I’m Not Sure I’m Aging Gracefully
I quickly took off the pretty aqua strapless dress and stunning earrings that I’d been wearing while running errands. I stuffed them back into my closet and replaced them with more practical clothes.
My husband would be home soon. If he caught me in that outfit, I’d have to face his indifference, or worse, the weird stare he’d give me before he walked away from me.
Over time, I’d become a shell of myself. A mom. A wife. Overlooked for the most part. Neglected. Forgotten. Untouched. Uncomplimented.
I lived that way for a long time. Until my son hit school age. Eventually, I got in better shape and felt like I could buy beautiful things again. But I suppose my husband had gotten used to me looking just sort of…presentable.
He would make comments about the new, more stylish outfits. I grew tired of his remarks so I hid that side from him. Ironically, I’d finally started to find my old self again but I had to tamper down my sense of fashion and beauty for the man I married.
There would be no compliments, no touch from him. I knew better than to expect any. And so I put away my nice things, knowing I would repeat these steps the next day while he was at work.
There was no other man. I wasn’t dressing this way for someone else. This was about me finding my long-dormant sense of style and feeling attractive again!
Within a few years, of course, we divorced. I couldn’t live that way anymore.
But even now the concept of beauty, fashion, desire, attraction, and age is tangled up for me. Well, for many women, I presume.
In the wake of Shakira and Jennifer Lopez’s recent Super Bowl performance, I found myself reflecting on my personal beauty icons.
On the one hand, I can’t relate to the life of a superstar. These two women are gorgeous and talented, but so far removed from my reality.
On the other hand, it’s not in my personality to be indifferent about aging.
As the world blew up Twitter for 24 hours, I turned inward and questioned myself. At 48, who do I want to emulate as my personal beauty standard?
There are two women in my life who jumped out at me — Miffy and Kathy. I knew both of these women when they were 50. They represent the two sides of aging that co-exist for me.
One of my childhood neighborhood moms, Miffy, was Miss Florida circa 1970. Back in the 80s and early 90s, she had straight jet black hair with a chic silver streak. Svelte and tall she could pull off the loose 80s look with panache.
She remains the epitome of the gracious southern woman who was a staple of my childhood. She can talk about wide-ranging topics like history, politics, art, and travel, whip up a cake, identify varieties of camellias, entertain all sorts of people, and look effortlessly put-together.
I’ll never forget one humid summer day when I was 17. I had been trying out some new hairstyles and gathered up the courage to walk over to her house to see if her son or daughter was home. Miffy answered the door. The kids were out, but as I turned to walk away, she complimented my hair.
A throwaway comment from a previous Miss Florida meant the world to my shy self! Though I can’t remember her specific words, all these decades later I still remember the sentiment and how it made me feel. What a gift!
Miffy’s in her 70s now. She’s a beautiful grandma! Her hair is shorter and grey, but her light blue eyes still twinkle. She takes care of herself, but there’s no Botox or fillers or surgeries for her. I’d be very surprised if she’s had chemical peels or laser treatments.
Her beauty products are the Florida sunshine, growing veggies and plants in the soil, good books, and her friends and family.
I met Kathy by accident after going through two or three estheticians when I first moved to Austin. Once I found her, though, I knew I’d struck gold. I saw her faithfully once a month for 15 years.
Kathy is ageless. I’m pretty sure she’s in her 60s now, but she has always looked about 15 years younger than her chronological age.
She is petite with big dark eyes and thick black hair. She has a naturally calming presence and is one of the most generous people I know. She always compliments my latest outfit or new jewelry. She makes me feel beautiful and seen!
When I was so lonely in my marriage, Kathy touched my hair and my face during my facials. She was the one to massage my neglected shoulders and back.
She has brightened my skin and kept me feeling pretty for 15 years!
Over the years, she has admitted that Botox and fillers can be done tastefully. Peels, serums, acids. None of these were taboo. She didn’t lie or hide the truth about new beauty treatments.
But she has also shared with me her concerns about some of her clients who have done too many treatments, distorting who they are.
I acknowledge that the pendulum can swing too far. I would not want to be unrecognizable. It makes me sad to see people who have been so injected and cut up that they no longer look like themselves.
To me, Miffy is truly embracing aging. She’s living her life and taking care of herself, but not caught up in the beauty mill.
I admire her so much! (It doesn’t hurt that she’s got some great DNA, of course. Not everyone can age so beautifully.)
Like Miffy, I’m going to appreciate art and music and nature, keep taking walks, hanging out with my friends, and enjoying great food!
But I also subscribe to Kathy’s approach to aging. I’m going to continue getting facials, laser treatments, and Botox plus follow my beauty regimen.
My father almost died of skin cancer before I was even two, so I used sunscreen my whole life. My beloved grandmother lived with us while she was dying of lung cancer when I was six, so I never touched a cigarette.
That’s the trade-off: the main reason my skin is in pretty good shape in my late 40s is because I lived my whole life knowing the realities of cancer.
I exercise. I drink too much Cherry Coke and have a sweet tooth, but I eat pretty healthy otherwise. I don’t drink alcohol and never smoke. I don’t overcommit myself. I say no. I take naps. I do new things. I travel — sometimes solo since I always seem to be single!
I don’t want to tell anyone the right way to age. It’s a personal decision.
But I know I’m not the only one who is grateful for peels, lasers, and other treatments. I know I’m not the only one who wears hot pink or cool boots or bold earrings or flowy maxi dresses. And I know I’m not the only one who prefers dating younger guys.
I feel blessed to live at a time where there are so many options for me to look like, well, me. The, ahem, refreshed version of me.
I’m not trying to be 25 again. But I don’t have to throw in the towel either. I don’t want to look like someone else. I just want to look in the mirror and feel like I’m looking back at me.
I don’t love the extra pounds I’ve gained in the past year due to perimenopause, but I do like being a C-cup for the first time in my life. Woohoo!
Look, I’m not going to strut on stage in a costume. I’ll leave that to the popstars! But I’m not going to embrace every wrinkle and extra pound and each grey either.
I see my flaws. I tweak the ones that I can and I try to smirk at the rest of getting older.
I’m not even sure what aging gracefully means anymore. I could see how someone might say I’m fighting aging.
But honestly? I feel like I’ve got a pretty great balance in my life right now. I think Miffy AND Kathy have it right. I’m creating my own beauty standard that combines both of these special women!
Just yesterday a man made a point of telling me how beautiful I was.
He wasn’t hitting on me. He had an infant and was at the grocery store. He told me that he’d seen me from afar when I walked in and was struck by how pretty I was. He kept a safe distance, shared the compliment, and let me continue on my way. I thanked him and beamed.
I was mostly invisible as a child and teen. I was invisible for the bulk of my marriage. Given my small chest, I’m still invisible to a lot of men (which is challenging when you’re trying to date but makes life in general easier).
For decades I felt like I was in the shadows. Part of that time I was happy to be there due to my introverted nature and shyness. But part of that time was sad and lonely.
I could have never guessed that the sense of color, art, and fashion that I’d innately embraced as a teen would find its way back to me again in my 40s. For most of my 30s I lost that part of myself. I suppose that’s why I’m even more grateful to have found it once more.
I like being seen and acknowledged. My self-esteem is fine, thank you very much. (Granted, I was in therapy for several years coming off of my marriage to address my self-esteem issues. I’ve had to work to get to this place.)
I already unapologetically wear ridiculous caftans, bright colors, and cool black ensembles. I plan to keep wearing them. And I’m going to get whatever damn treatments I want, too.
I’m not sure what to call the way I’m approaching aging. It combines effort, modern technology, self-acceptance, and a sense of humor. I can say I’m doing it on my own terms. And it feels pretty darn good.
Author’s note: I’m fortunate to have good health (knock on wood), the disposable income to afford these treatments, and to live in an era where options are available. I was reluctant to write this story because I know that I’m lucky in so many ways and that so many have their own struggles, issues, and realities. This is merely my story. Nothing more, nothing less.