When I was much younger people saw me as being so beautiful or so smart. Some who knew me very well, actually saw both. I strove at all costs to have my intellect be recognized as my principle asset and, heaven forbid, someone would relate to me as ‘just another pretty face.”
To some degree that worked. I left high school early and went to play with a large group of boys at university, who were all eager to make their mark in the big bad world of business, as was I. At graduation, I was awarded the gold medal as the outstanding graduate from a class of 400 business students. Not bad considering only ten of us were women. Times have definitely changed.
Now that I’m older, I’d like to think that I’m still smart. My mother at least confirms this for me by telling me “You’re too smart for your own good.” Although I’ve never quite figured out what that means, I am going to take it as a compliment. The beauty issue is quite another story. Actually, it is in fact intertwined with many, many of my life stories, which are chronicled in my upcoming memoir Confessions of a Middle-Aged Hippie, to be published this summer.
Up until a week ago, the picture that lives of me in cyberspace, (although only two-and-a-half-years old), apparently looks to some people like I am a lot younger than I am. One man told me I look like a single woman still in the dating scene who is in her late 20s or early 30s. Yikes! I immediately booked a photo session, as I wanted a fresh new authentic author photo that represents who I am today. Having always photographed well, I’m grateful that most of the time, I do look good in pictures. However, I admit that like many aging women, I questioned how real would be real enough to accurately represent me now. Tough question indeed.
My life, as I write about in my book, has been a journey to shift paradigms and show what is truly possible. Pretty much in most areas of my life. I know that through the magic of Photoshop or air brushing, it is quite easy to appear flawless and young. Does what I represent in my stories and how I live my life mean my author photo needs to be au naturel and show that I truly walk my talk?
As a highly visual person, (with a very strong Venus influence in my astrological chart) I openly confess that I love beauty. Youthful, innocent, flawless beauty. Beauty of course is a very subjective topic, yet for me, I sometimes wonder if having been young and beautiful might have been totally wasted on me back when I was. People still tell me I am beautiful. Somehow I hear the subtext “for your age” in the statement, even though it isn’t spoken. I understand that this might seem to be shallow and I confess it might be.
As a wise cousin once said to me “When you grow up as the pretty one, you learn to walk through the world differently than those of us (meaning her) who aren’t as pretty.” I guess that’s true, however, I can’t know her experience, as I haven’t walked in her shoes. Although technically I did, as I had to borrow her shoes to get married in, because my four-inch platform heals were vetoed before the wedding ceremony. Full story in the book.
Not only do I love beauty, but I find thin plus beautiful even more attractive. Coming from a family who are generally plump or zaftig, I figured out a clever (remember I’m smart) way to get thin, by creating a very mysterious gastrointestinal illness that led to me malabsorbing mostly everything I ate (sometimes up to 4000 calories a day), resulting in me becoming painfully thin. I write about all this in my book, exposing myself in a very raw and vulnerable way, in hopes that it might be of some help to others. I even include a picture of me at 89 pounds looking like a walking skeleton, when my health was so bad that people didn’t think I would make it. But I did. In my case, pictures have always been worth way more than the proverbial thousand words.
Having spent almost an entire decade at an abnormally and unhealthy low weight, I have no idea what I would have aged like, as I moved into middle-age. My fall was so dramatic, that I had truly all but lost hope of ever looking “pretty” again or even getting above 95 pounds. I did emerge after a very long and arduous climb back. Maybe that is partly why this issue is so emotionally charged for me.
Even after all I’ve been through in my life, when the photographer asked if I was nervous about the shoot, I had to admit that the idea of having a new picture taken still surprisingly excites me. After all, I’ve had men become totally enamored with me (before even meeting me) just from my picture, intrigued by my eyes and smile and hopefully, the way I express myself. These might not be the “smart” men that are still out there.
So this middle-aged hippie took the plunge and had a photo shoot done. I’m ecstatic to report that it turned out wonderfully. We left most of the lines in my lower face and around my eyes, but not all of them. Some of the pictures are still pretty scary to me, however, and I won’t make those public. Many are exceptional. When I posted one of these new pictures on Facebook, the comments were incredible. Gorgeous. Beautiful. Radiant. Captured your shining inner spirit. One person asked how long ago the picture had been taken? Three days ago. They thought it was from when I was much younger. Hmm.
I’m still working on accepting the beauty I’ve grown into at this current age. I understand that, especially in North America, we have set warped and unattainable standards because of our obsession with youthful beauty. Times are changing. They have to, if we want to encourage young women to love and accept themselves as they are, so they are equipped to reach their full potential. It is imperative to foster their self-esteem, so they don’t diminish themselves by attempting to be something that is unrealistic and unobtainable for most.
I’d like to be someone who sets an example of what is possible relating to aging. It felt wonderful when a young thirty-year-old friend commented that when she clicked on my new picture online, she was delighted to see I wasn’t trying to look like a 40 or 50-something line-free, flawlessly Photoshopped woman. That I look beautiful and still represent my older age. A great affirmation for me.
Beauty is still an incredibly sensitive subject for me. I know that true beauty does come from inside. It radiates out from the soul. Hopefully my life experiences are shining through and I can continue to contribute to this ongoing conversation about aging gracefully, especially in a time when women feel compelled to have all kinds of “work” done to their faces in an effort to look young. Much of the time, ending up not even looking like who they are, but some fake virtually unrecognizable version of themselves. Each to their own. My vote goes to real and authentic.
All any of us truly wants is to be seen. So with Mother’s Day approaching, I encourage us all to shift the way we look and “see” the true beauty in everyone — regardless of age.
Love to hear your thoughts on women, aging and beauty.