It is hardly debatable that our society has a fascination with youth-especially when it comes to women. From the time we are toddlers, females are more harshly judged on appearance and looks than our male counterparts. In young adulthood we are primed with the comforting proposition that while we cannot stop time, our best recourse is acceptance, and with that, we are advised to age gracefully.
What we lose in physical beauty we are to gain in wisdom and perspective. And really, who doesn’t want to be wiser anyway? Every wrinkle that comes, they say, is a hard-earned rite of passage; the unwanted folds and flab, badges of courage; and our colonies of gray, a testament to a life fully lived. But as a woman in her mid-40s, I must say that even at my age-it’s 46, by the way-I’ve been a bit confused. Okay, I confess, a lot confused.
I have nine magic potions at my bedside that carry the fountain of youth, and two appointments penned on the calendar for the latest technological breakthrough that will set me back 10 years.
For as many essays and books I read about “embracing my age” and focusing on the “beauty from within” that accompany my graying head and sagging body parts, as I flip through the channels of my television or pages of magazines, I find that I am bombarded with more ways and means than I can afford to keep myself looking younger, more attractive, and dare I say, more desirable. I am not embarrassed to say that at some point I have bought into them all. From the creams, serums, and masks to the series of laser treatments that promise to erase all signs of decrepitude, I have tried everything at least once, including the B word. Yes, Botox. I haven’t had any surgery yet, but I’m certainly keeping my options open.
As I write this, I have nine magic potions at my bedside that carry the fountain of youth, and two appointments penned on the calendar for the latest technological breakthrough that will set me back 10 years. Although I haven’t pinned all my hopes on fillers and fixers, I am optimistic that when used properly, I will be able to stem the tide for a few more years without ending up as another frozen face. The humor in all of this is that people who know me wouldn’t even consider me vain at all. I was always the one with the good personality, if you know what I mean. I can now only imagine how confounding this whole aging business is to women who are actually used to looking good. Is it just me, or are all women today living in the constant fear of actually looking their age?
I was having lunch recently with a young friend of mine. Beautiful, smart, skinny-you know the type. It’s women like her who are the reason you and I are glad that we are no longer a part of that 20-something pool. As I was sharing my newest anti-aging strategy of the moment-a combination of starving myself and putting all my money toward a popular new treatment that works ten times better and faster than the treatment I paid for three months ago-she nonchalantly told me that I should just relax. All I really needed was to go to the gym, wash my face with some good soap and water, moisturize, and always, always wear sunblock. Well, why I hadn’t I thought of that? If it were that simple, what have I been doing with my time and money all these years?
I find that I am bombarded with more ways and means than I can afford to keep myself looking younger, more attractive, and dare I say, more desirable. I am not embarrassed to say that at some point I have bought into them all.
I have never wanted to scream at someone more than I did at that very moment. It just kills me when women who have won the genetic lottery seem to think that women like me-older, who aren’t slim, and who don’t have taut skin or uncreased anything-are to blame in our own misfortune because we don’t really try, or worse, we don’t have a clue.
“I was young once too,you know, and I do have half a brain,” were the words that didn’t quite make it from my head to my tongue. “Unfortunately, no matter what I do, all of this (points to self ) will never equate to all of that (points to her). I’ve accepted it, so should you.”
But the conversation got me thinking. Did she really believe that a bar of soap and a tube of sunblock were going to keep the aging boogeyman away? And didn’t she realize that I could Zumba all day long, but I’ll never again have that spring in my step like all the girls who position themselves in front of the mirror so they can see just how fabulous they are? She must have been smoking something to think that these few simple steps were all I needed. Maybe they were right. Maybe the two decades I had on her did make me wiser after all. All of this was only distantly relevant to her, anyway. She was clearly in denial, the way many women are when they are in their 20s, about the prospect of getting old. Or was she? The confusion set in once again. Here I was, that so-called confident older woman who had finally found her voice and all this newfound “perspective,” but I was still bothered by what a woman close to half my age thought about me and my beauty regimen. Was this what I was supposed to celebrate? This argument in my head and this obsession with youth was getting tiresome. And then, just like that, my moment of clarity came.
"At middle age, we have never been more vibrant or more relevant. Older women often complain about turning invisible as they mature, but with the aging baby boomers ahead of us who have forced themselves upon Madison Avenue to be recognized for who they are, things are looking upward for women my age."
It was while standing in front of a mirror pulling out my gray hairs, as I often do, when I finally understood my truth. I love the 46-year-old me, who I am, where I am. I am much more interesting and creative than I was in my youth. Heck, I even find my friends more interesting, too. At middle age we have never been more vibrant or more relevant. Older women often complain about turning invisible as they mature, but with the aging baby boomers ahead of us who have forced themselves upon Madison Avenue to be recognized for who they are-one of the most affluent and important consumer populations that ever was in our history-or pop culture figures like Madonna trailblazing her way through her 50s, changing the stereotype of how older women should act, dress, think, and talk, things are looking upward for women my age. Even Seventh Avenue and Hollywood have taken notice with their frequent casting of beautiful aging women like Helen Mirren, Meryl Streep, Diane Keaton, Iris Apfel, Carmen Dell’Orefice, and Linda Rodin.
Last year, the ultra chic and painfully cool Parisian brand Celine debuted its latest ad campaign with writer Joan Didion as its poster girl. In the much-talked-about power image of the prolific 81-year-old author, in her oversized sunglasses and black turtle neck, revealing all of her wrinkles, crevices, and age spots, she has not only become the face of a fashion house, but the face of a generation saying, “Old is the new black,” to everyone who ever thought otherwise, while giving them the finger. Is it a marketing strategy and a means to an end? Absolutely. But I’ll take it if it means that it will slowly change the public’s view of what it means to be an older woman.
And what did all of this tell me about of the two opposing messages of embracing my age or defying it that I was having difficulty reconciling? Both ideas are mutually exclusive and equally important. I have wanted to look better and to feel better and be the best version of myself inside all my life-in my soap and sunblock only-using 20s and now in my retinol-proud and carb-averse 40s. Why should I stop now?
I suddenly realized that I do what I do not because I don’t want to look as old as Methuselah, but because at the core, maybe I am a little vain after all, and that isn’t such a bad thing. It’s okay to care about how I look. I have since I was a young adult, when I could count on a little moisturizer to do the trick. But it doesn’t necessarily undermine the power of my voice now that I need a little more help from a serum or three. So have I found the secret to aging gracefully and looking good at the same time? Of course not, because if I did, I would sell it to you and retire very, very happily, but I will tell you what helps: Ignore all the noise and talking heads, especially the ones in your mind that tell you need to make a choice between the two.