‘Keep young and beautiful if you want to be loved!’ Really?
I am 61. And although it may be a cliché, I really do wonder when did that happen!
Even now, I sometimes glance in a mirror – without my glasses – and see a younger woman with her life stretching ahead. Without my glasses, the image is soft-focused and my younger self looks back at me. At times like that, I forget my age and am then newly surprised when I put my glasses on and look again.
And then there are other times, when I am wearing my glasses on, that I have been briefly shocked by my reflection: ‘Oh, my God, I’m old!’
But sometimes, when my ‘old woman’ catches me unawares, I experience a bolt of excitement. Wow! Is that really me? It’s becoming a privilege and cause for amusement.
Because, unexpectedly, as I get older, I see my beauty more often. The beauty of life.
Not, as I’m sure you understand, the ‘beauty’ that would make the cover of Vogue but the ‘beauty’ of living through many decades.
Despite the years passing quickly in hindsight, of course there is a huge difference between the decades from 20 to 60 and beyond. I am not suggesting that if you are in your thirties, you and I have much in common. We are still young when we are in our thirties, just not as young as in our twenties. By our forties, most of us will have felt the shift from youth to something else, something perhaps undefinable. A sense of transition but to what…? When I entered my forties and had my second child, I felt like I had become ten years younger. It often came as a surprise to realise I was the oldest in my friendship group.
So I understand that many readers will not identify with me, as a 61 year old. Even writing it down seems preposterous and rather old.
But I’m not old, you see. And that is what I want to address.
I want to challenge our societal concept of age and encourage us to be proud of being whatever age we are. That’s all.
As the years travel by, I’ve had disappointments, fun, heartache, regrets, laughter, loss and mad-cap adventures. In the mirror I see my face and I feel proud of it. It is lined, sagging, soft, older and it tells my story, beautifully.
Just to clarify what I mean when I talk about ‘my beauty’. It isn’t vanity, self-obsession or narcissism. It isn’t necessarily an outward beauty and it certainly isn’t society’s view of beauty. I’m talking about a ‘beauty’ that is greater than the sum of its parts; we see beauty in a sunset, an old gnarled tree and in joyous laughter or a hand taking yours at a tender moment. This is beauty beyond the physical ‘perfection’ of youth.
Age brings its own beauty – one that is inside and beyond facial features, plumptious skin and the coltlike energy. The beauty of age encompasses a myriad of lived experiences and is an expression of the stuff of life.
When I speak of my beauty I mean my essence.
It feels like an honour to be an older woman. A privilege on an existential level. I don’t pretend this is true for me always, but I experience this feeling more often than before.
And I want to call it from the roof tops, a rally cry to join a fearsome band of women who ‘age unapologetically’. With humour, joie du vivre, mischievousness, with acceptance, with losses and gains. In a society where age is belittled and derided and the fear of ageing is exploited for financial gain, I want to encourage us all to say ‘Enough! No, no. no!’
I hate, dislike, detest the words ‘anti-ageing’. (WTF!)
There are only two outcomes in life; we tragically die young or we get older. There are no other options.
Of course, it makes sense why we sometimes want to ‘stop the clock’.
The grief of not being able to have a child is a real and genuine loss for many women. And it may be statistically more difficult to meet a new partner as we get older, although that is perhaps a perceived fear. One of my friends began a vibrant, committed relationship with her new lover when she was 70.
Surely, however, the biggest reason we fear ageing is because we fear death. Despite our society encouraging an unhealthy denial of death, the only certainties are death and taxes.
There is no denying it; we will all die one day. We need to get on with living.
As the very beautiful Bette Midler sang ‘It’s the soul afraid of dying that never learns to live’.
Let’s choose to live, proudly. Bring back the Elder as a role model!
Years ago, when I was a youngish Mum, I made a conscious decision to see beauty in every age; recognising that it changes but doesn’t diminish over the years. Just as a young sapling and an ancient oak tree are beautiful in their ways, so is a teenage girl and a mature woman. The beauty may change from external fresh loveliness to a more internal, wise, humourful, knowing energy. And it is still beauty.
In my opinion, and paradoxically, the more we journey into acceptance of ageing, of its loss, its inevitability, its restrictions and freedoms, the more beauty blossoms in the older woman.
I am not trying to be evangelical and happy-clappy about the process. As with most things worth developing, accepting one’s ageing process is a challenge. It is worth remembering that previous generations had a different definition of old age. It is amusing to imagine that Shakespeare’s Crones might have been in their 30’s and 40’s.
In the 21st century, we are redefining what it means to be an older woman while living in our modern society which holds a collective disdain, denial and disrespect of age. It requires boldness to take it on.
When I was in my late thirties, mother of a teenage daughter, I realised that I wanted to show Amy that it was ok to be an older woman. I didn’t want her to think that wrinkles were a sign of failure; they don’t stop us having fun, developing wisdom, making mistakes and starting over again. Of course our faces will change physically and it is alright! I didn’t want my precious fledging girl-woman to fear ageing so I decided to accept the challenge and do my own work.
‘Doing my own work’ includes quieting my critical voice when I see my image, learning how to play with makeup – and not wearing it when I don’t want, choosing not to use facial injectables, wearing what I like (for my 60th I wore a Rosa Bloom sequin jumpsuit!), keeping my skin healthy and radiant with wonderful Dr Hauschka products and Facial Gymnastics and learning to love and appreciate my body because of what it does, and not what it looks like.
What I have learned is that every age comes with advantages and disadvantages. Acceptance means that you actively want to be exactly where you are with everything you’ve experienced.
And then you will stand in confidence and let your unique and individual beauty shine.
‘Nature gives you the face you have at twenty. Life shapes the face you have at thirty. But at fifty you get the face you deserve.’ – Coco Chanel
Ageing is a subject close to my heart!
I want to do our young people – and our selves – a service by challenging our beliefs and the impact they have.
I have much more to say on the subject. I’m sure you do too. I would love to hear from you.
In response to a question in a recent newsletter, some of my clients and customers shared their thoughts:
‘Honestly, I am yet to embrace it completely. I like the wisdom, the experience and the confidence I have developed but I struggle with the physical side of it. But it takes a lot of time and money to look like I used to look. I’d love to be one of those women that ‘age gracefully’ or at least claim to have no problem with the physical ageing process. Do they really exist?’
‘My hair has been naturally white since my 30s but it became so expensive to keep touching up the roots I have left it pure white for many years’
‘Ageing is not what it used to be. It’s way cooler’
‘I can’t see any positives! I have always been lucky to look younger than my age but it is catching up with me now. I am a bit in denial to be honest!’
‘I think that having a young child has kept me younger in many ways. Adoption in later life was for want of a better word my “calling” and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I get pangs now and again when I see young mums and think of the extra time they will have with their children when they are grown up. But it is quality of the existing time that counts, and a lot of young mums are so rushed and overloaded and try to get up the housing ladder. Done all that!’
‘As I got older, I became a nicer person, less judgemental, more empathetic, much more confident and happier in myself. But when my hair went grey and I felt rather old and haggard, rather than dye my hair I just cut it off! It has made a huge difference – now I look in the mirror and see myself rather than notice my grey hair. I love the idea about ageing unapologetically. I will grow old in my own way, not in the way someone else thinks that I should.’
‘Ageing is definitely a feminist issue. Women from birth are expected to be pretty and feminine and above all conformist. Shave, dye hair, keep the make up on. It is not just men who criticise, in fact, women are possibly worse than men when it comes to criticising other women for their looks. We’ve got to change it by setting an example and teaching our kids differently. Valuing contribution, effort, kindness, ideas over what we look like.’
Thank you for reading. x
Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
To be continued…..