Reader Request: Aging Gracefully

My girl Audi made this request:

I’d love to see you do a piece about embracing our bodies and faces as we age. It bums me out to see so many attractive women succumbing to the pressure to look “younger” through cosmetic surgery and Botox and all that. You’ve written a lot about loving your body the way it is now, rather than the way you imagine it will be in the future — how about the other tack; loving your body now and not the way it used to be when you were younger?

I love my body now, at 34, more wholly and truly than I did when I was younger … so, to some extent, I am ill-equipped to give advice on making peace with your body as it ages. I seem to become more comfortable and more confident as I age, not less. And I know that to be true for many women.

But I also feel myself becoming more attuned to negative messages about aging: Fine lines, dull skin, loss of muscle tone, gray hair, all these trappings of a mature body that society has deemed shameful pop up on my radar now more than ever. Some of these traits are starting to show up in my own body and some are yet to arrive, but the messages about their insidiousness are penetrating my consciousness now when they used to just bounce away like so much noise.

That doesn’t mean I put stock in them. No, indeed. Just as the diet industry exists to make us feel like we’ll never be thin enough, just as the cosmetics industry exists to make us feel like we’ll never be pretty enough, anti-aging products exist to make us feel like we must, must, MUST remain young-looking forever. And while we can choose to change our body masses through food and fitness, choose to highlight certain aspects of our faces with makeup, we can’t truly control how the passage of time will affect our physical forms. Botox and facelifts, anti-aging creams and treatments, these things encourage us to pretend to be other women, younger women, women we simply are not. Encouraging women to take actions that will “turn back the clock” encourages them to feel dissatisfied and uncomfortable in their bodies, encourages them to postpone contemplation of age and aging, encourages them to feel bitter and envious when they encounter young or younger-looking women.

That said, I can’t completely disregard all anti-aging measures, just as I can’t completely disregard all weight loss programs or cosmetics. I would never say that all women who go on Weight Watchers are betraying themselves or all women who wear mascara are sell-outs, and I’d never say that all women who dye their gray hairs are cowards. It’s about choice. Each woman must choose how she presents herself to the world, physically, emotionally, stylistically, wholly. The important and often-overlooked step in making decisions about changing your body is asking WHY: Why do you want to dye your hair? Why do you want to spend $150 on a pot of eye cream? Why do you want to appear younger? You may find that the answers have more to do with your peers, your family, relentless advertisements for anti-aging products, or messages from movies and TV than your own inner musings. Consider carefully before taking action, and ask these questions of yourself:

  • WHO gets to decide what my body should look like as it ages? WHO has given me helpful or harmful feedback about aging? WHO do I consider to be an older body image role model?
  • WHAT bothers me about my aging body? WHAT can I do to make peace with it? WHAT aspects of my physical self will always make me feel proud, no matter my age or their conformation?
  • WHERE do I feel safest talking about aging? WHERE can I find images of or information about the aging process as it pertains to women? WHERE do I turn when I have questions or concerns?
  • WHEN did I become aware that my body was showing signs of age? WHEN do the positives of anti-aging products or procedures outweigh the negatives? WHEN will I feel comfortable allowing my body to be an older body?
  • HOW can I find balance between societal notions of aging and my own beliefs? HOW do I want to describe my beautiful self now that I can feel my body changing? HOW do I want to see myself and feel about myself 10, 15, and 20 years from now?
  • WHY is looking younger important to me, and to others, and do those reasons differ? WHY are younger-looking women valued more by our society, and is that relevant to me?

Our bodies are in a constant state of flux, no matter our ages. Some changes are easier to track than others, and the changes that begin to appear after a certain chronological age may seem more pronounced and alarming. But that’s because of the constant stream of alarmist messages that’s piped into our collective consciousness.

It’s also because women who struggle with body image generally begin their struggles early on. We look back at photographs of ourselves at age 16, 17, 18 and remember HATING our lovely, developing bodies. We look back and wish we’d appreciated what we’d had when we were younger. But the hard fact is this: Until someone builds a time machine, we can’t go back and shake our teenage selves out of that self-loathing. Until someone discovers the fountain of youth, we will never again look like we did as young women. So we must leave the past, and embrace the present. Loving your body is about loving it NOW, as it is today, 100%, no exceptions. Your today-body is just as beautiful as your yesterday-body, just in different ways and for different reasons. Identify those ways and reasons, and move yourself toward aging gracefully.

How do you feel about aging? I’d love to hear from those of you in your teens and 20s in addition to 30s and up since the aging female body is something we ALL contemplate. Are you strongly against or in favor of anti-aging measures like covering gray hairs and minimizing wrinkles? Who do you consider to be an older body image role model?

Image courtesy Jess Rivera.

Next Post
Previous Post
  • I totally want to age like Helen Mirren. She’s my older-lady role model.

    Like most people, I do moisturize, and I try to take care of the rest of my body through exercise and healthy diet as well. I’m 42 now, and I generally feel better about my body than I have at any other time in my life. I don’t think I’m likely to pursue any invasive surgery or chemical “remedies” for aging.

    The thing that worries me about aging is not the time between now and when my health runs out — its the time when I become too feeble to get exercise and too feeble to take care of myself. Until then I’ll just keep moving and keep myself in the best shape I can. I don’t have kids (and even if I did, nothing’s ever guaranteed) so I will be in a difficult situation then.

    • I agree about Helen Mirren and yet also know that, based on common practice, her pictures are enhanced, professionally lighted and more. So as someone her age it still isn’t a fair comparison, which is hard to deal with. My head knows I need to be grateful to be alive and see my grandchild and wrinkles be damned but not quite there yet.

    • Kathy

      My sister has had quite a bit of cosmetic surgery but will only admit to the eyelift. He face looks so different now that I had to say something but she always reacts defensively, as if I had said something hurtful. The especially interesting part of her ‘aging naturally’ game is that she how wants to let her grey hair grow out to ‘highlight her big blue eyes’ (thanks to eye surgery. I was wondering if there are others who know of women who are pretending to age natually and gracefully by keeping their grey but cosmetically correcting eyes, cheekbones, chin, eyebrows, lips, neck etc. etc.

  • Pingback: Tweets that mention Stop mourning the loss of your younger body and love yourself today. --

  • I am 44. I don’t see a problem with covering grey hairs and doing what you can to minimize wrinkles. Sunscreen is your best friend and prevention goes a lot farther than trying a cure! I’m lucky that I grew up in a cloudy town (near Erie PA) and that I started using sunscreen in my 20s – and that I have an office job. I won’t judge others for having surgery but it’s not for me.

  • I’m 29 and I’ve had silver hairs popping up all over my head for 2 or so years now! I love them, and think they’re very cool. They do bum my mom out, mostly because she dyes her hair to cover up her silvery greys. But I dyed my hair red for about 10 years, from the beginning of high school to just a few years ago, and now I’m happy being ME. Silver hairs put me more in tune with my nana, who has the most beautiful white chin length hair, and has my whole life. It’s my dream to be my niece’s older body image role model!

    • Grace

      I’m glad Sally reposted this so I could thank you for your awesome words, Erin! I started getting silver hairs at 25, but DID dye my hair for about ten years. NOT because I wanted my hair a different color– because I was freaked out about looking old. Now I see pictures of myself in my early thirties and mourn — not for my youthful hair color, which HAD been pretty glorious if I do say — but for missing out on the natural transition. Now, at 40, I’m still not 100% gray, but since I stopped hiding it I’ve grown to feel proud and confident about my silvering hair, and not to worry (well OK,not usually) about looking older. Just about looking like my best me.

  • lyrebirdgully

    My role model for ageing gracefully for this week (there are soooo many great women, but I thought I’d pick a less obvious one) is Queen Elizabeth! for being the world’s wealthiest woman, with access to the finest clothes and every anti-ageing product or service that money can buy, while still bringing to the cameras see every facial wrinkle that time has bestowed.
    (BTW, she gets bonus points in my book for wearing knee-high heeled boots in her eighties!

  • I know that I’ve been thinking about aging a lot just recently. My mother (who i consider super woman, in just about every respect) recently got a minor cosmetic surgery to lift up her neck and jaw, although she angsted about it for months before hand, calling me to work out if it was okay for her to do, because genetically women in our family are prone to “turkey wattle” necks when we get older, and hers was driving her crazy.
    The way I finally broke it down to her was this: if you’re doing this not because you want to pretend to be younger, but because it’s just maintenance, then it’s okay.
    I think that the habits she has (the same ones she passed down to me) that you get physical activity every day, eat healthy, get check-ups, have your nails and hair done, get a facial every few months… these are all maintenance. So as you age, maybe the maintenance just gets a little more medical: facial resurfacing, a few more medications for loss of bone density and nutrients you might not be getting, in my mom’s case (and perhaps mine) a little tuck up.
    But as long as you aren’t trying to look younger, but rather age gracefully, I think all of it’s fine. I know that she gave the doctor a hell of a time not to touch her wrinkles because “goddamnit I’m 55 years old and I want EVERYONE to know!” : )

    • I’m mixed on the story about your mom. I’m close to her age and have been thinking about facelift or something like she had done, so there’s no condemnation from me. But, here’s the other side that I wonder about: 1. turkey waddle surgery isn’t maintenance, in my opinion, just as a facelift isn’t. Granted we feel better in the end. But it’s still surgery and not accepting normal aging process. It’s a tough one when we’ve been raised in the youth culture and are still bombarded with all these things we can do that are anti-aging. Yet aging is part of life. But with so many people having “work” done themselves, it’s no longer a level playing field. We’re not all aging in the same way.

  • Jen

    I think you wrote this from inside my head! I often listen to my teens at school here and want to shake them now and make them understand what it took me 28 years (I’m now 32) to get. I remember that loathing, hatred of all my parts. If you asked 15 year-old me, there wasn’t one stinking good thing about my body. But when I look back at those photographs I am astounded at just how glowing and beautiful that fresh-faced girl was then. I posted some pictures from high school on facebook, and was startled at the response from HS classmates-they all were saying how they hated that I never had “ugly” days in school. I thought they all were “ugly” days, and those girls who commented were the pretty ones to me! Oh, perceptions, you are evil mistresses! Now that I’m happily into my 30’s, have grown a human, can chase him down, have a husband who worships at the altar of my curves, and have stopped worrying about what others think, I love this body of mine. I am not in favor of using anti-aging products that would make me look less like me (plastic-surgery, botox, etc.) but think that when you find something that lifts your spirits, makes you feel pretty, you should go for it (playing with hair color, a sumptous face cream, self-tanner, etc).

    I look to Meryl Streep, Tina Turner, and my own dear grandmother for inspiration as I gracefully age. Someday I hope I can be as delicious as they have become. Bring on the wrinkles, changes in hair texture, and sagging. I’ve earned every bit of it! (or at least, I will!!)

  • I am 25 soon, and my only ageing concern at the moment is lines under my eyes! Since I’m still getting blemishes, it’s a bit of a kicker! I hadn’t even thought about my body, since I imagine it would be affected more by childbirth rather than age, and I don’t plan on having children anytime soon. I agree with you that women become more comfortable with age. If you think about teenagers, they can be gangly, awkward – women grow into their bodies over the years, and when they’re older is when they become their most comfortable and confident.

  • This is an important topic, and you set out the issues very well. I’m 57 and at ease with myself and my appearance, barring the need to lose a few pounds (which is not age-related).
    I think trying to look younger is a red herring – the focus should be on looking like your self. True style, I believe, is discerning what is fundamental about who you are, and reflecting that in your behaviour, your appearance, the way you dress, how you spend your time, what you do for a living. And none of that is related to age.
    An example: if you love rock music, enjoy it, whether you’re 17 or 70. But if you secretly prefer classical and think listening to rock makes you seem younger, then people will realise you’re hiding something.
    I don’t condemn women (or men) who have cosmetic work done, so long as they’re not doing it out of fear or self-loathing. If I had bags under my eyes that made me look constantly tired, I’d have them removed. So all those “why” questions you ask are really important.
    There huge advantages to getting older. For me the chief one is that I’m far more confident in myself than I was when I was younger. I’m not hung about so much about what other people think of me. And that includes the frivolity of enjoying clothes – when I was mid-career I thought I had to be much more serious. Now I think if people don’t like me or respect me, screw ’em!
    Having said all that, there’s one key way to look younger much longer: don’t smoke, or if you do, stop. It’s simply amazing the difference it will make to your skin when you get to 50 or so. I’ve lost track of the compliments I get about how good my skin is, and the reason is I’ve never smoked. (Nor used sunbeds, but you y’all know about that, don’t you?)

  • anotherjen

    I am 42 and have been getting silver hair for a few years now, and I feel really empowered about my decision not to dye it. Part of this has been a realization that there are lots of women about my age who are making the same choice, so there seems to be a critical mass of us that are choosing to reject this particular method of defying age, and somehow that makes it more acceptable.

  • Wow, excellent post! I found your blog recently and I’m blown away by it. Aging is such a strange subject. Women more so than men feel the pressure of aging since biologically our bodies definitely do not function as they do when we are younger. We only have a certain amount of fertile years and whether or not kids are of interest I’m sure many of us have or will experience having to answer the question “when are you having kids?” and this all relates back to age. I was one of the only ones of my friends that didn’t really care when I turned 30. I’m not sure what it was, I certainly don’t know what a 30 + year old is “supposed” to feel like, I just feel like me. I am definitely more happy with myself now that I was in my early 20s. Those were years of learning to accept and be happy with myself and I had to learn to stop trying to change what I didn’t have and stop complaining and envying others. In doing so I learned to appreciate myself. I’m not perfect but neither is anyone else. There are certain things I choose to do something about and other things I just let be. I am a huge fan of cosmetics not because it can change the way you look but honestly it’s simply fun and just a touch of makeup can completely change the image you feel like portraying that day. Not saying that you should portray someone you are not, but really, how many of us out there have different personalities within us just waiting to come out? One day I might be feeling really bold, the other day feeling like a natural look.

    In terms of anti aging skin care – I think it’s just about women caring for their skin. I know I personally have a lot of damage (sun etc) to my skin when I wasn’t taking care of it in my younger days that are starting to show now. It’s more about skin repair for me and preventing premature signs of aging rather than wanting to turn back the clock.

    Older body image role models – I love Helen Miran, Julianne Moore…there are many women out there that are great role models!

  • Ali

    The issue of women trying to look younger is widespread, and my model to combat that is my mom. I am 18 and have just started to accept my body, and love it through the changes that have come in my teens. My mom is 50 and she says it is the best age to be, because she doesn’t care about what other people will say, and she wears whatever she wants.

    My boyfriend is starting to get grey hairs, at 20! And i just think they look cool against his curly black hair, and advise him not to dye it; we both think that we won’t have any “work done” when we are older and would like to accept the fact we have changed and not try to cover it up or hide it.

  • I, like Erin, am in my twenties and graying already–and absolutely love it! Hello, gravitas! I am, however, an odd duck who has always appreciated older people far more than folks my own age.

    I am a big fan of the blog Advanced Style, which shows street photos of confident, stylish older people:

    • Thanks for the intro to Advanced Style, Annasaurus (love the handle!), looks great. Reminds me a bit of Sartorialist and its gloriously diverse photos of people of all ages.

    • Erin Deux

      Annasaurus, thank you so much for the link to Advanced Style! I haven’t seen it before and this 23-year-old is LOVING IT!

  • I think it’s good to wear sunscreen and moisturize and all that as preventative measures for me as a 29 year old but I really don’t mind getting older. I know I’m biased because I have always looked much younger than my age, but I’m excited to get older and look older! I know it may get harder as I get older to accept the wrinkles and thinner skin and grey hairs, but I would MUCH prefer to age naturally and gracefully than get work done and wind up with this weird old/young hybrid face that never looks quite right…

  • Lucky Lucy

    (((smile))) here. Today, my dear Mother is 93 years old. It has only been the last few years of ill health that has slowed her down. You would suspect she is late 70’s. Good genetic components, great attitude about life in general, healthy diet, non-smoker and good maintenance. Every day, she dresses and uses make-up. Not a lot of make-up, just a touch to “brighten-up!” She is my role model now, before it was many others, some worthy, some not. I jokingly say that at my age of 62 everything is fake, except the fat. Always a factor to deal with….as well as gravity! I do color my hair, I use lots of moisturizer, I am use quality cosmetics that really do keep me looking age appropriate, not clownish. I have some benefit of good genetics, however, not as good as Mum. I say do what you wish to be comfortable in your own skin. If you like those gray hairs, by all means embrace them. If the little lines define character to you, more power to you. If you need a little tuck-up bravo to you, go for it. I so enjoy learning from everyone who posts here. As women, our opportunity to share our opinions and perspectives on such subjects has never been more important. All of the lovely young women have an unprecedented opportunity to shape the future of our gender, to define their generation and serve notice to the advertising world that attempting to force women into predictable molds is no longer acceptable. We are individuals, at any age, at people like Sal are helping all of us to declare ourselves.

  • Julie

    Bingo! I look back at pictures of me (younger and way more naturally….youthful, and slim, etc.) and remember how miserable I felt, self-concious, and ugly. What a waste! And I know when I’m older I’m going to look back at pictures of me *right now* and still say “wow, she was so young even then!” so I’d better enjoy this “youth” while I have it, and not waste this decade as well. Whatever age we are, we’re only this young once!

  • I never thought I would care about wrinkles or gray hair– until I actually got them!

    Maybe my gray hair is “natural”, but I look better with dyed dark hair so I will keep dyeing it until it doesn’t look good. And guess what, some skin creams really do make me look less tired, so I use them.

    I will keep exercising to make sure I don’t lose my youthful strength, balance, and fitness.

    I guess my goal is to retain what is still youthful about me, and not so much to hide my older age.

  • Treadle27

    My Mom has the loveliest silver hair, and mine is fortunately going to silver too, as a child I was told that redheads (which I am and Mom is not) go yellow instead of grey. It’s actually a relief. Also, as a child I really liked how interesting old people’s hands were, with their raised veins and patches of color; and this helps me accept my hands now. Remembering how I felt about older people as a child, without cosmetic preconceptions, really helps me now.

    I don’t mind the cosmetic changes much, approaching fifty now; but I really hate the way my eyesight is getting less flexible, glare is a real problem and I need new glasses to deal with difficulty seeing the computer screen, expensive! Also, I was getting joint aches, but found that 2000 units of vitamin D made them go away. πŸ™‚
    Plus this whole menopause thing, no flashes for me yet; but there’s very little knowledge floating around of just how things change in other ways.

  • Roxxi

    Hi, Sal! πŸ™‚ I’m 19
    I think grey hair is so pretty! And I know what you mean about feeling more confident as you get older. πŸ™‚ When I was younger, I struggled with learning to love my body (I’m petite – 4’11” and weighed about 85 pounds, not that I’m much heavier now) because friends (mostly female) would make mean comments about my body. Now that I’m in university, comments like that don’t really bother me as much as they used to. I mean, I still feel annoyed, but it doesn’t affect the way I see my body. So I’m glad I seem to become more comfortable with my body as I get older. πŸ™‚ And I think my grandmothers are beautiful πŸ™‚ so I’m not afraid of getting older either. I think all the things that come with aging, just show you’ve lived a life filled with experiences, and I wouldn’t want to hide that. It’s beautiful.

  • Jenna

    I feel like there’s so much paranoia surrounding aging in our culture, and unlike paranoia surrounding other physical features, there’s this sense that as soon as you hit 18-20, you’re on a downward slope you can’t ever escape from.

    I am 21 years old. I have been yelled at for not using anti-aging eye creams by my friends. My friend who turned 22 recently complained that she didn’t want to celebrate her birthday because it’s all downhill and she was getting old, and she pointed out the lines around her eyes, which were actually those little creases even babies have (you know–for blinking?). I read a number of beauty blogs, and I can’t tell you the number of times I have read about the expensive and elaborate anti-aging routines of 24-year-olds who complain about fine lines.

    So many women seem to be driving themselves so crazy about aging, and it’s driving ME crazy! I don’t want to think of my adult life as a continual decline toward the grave. I would like to enjoy it, thank you very much! That being said, I do like to think of certain things as investments in my health–my body deserves to be treated well, and that means sunscreen, vitamins, moisturizer, good food, and moderate exercise.

  • Angela

    I am 52 and believe that the adage “your face might freeze that way” means I should smile and laugh as often as possible! The older women who might be my role models have faces which reflect optimism and happiness, their wrinkles in repose seem carved by smiling. Aside from sunscreen (and not smoking), I think this is my biggest contribution to my future aged face! Having lost two close friends, both my age, to violent crime 6 years ago and having had two friends my age diagnosed with serious chronic illnesses (including Parkinson’s), I am grateful to be here in good health, wrinkles and all. Do I wish my jawline were firmer? Maybe but I am hoping everyone is watching my smiling eyes!

  • Shelley

    Unfortunately I work for a large company that is very agist and soon I will be “put out to pasture” and replaced by a 20 something. The company wants to attract the young and hip and having 15-20 years of experience is not valued.

    I feel constant pressure to hide my age, not mention how old my kids are (I can actually see coworkers doing the math in their heads to figure out my age!), color my hair, and dress younger.

    I’ve never felt the pressure to look young until I started working for this company. The pay and benefits are great but I’m beginning to feel that it is not worth it.

  • I think as long as our body image role models are celebrities, there will always be pressure to look younger because that is the model the entertainment world applies. Almost everyone listed an actress or singer as her role model (cudos to the person who listed the “real” Queen, not Helen Mirren). I have nothing against the actresses who are aging gracefully. But for me, and many professional women in my age group (I’m 44), celebs have never been a role model. So why start now?

    I’m genetically blessed to look young (and I always hated the sun/sunbathing). I currently dye my dark brunette hair but I’m contemplating stopping soon. I’ve used sunscreen for 25 years, and I use a retinol, but it’s more to prevent the hormonal acne that still plagues me than for wrinkles as my oily skin doesn’t have many.

    That aside, I think many in my age group won’t succomb to the pressure to age gracefully. We’ve fought and fought to be judged on our accomplishments. Sure, I enjoy makeup and fashion very much. But I don’t buy into the Hollywood persona of waif like eternal youth. And I wouldn’t want my kids to define themselves that way. My goal is to age as healthfully as possible. In many ways I’m a better person in my 40s than I ever was in my 20s. Shouldn’t that be the goal?

  • I’m only 20, so maybe I’m excessively blase about aging, but I’m actually kind of… excited. Most of the women I’ve loved and respected for my whole life are at least in their 40s or 50s by now, and very few of them even wear makeup on a regular basis (I live among hippies). I guess I’ve spent so long wanting to be one of those women that the whole aging-skin grey-hair thing is just part of the package for me. When I’m older, I’ll get to do things like have white hair (badass!) and be on committees at my Meeting, and wear those crunchy-granola floor-length sundresses that I love but look ridiculous in right now. Maybe when it actually happens, I won’t be as chill about it, but I don’t mind the idea of looking different as I get older. So far, I’ve only gotten better-looking and happier with myself, so I don’t really see why that trend shouldn’t continue.

  • Great post. Like you, I’ve gotten more comfortable with my body as I’ve gotten older. The older I get, the better I feel. The older I get, the more I love and appreciate my body. I show my appreciation for my body by feeding it good food, moving it when it wants to move, and protecting it from the elements. My mother, who is now 62 and just as lovely as she was at 32, has always been a great role model. She treats herself with love and respect, and to me that is the most important thing.

  • Su

    I cover my grey, and I use moisture/wrinkle lotion ( $15..not $150).

    It’s not that I think I can stay young, but that I want to be the best me I can be as I age. To me that means protecting my skin, eating healthy, hydrating, and exercising. I want to enjoy every minute, and feel good about myself as I age.

  • Yey! Thank you for this wonderful post! Sometimes I wish I lived in a culture that still celebrates aging and respects the elderly. White hair is a sign of respect and wisdom in some cultures! That being said, it makes me so sad that I have friends my age (24) that have already had botox. Botox! And now I hear my mom talking about face lifts and it makes me so sad. I love her wrinkles because it represents years of laughter and smiling. It’s a reminder that she’s lived a happy, healthy life. It’s a reminder that she has LIVED, which is a great thing, is it not?

    Also, that’s interesting how you also added the bit about it not always being bad instead depending on motivation. I never thought of it that way, but I like it. For instance, I would never in a million years get any form of plastic surgery or botox. Heck, I probably won’t even use anti aging cream because I really do love wrinkles. However, I love dying my hair, not because I’m ashamed of natural or gray hair, but because I have a short pixie cut and dying my hair is like a fun accessory or form of expression. I do it for fun and because I like trying new things, not because I don’t like my original hair. I think I need to evaluate my reasoning for make up now, so thank you for bringing that point up.

    Love your blog by the way. It’s wonderful.

  • malevolent andrea

    I think you can’t predict what age-related changes are going to bother you and which ones won’t. I’m 48. I love the crinkly wrinkles around my eyes and my veiny hands. I’m neutral about my age spots and the parts of me that gravity has done a number on. I color my hair just because the amount of gray I do have makes me look dowdy and tired; I hope when enough of it grows in, it will actually look good and I can stop it. But when a few years ago I put on weight and instead of it going all directly to my thighs as it historically did, I got muffin top and belly fat, I felt like I was no longer in my own body. I hated it. Buying clothes was no longer enjoyable because w/o the hip-to-waist ratio I was used to, I thought everything looked terrible. Despite evidence to the contrary, I didn’t feel sexually attractive. I didn’t feel like *me*. For three or four years I struggled with it, trying to convince myself that it was because I’m middle-aged and that was that. It didn’t work.

    So eight months ago I got my diet under control, and did more yoga and after a while started running and lifting weights. I lost twenty pounds, but more importantly to me, I got my hourglass shape back. I don’t feel younger–though I do of course feel fitter–I just feel like “me” again. Not sure what I’ll do if menopause slams me with that twenty pounds right back onto my belly even with lots of healthy exercise, as I’ve heard it can. Feeling like an alien in your own body is not pleasant.

  • Nedyfay

    The most beautiful, elegant, graceful woman I ever saw was on a family trip to Mallorca a few years ago. From what I could see she had done had one whit of surgery done. nor did she colour her hair. But it was apparent that all her life she had been taking care of her appearance by proper nutrition, exercise and skin care – and it showed. I promised myself – then and there, at the age of sixteen – that I wanted to age like that. I spent two weeks just staring at this woman, never daring to go up to her and tell her that she was breathtakingly beautiful, no matter how much I had wanted to. (I regret it to this day – I am 24.)

    People have to do what they feel is right for them, of course – but I feel it’s a shame that we pressure people to be young, skinny and a very narrow definition of beautiful. If you have lived a life – why try to hide it? Why hide the wisdom you’ve gained, the sorrow you’ve survived, the happiness you’ve experienced?

  • Rachel K

    I’m 29 and starting to grow those white, wiry hairs that stick out of your head. I don’t get the gorgeous silver ones that look so distinguished, no, I get Albert Einstein hair! So yes, I do color to cover them. I once read a quote by Joe Zee that said “women who don’t color their grays show that they no longer care about their appearance” or close to that wording. I guess that struck a cord with me, though it is really not true. There are many beautiful women who chose not to color, my aunt is one of them.

    Maybe I’m more vain than some of the other commentors, I can admit to vanity and I own that, it is part of who I am and the reason that I always wear mascara and don’t go to the grocery store in sweat pants (common in central FL for some crazy reason). I use an anti-aging serum to even skin tone, fade sun damage spots, plump wrinkles, decrease oil production and prevent break outs (that sounds like a lofty undertaking, but this stuff really works, my skin was a wreck a month ago and now is not, plus it’s only $8 at Sally’s). I use an anti-aging moisturizer, eye cream and acne treatment b/c at 29 I still suffer from that. I did not take care of my skin in my teens and early 20’s and baked in the FL sun instead, now I’m trying to correct that damage. I’m seeing the first appearance of real wrinkles and trying to combat them w/ Strivectin & the Sally’s serum. I don’t spend a ton of money on it, I do extensive research & read reviews before I purchase & always make sure the retailer allows returns on beauty products.

    Why do I do this?not because of media or social pressure, but because this is the face I chose to present to the world; this is part of what makes me feel good, feel like I’m taking care of myself. I don’t get my self-worth from my appearance, but I do enjoy being carded for a glass of wine. I don’t want to age gracefully – is there something inherently wrong with that? I don’t anticipate getting botox injections or plastic surgery, I plan to simply live a healthy life and take care if my skin & I excersize to keep my body in shape. Will I get wrinkles? Yes! But like my mom, I plan to continue to look 10 years younger than I really am. I’m much more confident & love my body more at this age then I did a decade ago, I wouldn’t want to go back. I’m not afraid of aging, I enjoy the knowledge, growth and wisdom that comes with age, I simply am going to do it on my terms.

  • T.

    Those celebs who have had work done on their faces, and whose mouths now look eerily like The Joker’s, creep me OUT! Not a good look. Yes, the mouth is smooth and wrinkle-free, but it also looks unnatural and grotesque. As I look in the mirror and notice that my face is falling, I think about the creepy Joker mouths out there and remind myself I’d rather look a little saggy than oddly tight.

    I am 43, and it is disconcerting to notice the changes that age has brought to my face and body in the past few because in some ways it feels like I’m losing myself. My hair is not that color! My jaw line does not sag! I don’t have back fat! It is hard to accept that my familiar features are becoming unfamiliar. I don’t want to look young, necessarily, I just want to look how I feel!

    • JJ

      I was going to write a general comment, but your comments came very near summing up what I was going to say! I will turn 46 this year and I feel like I’m still 25, despite what the mirror tells me.

      Yes, I get my hair colored because the grays are coming in thicker and faster in the last few years, and I’m not ready for them yet. But the main thing that bothers me about my appearance as it relates to age is my jawline. I know it’s hereditary, but I hate the way I’m getting little jowls. When I lightly pull back that skin, I look 10 years younger.

      The other stuff, I can handle. This is one thing that really bothers me, and I’m annoyed that I’m vain enough that it bothers me, but there it is. Otherwise, I’m feeling more comfortable in my skin than I have for most of my life.

  • Lady

    i’ve always considered myself in the camp of those who look forward to aging. i’m currently 29 and one of my favorite people has always been my maternal grandmother. she is so beautiful to me….i’ve always loved her hair her face. genetics may put me in the camp of ‘not looking my age’ when i’m older but i embrace whatever changes are coming my way. i’ve been combing thru my hair lately looking for anything white or silver, though nothing yet. i wonder when i finally find one, if that will change the way I feel about things. i’ve wondered if it will fill me with some sort of sadness? as of now, i dont believe it will, though i think it will spur me closer to the path of motherhood which i’m putting off for now.

    i’m looking forward to turning 30+ and the wisdom that will one day show on my face. i think this is in part that i’ve always been the youngest at work and some social situations.

  • Steph

    Somebody already identified Helen Mirren as their aging-with-grace role model, and I’ll second that! Plus add: Dame Judi Dench and the Butter Queen Paula Deen. These three women are so beautiful and vibrant in their individual ways, and each has aged gracefully and apparently naturally, with little effort to distract from the effects of aging. I admire them all so much because they seem so perfectly at ease with themselves and confident in who they are, no matter their age. I look forward to that period of my life, honestly.
    I’m in my 30s, and I look at aging as a natural part of life. Even if you look 40 when you’re really 80, you can’t escape the inevitable: death. Sorry to be a downer. So much of the anti-aging rhetoric is born out of the idea that women past a certain age are no longer reproductively viable (though still serving an important purpose biologically and socially), therefore have no need of engaging in sex, and have no need of attracting mates through their appearance. Luckily, we are more than our biology would make us and no longer relegate women past their reproductive years to grandma or old maiden aunt status. I’m not pro-surgery for myself, but everyone gets to make their own choices for their own reasons. But I think if it takes a lot of surgical intervention to achieve a younger appearance, why bother? Can it really be worth it? And how long will it last before gravity and age catch up with you again?
    In terms of anti-aging strategies, I don’t anticipate relying very heavily on any of them. I regularly dye my hair, and have for a long time, when I get bored or just want to try something new, so I have nothing against coloring one’s hair for any reason. If I do start to grey and my hair turns mousey and I end up not liking the effect–it’s possible I will use dye to cover greys. It really depends. But odds are, I’ll stop using it at the point where it would begin to look ridiculous or completely out of keeping with the rest of my appearance. I use a face moisturizer with sunscreen every day, and I work indoors, so my sun exposure is pretty minimal. Plus–chubby cheeks don’t wrinkle so easily! πŸ™‚
    Would I feel differently if these circumstances of birth were different and signs of aging would be more apparent? I can’t say one way or the other. I will not be getting any plastic surgery or botox, however. Absolutely not. Why would I? So I look 30 when I’m 60? That’s just confusing for everyone involved. So I’m more aesthetically pleasing for others to look at? I’ve never cared about that, despite being overweight, so I can’t see that aging would have much impact on that attitude.

  • I’m very lucky to have had two very amazing role models. My mother used to dye her hair, but started reacting to hair dye, so stopped cold turkey. She looks so much younger than all of her siblings who still dye her hair because it doesn’t look fake. She takes such great pleasure when hairdressers comment on the fabulous colouring (which they assume is processed) in saying: “It’s all me!”
    But I would have to say that my grandmother was a huge inspiration. She passed away last month, so us cousins sat around discussing favourite memories and what we’d always remember about her. One feature stood out to me in my memories of her: her wrinkles. She had lived a hard life, and never cared about preventing the signs of aging. From my earliest memory of her, she had profound wrinkling. While some may say it made her look old, to me, it always made her look soft, welcoming and comforting. I mentioned this to my mother, and she laughed, and ran to our storage trunk. From it she pulled a book I’d written in Grade Two about what I expected my life to be like when I was older. On the last page, I had written: “When I am a Grandma, I want to knit, and visit my grandchildren, and have a soft face like Grandma D”. Let’s hope I still think that when my face starts to “soften!”

    • Diana

      Those are the most beautiful words I’ve ever read, Cara. Your words made me smile as I envisioned the softened look of your grandma’s face. You will have a beautful “soft” face too when you age because your beauty comes from the inside.

      I turn 50 tommorow and came across this blog looking looking to find some comfort as to why I felt like I was mourning. I love myself at age 50 even more than I have before and it is why I don’t understand why I feel a loss? Is this a normal feeling? What is it that I am mourning? It feels as if something or part of me is dying.

      Other than that- I love my big 50. I think it’s an individual thing. I personally like aything that makes me look and feel good whether it’s lotions, spa treatments, sex or surgery, etc. Do what feels good to you and enjoy life!

  • Marsha Calhoun

    One of my favorite authors, Peg Bracken, in a chapter of one of her books entitled “How to Look as Good as the Lord Intended,” pointed out that after a certain stage, the choice is between dry wrinkles and oily wrinkles; she was planning to get a face lift at that point (I don’t know if she ever did). I could probably afford a face lift, but unless I get really insecure about my double chin (which I’ve had since childhood), I probably won’t. I’m pushing 60, like to walk and do yoga, dislike buying clothes but do it anyway when I must, do care about how I look (and am trying to let my clothes express more of how I feel each day), and I dye my hair because it looks awful with streaks of grey (not anywhere near silver, sadly). I have so enjoyed reading what other women from their twenties to their fifties have written here! What I like about aging is the realization that no, you don’t look like you did when you were 20, and no, you aren’t going to look young again ever, and it is okay to be on the other side of your most physically attractive era, you can still look fine and be fine. It’s okay to recognize this – you don’t have to deny it by telling yourself that all stages of life are equally physically pretty (they aren’t – probably infants are prettiest [soft and smooth and glowing], youth is famous for its beauty [and needs to be because it can’t be famous for its as-yet-immature brain power or experience], and age is wrinklier and often fatter and physically more difficult to cope with). Just work with what you have, as you see fit, if you want to. You are important no matter what you look like – so act like it.

    • Sal

      Marsha, I think I’ll have your last line tattooed across my forehead: “You are important no matter what you look like – so act like it.”


  • Michelle

    I’m 32…..I’ve got grey hairs (that are covered up but that’s to do with the horrid mousy-ness that is my natural hair colour!), I’ve got wrinkles, I’ve got scars. They are what make me, me. Those wrinkles? Years of laughing and crying, and frowning and smiling. Those scars? Years of living on the limit. Those grey hairs? Years of learning the hard way πŸ™‚ Altogether, they tell a story, one that is rich in experiences and learning and one that I wouldn’t exchange for anything.

    It’s done to death but:
    β€œLife should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, champagne in one hand – strawberries in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and screaming β€˜Woo hoo – what a ride!’”

  • I am planning on ageing disgracefully. For me, it’s about what worries me and the areas where I look less like myself (or how I used to look) so that is normally my face. When gravity takes over, other bits will probably join it.

    A lot of how I feel about getting older is tied up with how I feel on an emotional level. I am sure it is no surprise that I first bought an anti-aging cream in the week of my birthday. Now I don’t know why I bothered.

    I would love to age like a French woman. They have the best phrase “un femme d’un certain age”, a woman of a certain age, which means that she won’t say and you can’t tell how old she is. It’s about embracing looking older than a teenager but no giving in. I like this balance.

  • Vivienne Grainger

    At 62, I have noted the signs of time’s encroachment. Others have also pointed it out to me, in sometimes less-than-graceful ways. (A shop clerk calling me “Sweety”?! You, sir, are making an assumption based solely upon my appearance. And for your edification: I am the OTHER kind of “old woman,” the kind who is not subsumed by “nice.” So watch it, kid.)

    I can do two things in response to aging: attempt to deny it, or acknowledge it, accommodate it, and continue to live my life. The second strategy is more difficult in the din of marketing everything under the sun to “restore lost youth.”

    I did not lose my youth; I used it up. Happily and completely. If I have “smile lines,” it is because I have done a lifetime’s worth of smiling.

    Now, I can do no less than accommodate my body’s changes as I fare forth into old age. That includes changes I would rather, truth be told, not make, such as accepting wrinkles, and having to color my graying hair to be competitive in a very tight job market.

    But one thing yoga has taught me is that you must start where you are. I am 62, not 22, and some things possible to a 22-year-old body are now and forever out of reach of mine. So, together, this body and I, we do what we can. We do yoga that now excludes some of the more challenging poses. We walk, because our knees are too worn-out to withstand the impact of running. But we hit our mat every morning, and we walk every day; that may be the difference between “giving up” and “giving in.” I cannot make my body younger, but I can continue to explore the things I enjoy doing while in it.

    I can also refute the assumptions others make based on my appearance, but frankly that is harder work, work which the body necessitates, but the mind alone must undertake. A sense of humor is a great tool for chiseling away at this sort of bullsh*t, and may be necessary for surviving it with one’s sanity intact.

    Society also makes assumptions. Can’t tell you how many ads for Botox, Cialis, and ginseng I’ve deleted from my spam folder. (Though ginseng actually does work wonders …)

    Aging is many things, and hard work is one of them. Henry Louis Mencken said it best: “Old age is no place for sissies.”

  • The Shadow Knows

    I am 69 and have been blessed with good genes in at least some respects. I didn’t gain weight with my children, didn’t gain at all until my 50s, and have managed to keep it to 5-10 pounds. (Muffin top and Buddha Belly issues.) Much to the dismay of my former hairdresser, my hair was slow to turn gray. He talked me into coloring it once and turned it orange. I found another hairdresser who tells me it is still less than 20% gray, so I let her color it for now. My husband is totally freaky about gray hair, so I’m lucky, but I still look forward to some day letting it go natural.

    A few years ago I did Obagi for brown spots and sun damage. I use Retin A now because Obagi is too harsh. When I was a teen-age my friends and I started laying out in our back yards to sun tan and occasionally at the beach. Consequently I have skin damage. I’m also an avid gardener, but I did get the sunscreen message in my 30s. I have always had oily skin, never was big on creams and potions. I’m allergic to lavender and other scents, so I have to be cautious about what I put on my skin. Sunscreen is my most important cosmetic lotion.

    Last year I had a bit of Botox and some fillers, the latter partly for medical reasons, but I like the result. I’m having laser treatments for broken capillaries and red spots. I like the results. I don’t think I look younger, but I do look better. I didn’t like looking in the mirror and seeing the red blotchy skin. That is enough, though. Sure I would look better with a good face lift, but at this point in my life it seems silly. If I were a public person, politician or celebrity I wouldn’t hesitate.

    I’ve never smoked but spent a lot of time around smokers. I like wine, but have to limit it if I want to keep the muffin under control. I didn’t start drinking alcohol until my 40s anyway. I’ve always eaten a fairly healthy diet and have good bones. I’ve always been active physically.

    On the down side, I have some arthritis and foot problems that I might not have if I hadn’t been a runner when I was younger, or done so much gardening. I regret some of the exercise–yes we get nagged about it, but I am better off with a moderate amount–I wish I’d listened to my own body wisdom on that. I wish I’d taken better care of my teeth. I still have all of them, give or take a few crowns. When the enamel wears down you can’t bleach them and your lips sort of disappear.

    It’s hard to find good models for aging. I admire my own grandmother, who always dressed well and kept her figure trim. My mother was always unhappy with her pear-shaped body and droopy eyelids. I take after my Dad.

    I have friends who have died, who have had horrendous health problems, and who consequently have gained a lot of weight and are unhappy. Some of it is just bad luck, some could have been avoided or modified.

    No one ever asks me my secrets of looking you, so I guess I don’t look so young, but if asked I would say: Watch sun exposure and always use sunscreen. Use it on your hands too! Don’t follow diet and nutrition fads. Eat healthy and keep informed. Don’t smoke. Moderate exercise is good, but don’t over-exercise or you will end up with fatigue and injuries. Use simple cleansers and creams from the drugstore–expensive stuff is mostly fragrance and packaging. The only secret ingredient that works is in sunscreen and also Retin A. Laugh, enjoy the moment you are in. Life can be very short.

  • Oh Sal. I have so much to say about this that I can’t say anything at all. The only thing I really know about all this is that I wish I didn’t have to die:). I love being alive so much that I feel astonished every morning when I wake up and get to do it again. All other feelings on the subject exist across a spectrum. But I’m very glad you have posed the question to others more able to speak coherently than I.

  • T. puts it well. Who wants to look a way they don’t feel? I’ve always tried to look my best (according to my own standards of “best”) and I have no intention of giving that up.

  • I’m 40 and I feel great about aging – but in truth, I always have. In truth, I’ve always felt 40. My father likes to say “it beats the alternative” and isn’t it the truth?! πŸ™‚ I like myself a lot more now, I am more confident, more comfortable, more able to own my achievements. But for those young ‘uns who say: “great, but what about how you look?”, I have to say I look better than I have at some points in my youth, and perhaps not as good as at others. Because I’m on a continuum here. For sure, though, I’m better dressed and put together – and much more stylish – than I’ve ever been. I mean, I have more money than I did 20 years ago. And, so far, I have been blessed with good genes when it comes to the giveaways of age – wrinkles, namely. Of course, I’m going get them eventually. But I have to assume I will have earned them.

  • I’m 56 and have been dyeing my hair for over 20 years and will continue to do so because i love being a brunette. I grew up with blonde sisters, and having dark hair has always been a crucial part of my self-identity. I have a very pale “English” complexion, and my face looks way younger than my age — but then I’ve always been sun-avoidant (a necessity for the very fair in Australia), moisturised, don’t smoke or drink coffee and only have a very little alcohol. I’m a bit overweight, and to be honest, I don’t care. i like my full curves.

  • Malvina

    I love wrinkles! I love elderly faces with deep, ingrained laugh lines. There’s something fabulous about the fact that your face will eventually crease in the position you leave it the most. I was excited the first time I noticed I had crows’ feet (and I still love them!) I love my body and my looks more now that I am older. part of that is that I’m more athletic than I was in my teens and early 20s. part of it is that as things “settled”, they moved into patterns that I recognized from my childhood. I see my mother’s belly and breasts in the mirror, and on body-positive days I celebrate the continuity I feel to all the women before me. I have a more ambiguous relationship to my grey hairs that are sprouting, perhaps if they organized themselves into zingy streaks I’d love them more. However, I stubbornly refuse to color them. I have earned each one over the years, I don’t mind that they are there.

  • The reason I began my blog, http;// was for this very topic. I saw so many women over 50 shut down by life and discouraged. I wanted to share with them my journey to encouragment! How I went from frumpy to fun with my fashion and I have come to enjoy this time of my life. I hope some of the ladies here will come to the site and check it out…it is about enjoying life right where we are with what we have and not getting lost among gray hairs and wrinkles!!

  • callie

    I’m 48 and have been blessed with good genes; health and looks-wise. *knocks wood* Most of my forties were probably the best decade of my life, as far as self-esteem goes – old enough to appreciate who I am, young enough to feel “young”.

    My biggest “issue” is that I’m finally and irrevocably dealing with the dreaded “middle-aged middle”. I’m not overweight, I’d learned to love my curves, but my tiny waist is just… gone, and no amount of diet or exercise can change that πŸ™

    I’m still mightily appreciative of all the good things I have – health, first and foremost, certainly – but this new shape just feels… not me.

    I’ll figure it out – and I have a wonderful partner who thinks I’m dead sexy – but it’s the first “major” body perception change I’ve had to deal with in adulthood and I won’t lie – it’s been difficult. I think everybody probably has a touch point for the realization that they have reached a certain stage in their life when it’s just undeniable that their physicality has has entered an entirely new and not-entirely-welcome realm, and that was mine.

    I’m gonna to have to explore those Eileen Fisher tunic type sweaters more seriously… πŸ˜‰

  • I am 56. To me, middle-age is as curious an experience as puberty once was. Do we recall what it felt like to go through puberty–exciting and scary at the same time? Our bodies becoming something we may have been told about but could not know until we experienced ourselves? A part of me stands back from the process and objectively watches the whisker that appears on my chin, the streak of white, the crepey skin. What will I be? And, yet, throughout there IS a psychic peace about the process.

    Role model: Louise Bourgeois, a sculptor. Recently she was pictured in time magazine in a velvet cloak, her hair up in pigtails, with large bows over either ear.

  • Sybil

    At 57, I have the advantage of viewing younger women (20-350 and older women (70-90+) through my work and my Mom’s friends…….
    When we look back on photos of ourselves in earlier years, we think “Wow! I didn’t realize how beautiful I was then!” 20-somethings agonize over skin blemishes and minor body imperfections and I want to shout “STOP DOING THIS TO YOURSELF!” And I also look at my Mom and her friends – all 85+ – and I see their open hearts and wisdom and strength…and how beautiful they are every day.

    In this past couple of years, I’ve had my wardrobe evaluated by a professional, learned to shop not only by price (I can afford – and have earned – nice clothes) and had my teeth straightened. Oh yeah – and let my hair go gray. I know I’ll never look like 20, 30 or 40 again. But I feel better about my personal presence than any time in my life. And that feels pretty damn good.

    We are ALL beautiful. We just need to see it.

  • rb

    I have found your responses interesting. It seems like the women my age (mid 40s) and older who responded were accepting of some interventions, even if not for themselves. The younger respondents seem to mostly be saying they would never do any intervention because gray hair is so elegant, or they love wrinkles, or whatever.

    I will just say, gray hair and wrinkles feel very different when they’re not just theoretical – they’re on YOU! I don’t think we can really know what we’ll be inclined to do until we hit that age and it happens.

    For instance, by my early 40s I had developed one deep vertical furrow in the center of my forehead (half of the ’11’ you hear people reference) and I found people asking me, “What’s wrong?” pretty frequently, when in fact nothing was wrong. So here I was with an otherwise unwrinkled face (thank you, I guess, lifelong acne and Retin-A) and one deep line in my forehead. It was disproportionate, and it bugged me.

    So I tried Botox. I had a friend who got it and she recommended her doctor, so I went there. It’s not an instant cure, but the line is much less pronounced now. I don’t get Botox anywhere else, just four tiny injections at my brow line. What surprised me about having the treatment was how great I feel having my forehead that relaxed. It’s a calm feeling. So now, when I go to get it touched up (I don’t follow the recommended schedule – I just go when I want to, about 2x/year) I am more looking forward to the feeling than any particular cosmetic result. I don’t feel defensive about it. It’s not a secret – I tell anyone about it.

    Other stuff I’ve had done? Not much. I’ve never gone “under the knife” though I have an older friend who did and she looks great – a very subtle change. I’ve had a series of laser treatments for old sun damage on my chest. Again, it was bugging me to be that red on my upper chest but pale everywhere else, so I had it done and I’m glad.

    I have my hair highlighted. I have some gray hairs, not many, but they stood out (and stood UP, wth?) against my dark hair, and I find they blend in a little better with a few subtle hightlights in the same area.

    I guess I’d say in my 20s I would have said NEVER will I EVER buy into this ridiculous garbage, etc. But you just don’t know until you get there. Do you use sunscreen? Use moisturizers? These are all anti-aging procedures, too, just at another point on the spectrum of what’s available.

    And believe me, that older celebrity you admire for aging gracefully – she’s had stuff done. Maybe not Joan Rivers level plastic surgery, but a little something here and there, of course. Lasers, injectibles, whatever. She’s in the public eye. It’s just part of the job.

  • Aging is a tough thing to get my head around. I’m about to turn 24, and I read in some beauty magazine a few months ago that if a woman is seeing the beginnings of wrinkles while in her 20s, then something is seriously wrong. WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT, EDITORS?! That’s crazy! =) I recognized this as hogwash, but I have to admit, seeing the lines on my forehead and the little worry wrinkle inbetween my eyebrows makes me feel a bit antsy about the years ahead. No matter how well we recognize the unfair beauty standards of our culture, it’s difficult to resist them at the most basic levels. Still, I’m much more worried about the overall degradation of my body in my elderly years – difficulty chewing, arthritis, losing eyesight. That’s so much scarier than “failing” looks could ever be.

    One thing I try to remember in all this: our perceptions of beauty are so susceptible to suggestion. When I was in 2nd Grade, before a lot of the media messages had sunk in, I remember LOVING to get hugs from my school teacher, because she was big and round and soft. Hugging her felt wonderful. By mainstream standards, she would not have been considered beautiful, but to the understanding of a 7-year-old, her body was perfect and welcoming. Age spots, wrinkles, gray hair – they can all be perfect and lovely, I believe, if we can open our eyes to that possibility for a few moments.

  • I’m in my early 30s and I think this is finally the moment when I made peace with me, my body, my looks and my aging (yes, I realize it may sound stupid coming from moi, at my early 30s stage, but gray hair doesn’t ask us when it’s ok to appear, right?)

    I gave up anti aging face / body creams because I think they’re only selling us a big fat pot of lies. I gave up my expensive shampoo because it didn’t do my hair any justice and so forth. I’m back to basics. Back to what really makes me in the first place – me. I am an individual, not the sum of the products I use. I do not believe in advertising as I did when I was younger and my rhythm of life doesn’t allow me daydreaming about the days when I was a teen.

    What I miss about those years is time (not that I had more time ahead of me but that I had more time for me – I wish I could use that right now, the time I lost then). What I miss right now? Nothing, really. I’m in a good place and I’m forever thankful for that. And I think that’s what makes us uncomfortable with ourselves – where we at. Think about it… REALLY think about it!

  • Riley

    I’m 20 years old, and I am terrified of wrinkles and signs of aging. I was not blessed with sebum oil-filled skin or long, tapered limbs like natalia vodianova or gisele bundchen; I’m naturally petite, but being petite is not as much of a blessing as it sounds. I’d much rather be tall and larger than a size 2 or 4, because even at such a small size, I look awkwardly average, not gorgeously curvaceous OR enviably thin. I was cursed with awkward proportions–it doesn’t matter how thin I get; I could starve myself (and I have) and still be unhappy with my proportions. (Not to mention starving myself brought out the wrinkled/tired/ huuuuge eye-bag/dark circle look that i so detest but cannot prevent because i inherited…)
    I recognize that I was scarred (emotionally) as a child–someone told me that he thought my mom was the ugliest and wrinkliest person he’d ever seen, and his mom had said the same thing about her (to him). I was 11 when he told me that… ever since then, I was terrified and convinced that I had skin naturally predisposed to be wrinkly and hideous, because of my mom. I don’t even take after her side of the family as much as my dad’s, in either appearance or mental structure/body structure; and I don’t even know if I can see her realistically because of that emotional trauma. It seems that the more I express concern about my appearance related issues, the more she is determined NOT to care about appearance or maintaining attractiveness. I think she’s trying to get me to “see” that it “doesn’t matter,” but she’s only proving that boy in 6th grade right.

  • Great post Sal, and I’ve enjoyed reading all the responses. rb’s comment is right on the money; it’s easy to say that gray hair and wrinkles are beautiful until you start noticing them on yourself. More than anything I just want to continue to look like ME as I age, so I can’t see getting enough Botox injections to make myself completely expressionless, or letting a surgeon carve up my face. In the meantime I’m hoping all the effort I put into taking good care of my skin will pay off, but my motivation is really more about looking great for whatever age I am than trying to turn back the clock.

  • Check out Huffington Post and the article by Barbara Grufferman all about being pretty after 50. Sentiment much like yours.

  • Fabulous article. And it’s so great to see someone your age having it Sally. My older body role model is my 89 year old mom:

  • Alyson

    I know this is an old post, but I just came across it and all those questions you pose are probably something I should print out and answer as therapy. I don’t know if it will make me feel better or not, but I have been terrified of aging since I was a kid. I was petrified of turning 18, then 25, 30. Now I’m 35 and devastated. I don’t even want to live to age 40. I have found that as I get older, I become less and less relevant in society. I have tried to “embrace” aging, I’ve tried to accept it, let it go, prevent it, etc. My mind won’t let me and I honestly don’t know what to do about it because there are days I walk down the street and I am so overwhelmed, I just want to sit down and cry. And it’s literally all about feeling older. I am extremely uncomfortable in my skin. I hate going out in public. I am miserable. I don’t have insurance so I can’t afford therapy. I try to do things to make myself better- I go to the gym, eat healthy, distract myself- but I can’t get away from myself. I see younger people and it physically hurts because I want to be younger again. I think the main reason I feel this way is because my age does not reflect how I think of myself and the older I get, the more of a disconnect there is between how I look/my age and how I feel/who I am. I can’t explain it. But I feel like I’m losing myself. Don’t even get me started on cultural and societal messages… Ugh.

    • Hi Alyson I felt so sad in reading your message here and wonder what it is in ageing that so upsets you? I’ve just posted a blog here that Sally has yet to approve, but I do want to say that at 57 I am so glad I have lived these ageing years even if it’s meant my body has changed. Feeling relevant is so important, but perhaps that’s more in what you offer to others? I have a sense that you are a beautiful person who maybe just needs help to see that beauty. What is it that you want from those younger years that you don’t feel you have now? I’ve fluctuated with age but I wouldn’t go back now. My partner is 45 – 12 years younger than me – and that has been such a challenge for me – not to worry about ageing but to more involve myself in the adventure of life. To look outward not inward. I bet there are beautiful things ahead for you. I didn’t start singing with bands til I was 48 – and have now performed jazz and blues with 3 bands and a duo over the last years. I began exhibiting my art widely from my 40’s on, learned tap dancing in my late 30’s, salsa dancing in my 40’s, met my guy online at 48, became a nana at 45, am studying now and will get my degree when I’m 62! So much ahead Alyson, if you can just find a way toward your healing and love of self. Kate (Australia)

  • Hi there Sally and thanks for your article. I found you via google search looking for my friend Liz, who is struggling with the effects of ageing. I respect what you’re saying but at 34, I’d have to question your experience of ageing. You’re still so young! I was at a physical peak at 34 and again 10 years ago when I was 47 – just before menopause when my body shape, texture and tone changed within weeks and this despite me being a 5 day gym and everyday walking person. I find ageing surprising, and at times disappointing physically. I’m not hurrying off at all to the surgeon, and don’t feel a need to do so. I find the grey hairs starting to appear quite fascinating. And there’s no desperate longing to be 17 or 21 or 25 again. It’s just that the changes came while I still feel the same inside. I think our society now honours women of age and there is increasingly place for us. So I don’t feel that’s a problem. Also we can work all our lives if we choose, and I am currently studying again with the view to a new career once I have my degree. However I do have severe disability and degeneration from arthritis – an effect of ageing and long time autoimmune disease in my particular case. So I have very limited mobility. No more gym, walking or dancing – which I’ve always loved. And here is a major problem for many in ageing – not the grey hairs or lines. What do these matter really? I look at these as what I’ve earned with a life well lived! But it’s how to value goddess beauty when ageing has physically limiting effects that can’t actually be changed. Here’s a challenge then for those who are in their 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s and/or have disability….the finding of the beautiful sensual sexual goddess who is always at the core. Not to stop mourning lost youth, but to find reasons to celebrate age.
    Kate (Australia)

  • Pingback: Aging Gracefully in an Anti-Aging World β€” Everyday Feminism()