03 Sep Aging is beautiful–let’s create a new truth and erase those old stories
I grew up with Disney’s Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. The magical moment when the woodland creatures help Cinderella with the ball gown. I believed if I did the right things that I too might magically find a prince. Happily ever after and all that. The real message was that I would need to become the kind of girl worthy of a prince.
That message is the one most women receive in our culture. If we want to be desired (by men) we have to work at it. We have to stay thin and stay young. We have to be pleasing. Not too smart, not too outspoken. Demure and a bit submissive.
Those were the messages of my childhood. I believed those stories, on some subconscious level and incorporated them. Along with all the bad feelings of not measuring up, and the subsequent sense of having failed because my marriage failed.
What happens when we are no longer young? When we aren’t quite so thin and the dewy tight skin is gone? When our beautiful blonde locks are graying? Some of us spend so much time and energy trying to hold on to that illusion of youth that we lose ourselves. In a society that worships youth and beauty it’s easy to feel lost, discarded. Invisible.
Aging is beautiful.
Older women are beautiful and wise and soft and intelligent and sexual. We are aging and we can find beauty in our ever changing bodies and minds.
This topic was on my mind when this Dear Amy column popped up. It captures the angst women feel about “getting old”. It is painful to read and to witness this individual’s fear and hurt and anger. I am sharing it here, not to deride but to call attention to the damage this ‘youth is beauty’ myth causes.
Dear Amy: I am a 62-year-old woman. I am still attractive and (blessedly) wrinkle-free, due to being on an aggressive slew of hormones, antioxidants and telomerase-enhancing drugs. (I’m using all the latest technology.) Because I am (apparently) unattractive to men, no matter what I do, I take solace in the few close but platonic relationships I have with a few men.
During a recent walk on the California beach with my friend “Martin,” he pointed out one beautiful nubile young woman after another, and then described his male reaction to them. Martin also indicated that I should slim down. (I’m not overweight.)
As a middle-aged woman, I am used to being marginalized, but I think that, during the last three years, the problem has become acute. I’m not invisible: I’m reviled and demeaned, by employers and single men. These days you have to look like a porn model to even get by.
Short of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on plastic surgery, I don’t know what I can do. I feel that something that was optional years ago is now a necessity: a complete body makeover. I have become extremely depressed about the situation. Were it not for my loving father, who left me with enough money to live on, I would be out on the streets. I am still in excellent health. But if people (both men and women) feel my looks are “off,” they will say so! Short of moving to a desert island and waiting for death, what are we supposed to do?
— Wrinkle-Free and Upset
Dear Wrinkle-Free: You already live on a desert island. You’ve put yourself there, and your obsession with looking youthful in order to attract and hold the male gaze will keep you there.
If men are so awful, then why are you so desperate for one? Why not simply step off of this terrible treadmill and decide to spend the rest of your life cultivating inner beauty? Inner beauty comes from your intellect, your character and your interest in the world and in other people. This sort of beauty does not require expensive procedures and products, and it does not fade.
Take some classes or music lessons. Join a book group. Volunteer. Learn to meditate. See a therapist. Find some nice women to hang with. Or move somewhere less shallow.
Here is a passage from the recent obituary of Kathy Kriger, a former diplomat who founded Rick’s Cafe in Casablanca, Morocco, when she was in her late 50s (she died at 72): “‘If I’m honest, I always thought I would find a man while following my dream. That didn’t happen,’ she said cheerfully. ‘Instead, with Rick looking over my shoulder, I found myself.’”
I hope you find yourself, too.
Amy’s reply to Wrinkle-Free is a bit harsh, but she’s right. This is what happens when we let a cultural message shape how we see ourselves. This is a societal problem. This woman has made herself absolutely miserable and probably comes off as anxious and resentful and terribly needy. She feels that her life is worthless because she can’t find a man. The story she internalized is that youth and beauty are the only ways to get a man. I know she’s not alone in this.
There is no fix for aging–except death. A better narrative is to see aging as a positive, natural stage in life.
Women have decades of conditioning and much of it becomes so internalized that we police ourselves. We constantly monitor our weight, we worry about every wrinkle, and we secretly observe men on the street to see if they are looking at us.
How do we let go of these beliefs we have about our aging selves? How do we create more positive images of ourselves? How do we look inward and redefine our self-worth? How do we shift to loving ourselves as we are?
The message I received growing up was that I needed to suppress the very essence of who I was in order to get and keep a man. And getting a man was everything. That message started when I was just in elementary school.
It’s insidious and without being aware of what we’re doing we incorporate the messages and make them our own.
The story I made up was that I was unlovable.
What I needed to hear and what I finally know now is that I am who I am and the only person who needs to be satisfied with me is me. No more hiding selective parts. No more dieting and Spanx. No more keeping my mouth shut and being pleasing. No more forced smiles. I don’t have to be embarrassed about my age or status as a single woman.
It is time to relax into ourselves. To feel contentment with life lived so far. It’s time to be excited about new possibilities. To be as brilliant or moody or opinionated as we want. To honor the wisdom of our years and lived experiences.
How do women, as we age craft a story that is centered around ourselves—a story that allows us to love ourselves as we are right this moment?
We start by evaluating what gives us happiness. Where do we find comfort or discomfort?
We ask ourselves, “What do I desire?” And we ask it often.
And then we give ourselves what we need.