Author Barbara Hannah Grufferman on why it’s time to re-frame how we look at how we look
Recently, I went to a lecture about women, aging and self-esteem. It was … disconcerting.
The lecturer, a therapist in her mid-50s, deals frequently with women who are unhappy with how they look, and who feel unprepared for the changes that they are seeing as they get older. The lecturer acknowledged that women in their 50s (and over) are in a “beauty bind.” In the past, women (like our grandmothers) aged together. The playing field was level. Very few of them had the option to have any kind of plastic surgery (that was the domain of Hollywood movie stars), so they all aged together.
The problem is when a woman feels that she must look younger to compete for a man, a job, a place in the world without feeling invisible; it’s then that she does things that she may not want to do, like plastic surgery. The therapist also pointed out that if a woman feels that she is aging and losing the battle to compete, she can get depressed and engage in unhealthy and counter-productive behaviors like drinking too much, using drugs, and developing eating disorders that are normally associated with much younger women. The statistics were dramatic.
The lecture started me thinking about all the ways the media make us feel like aging is such a horrible thing, and one to be avoided at all costs. Books with titles like “How Not to Look Old” and magazine covers and ads with perfect, young bodies and faces just perpetuate the belief that younger is better. True, it’s always been like this, but the means to achieve a more youthful look have never been more accessible than they are now. All you have to do is go to a Botox Party, and voilà, you’ve turned back the clock (at least for four months).
I decided that this was a kind of wake-up call for all of us, no matter what our ages. In other words: it’s time to re-frame how we look at how we look. We can’t look 20 when we’re 40, and we can’t look 30 when we’re 50. It simply isn’t possible. And, if “looking younger” is your goal, then you may be in for a lot of heartache.
I’m not saying to give up and give in. Far from it! Nor am I telling women to forgo having plastic surgery or other kinds of procedures. But before you start to think about trying to make yourself look younger, ask yourself first whether you’ve taken the steps to make yourself be the most healthy, fit and engaged at whatever age you are.
- Stopped sitting in the sun and started using sunscreen?
- Stopped smoking?
- Started a good skin care program?
- Gotten and kept my weight down to where it should be?
- Started an exercise program where I walk (or run) every day?
- Began a sustainable strength-training program incorporating sit-ups, push-ups, and squats?
- Did an honest assessment of my hair, clothes and makeup?
- Made a commitment to improve my health by eating the right foods and staying away from the wrong ones?
When I turned 50, I stepped back and assessed every part of my life, and I saw that I was heading in the wrong direction. The post-menopausal weight was piling on, my muscle tone was gone, and I was starting to look, for lack of a better word, frumpy. Not wanting to continue along that path, I put myself on simple, uncomplicated programs (including what’s listed above), which helped me lose the weight, get strong and lean, improve my skin and “fight the frump.”
The real message, from one “woman over 50″ to another, is this: Embrace, engage, take control, and live your life. Take care of your body, exercise your mind, be a part of the world, stay connected with people who are supportive, and you’ll discover a secret that many women over 50 who are doing these things already know: if you feel good, you look good. And if you feel and look good, age will be the furthest thing from your mind.
Barbara Hannah Grufferman is the author of The Best of Everything After 50: The Experts’ Guide to Style, Sex, Health, Money and More