Age is a peculiar thing. I feel the same as I ever did when I was younger, but when I catch sight of myself in the mirror, I am often startled by the person looking back at me. I used to think I looked my best first thing in the morning, all fresh faced and smooth skinned. I don't think that any more - pillow creases seem to take longer to fade away, and my eyes take longer to open all the way, my bones take longer to straighten.
I remember being the youngest person on staff and how gleefully I rubbed it in every chance I got. I also remember how annoying it was the first time I worked with someone younger than me, taking their turn to rub it in. How smug the young can be about their youth!
As women age, we may mourn the loss of our youthfulness (which is equated with attractiveness) and then also the loss of our (potential) fertility. Adjusting to a new stage in life can be challenging. Though we may rebel against it, we are used to being appreciated for our physical appearance. As we move into a new category, the next one up in those "check a range of ages" boxes in questionnaires, we realize the reactions we get from others changes - being called "Ma'am" for the first time was startling! That new box can take some getting used to.
Sitting behind a young man a while ago (he must have been in his early 20s at most), I was entranced by him. I could see the promise of his future on his face - and on the back of his neck - as if his hopes and dreams burnished his features. I was struck by the beauty inherent in youth.
Women are judged by, and appreciated for, our appearance. That's how it's worked into the plan. Because it is so, it must be good at its core, in its unbroken state, but somehow it has become warped. Appearance has in too many ways become the most important factor in determining a woman's attractiveness, and how too many of us determine our own self worth. We are judged, and judge ourselves according to outlandish and largely unattainable standards that have very little to do with natural feminine beauty.
In preparing to write this article, I quickly looked up freakish plastic surgery options to see just how crazy it is 'out there'. Here's a brief list of what I found: dimple construction; ab etching; eyelash and eyebrow transplants; collagen feet fillers (so she can continue to wear high heels with less discomfort). How shallow and sad has our idea of ideal beauty become that women are willing to get eyelash transplants?
It is good and healthy to respect yourself as a woman, taking care of yourself, and even enjoying the womanly fun of fussing with your hair and delighting in pretty jewelry. It is not healthy to spend your income on superficial, unnecessary cosmetic "corrections" because you haven't quite come to grips with the fact that the rest of who you are as a person is an empty canvas.
Nearly any (healthy) man will tell you that what he finds attractive is not thicker lashes and thinner thighs, but a woman who is comfortable in her own skin. What we need to work on, then, is accepting the face that looks back at us first thing in the morning, our hips that are too curvy, and our nose that is too long. What is the secret to the enviable Chic of French women? They look after themselves, yes, and they accept the way they look and make the absolute most of it, without apology. They also accept, as their due, that they will be appreciated for how they look - thin lashes and thick calves and all. They accentuate the positives, rather than focus on minimizing the negatives. It's a very subtle difference, but profound.
Instead of a woman being valued according to her attractiveness, she should be acknowledged as beautiful because she is a woman. Once we can reach that point, aging will have less of an impact on how we think of ourselves.
September 19, 2012