Sometimes when I see myself in the mirror, I think I look better than I did 30 years ago.
I should be embarrassed to admit this. Because we’re not supposed to say anything about our own looks, particularly if it is favorable.
But I’m not talking about beauty as our culture defines it. I’m talking about my own impression of myself and how I feel about the way I look now that I’m in my 70s. In an informal survey of other women my age, I found that they also feel good about, or are at least satisfied with, their own aging appearance.
This flies in the face of all the advertising that encourages women to look, feel and act younger than they are. We’re supposed to adore youth in ways that only competes with our culture’s adoration of slimness. We are prodded to want face lifts and tummy tucks, wrinkle injections, spider vein removal, teeth whitening like George Hamilton’s and a neck like Jane Fonda’s new one.
Maybe we do want these things in moments of negative self-assessment. Or maybe we say we want to look younger because that’s what society has conditioned us to say. We’re expected to be dissatisfied with growing older and to disdain the word “old”. You’re 70 years young!
The point is I’m not young. It’s patronizing when people call me young lady and dismissive when they say, you’re as old as you feel. No, I’m as old as the years I’ve accumulated. I am old like a tree that is old, a building, a piece of art, a musical score, a recipe that was my mother’s, a champagne that is being auctioned.
When I was young, a teenager, I was not happy with the way I looked. My skin broke out, I had braces, I was taller than some of the boys I thought were cute. In my mind, I was a wreck.
I’m not a wreck anymore. I’ve determined this, in part, because what I valued when I was young has changed. I care less about a popular view of attractiveness. I am grateful for a body that has carried me around for a number of years. I think a lot of other women my age feel the same way about themselves.
There is something about an older face that is beautifully accessible. Features are gentler. The aging face invites me in to an elder’s essence, to see what she or he is made of. When I look at my friends, I am privy to years of living that have shaped their equanimity and kindness.
Why would they or I trade this late-stage reveal for a less expansive, less substantive outward appearance? Our culture wants us to measure beauty by youth’s standard, rarely by mature standards.
We need to change this. We need to feel better about our aging selves, especially women, especially older women. Don’t throw me off track with pressure to look younger. Let me be curious about my own aging path and the face and body that go with it.
Seventy is not the new 50. Seventy is the enlightened 70. Just look in the mirror.