpel is in the hands of the surgeon, can restore skin resiliency or lost collagen. No trips to the gym can give back the muscle tone we had when we were in our twenties. No diet can give us back the body we once had. And no mirror can ever reflect back to us the face that, long ago, might have launched a thousand ships but is now barely hanging onto the dinghy.
What’s a girl to do? We can start by acknowledging that moisturizing and exercising and dieting will have a positive effect on our well-being. And then we can move forward. Here are some fundamental truths to aging:
The worst offenders are us. Society isn’t fretting nearly as much about us as we fret about ourselves. Society has more important things to do, most of them involving making stupid choices. Back when foot binding was in fashion, it was mothers who bound daughters’ feet. Women perpetuated their own disfigurement. In societies that still practice female genital mutilation, it’s women who are in charge. In villages where women have said “Enough,” the practice has stopped. We have always had far more power than we believed.
Let’s stop the self-judgment. If we choose to have cosmetic surgery, we can. If we choose to moisturize we can. If we choose to go to the gym we can. We can color our hair (or not), have manicures and pedicures (or not), use make up (or not). We can do anything we please, as long as it juices us, invigorates us, calms us, and nurtures us. And we have to do it for ourselves and not because we believe society requires us to do so. Let’s stop judging other women who choose to do whatever they do. Let’s just give ourselves and them a big break.
Let’s remember that our daughters and our granddaughters will carry the imprint of who we are. How do we want them to go forward? With all due respect to teens travelling in packs of rigid sameness and to celebs who set the same degree of rigid rules for what is in fashion, the women our daughters and granddaughters will become will ultimately be closer to our belief system about ourselves than any influence friends and the media have on them.
Let’s redefine beauty, not for society but for ourselves. Here’s the big secret about beauty that no one talks about: We create it. Beyond the ideal of symmetry of faces and bodies, the sexiest and most beautiful characteristic any human has is their self-image. Ask a man who is the most (OK, second most) attractive woman in the room and chances are he will choose the woman who feels the most positive about herself. It’s been said that Bette Davis, who played the gorgeous femme fatale in many films, was not a conventionally beautiful woman. But she had such confidence in her ability to project herself as beautiful, that anyone watching her on screen believed she was beautiful.
Let’s stop trying to be someone else. Let’s flaunt our age for all to see (Yes, I used the word “flaunt.”) Being told that we look younger than our age isn’t a compliment. It’s a way of saying that who we are isn’t good enough. How will the world ever know that a 50-year-old woman is sexy and beautiful and vibrant if that 50-year-old woman is trying to disguise herself as a 40-year-old woman? Try this: The next time someone tells you that you look 10 years younger than your age, don’t thank them. Instead, use the Gloria Steinem response: Respond with “Well, I’m really XX and this is what XX looks like.” Stop telling other women that they look good for their age or that they look 10 years younger than they really are. If you think a woman is fabulous looking, just tell her she is fabulous looking. Period.
Let’s make other things more important. This sorry planet needs us, big time. Women are the #1 underutilized resource in the world, and women at midlife and beyond have the time, the energy, the vision, and the perspective to make a difference in people’s lives. Every single time we deny who we are, every single time we fret and complain about what is natural and normal, and every single time we allow anybody other than us to define who we are, we diminish ourselves and we do a disservice to our daughters and our granddaughters. It’s time to take a stand for them and for us.