I was so surprised when two friends told me recently they were having “work done” on their faces and bodies. One is having the equivalent of a face-lift and the other, breast reduction and liposuction on her belly. I am trying so hard to be my authentic self as I age, to be proud of being 68, to accept reality and to feel confident there’s more to me than looks. I even titled this column, “Authentic Aging”!
So I decided to do some thinking and questioning before I just reacted so strongly; something I’m practicing more and more as I age. Who am I to judge someone else’s decisions about their own lives? Maybe there’s more to this than my surface and instantaneous response, as there usually is.
The face-lift woman talked about feeling good about herself: her face is connected to how she feels, and she wants it to match her young spirit; she was once very beautiful (I think she still is), and it’s difficult for her to lose her looks; she wants to look rested and fresh; she wants to be able to feel good when she walks by a mirror. She has reservations though, and thinks she “should” love herself as she is. Things are not always black or white; life is complicated. She is trying to be aware and accept all of it – the dark and the light – her conscience and her personal expression.
The other woman talked about all her life people noticing her large breasts first and how distracting that has been. Finally, she did something about it and is thrilled to not have to carry around that burden anymore. The liposuction was a “jump start” to losing the rest of the weight she has as her goal. “Why not look as good as I can?” she quips.
Other women I talked with asked “Why try to change your age?” and “What’s wrong with looking 65 or 70 or 75 and beyond?”, “If I had the money to have cosmetic surgery, I would spend it instead on other health regimes such as a leg-strengthening machine, massages and acupuncture.” So interesting!
I have my hair cut regularly, wear clean clothes and work out to stay in shape. I think I have reached a time in my life when the attempt to look gorgeous requires an effort greater than any results it can possibly produce. It makes more sense to feel comfortable.
Many women color their hair, buy and wear fashionable clothes and use makeup. What is the line we all stop at to stay looking good? It does feel wonderful to know when we look our best – there’s just this special feeling of inner confidence and security.
In the literature I’ve read about this topic, the studies show that modifying our body image does improve the psychology of our well-being. Physical appearance does have an impact on social relationships and is also related to our personalities. Poor body image affects our self-esteem. Feeling good about ourselves, however we do that, affects our sense of belonging. There are both internal and external reasons for altering our appearance, and, of course, the internal reason of pleasing ourselves, rather than others, is more gratifying.
The obsession our society has with achievement, youth and beauty does not help those of us who are aging. Physical beauty is apparently the indicator of social worth, which contrasts with cultures where age is revered and elders are respected.
I feel strongly that beauty is definitely within. These women, and many men, are doing what they need to do to feel that beauty in themselves. We are all somewhere on the spectrum of vanity as we develop into successful aging adults. Whoever wants do to whatever to feel better about this passage deserves kudos.
We are brave explorers in this stage of our lives. We all need to open our hearts and accept each other, support each other and have compassion and gratitude for this journey of aging and change. I honor us all!
Martha McClellan has been a developmental educator in early childhood for 38 years. She has moved her focus now to the other end of life, and has written the book, The Aging Athlete: What We Do to Stay in the Game. Reach her at email@example.com.