How to Find Beauty in Yourself as You Age
My mother was raised to hate herself.
Not so intentionally, but coming of age in an era when figures like Twiggy heralded images of “ideal beauty,” I think it’s safe to say most Boomer women are not well-equipped to harness self-love. Growing up, I heard her complain about her body, which wasn’t sickly thin, and her kinky curly Greek hair, which wasn’t long, blonde and straight.
She spent so many years telling me she was ugly. And as a child who learns first from their parents and then from the world, I believed her.
But when I look at pictures of her when she was my age now, I don’t see what I was told she was when I was a child. I see a beautiful woman with prominent cheekbones, olive skin, an afro of dark tight curls and a figure most women these days would kill for, booty included.
She sees it in those old photos now, too, but mostly she sees how much thinner she used to be compared to now. She has yet to embrace the beauty that she’s become. I suppose self-love is a difficult task for most, especially a female born in the ’50s. Even the most liberal feminist can’t escape the toxicity.
This isn’t a generational hate spew. In the same breath that she told me she was not good enough, she taught me to reach for the stars. So it is from the broken pieces of her I was able to assemble a strong self to love.
It wasn’t always easy. (Who’s loving themselves during puberty, am I right?) And then there are the early signs of aging that give glimpse to the things to come. But here is what I’ve learned.
Stop blindly eating the garbage you’ve been spoon-fed about what is beautiful
Corporations have largely dictated this message, and it’s everywhere. Only recently have we begun to see the different shapes, colors, sizes and textures that can also equal beauty. While it is evolving, beauty is still largely defined as young. And by young, it’s like children are showcasing what we should hope to attain as grown-ass women. One of my best friends growing up modeled as a bride for a magazine when she was (wait for it) 14. She was portraying a role for a woman at least 10 years older. Were the women in their mid-20s already too old to stand in for this image of marriage to a 30-year-old man?
Fresh teenage faces are typically the images we find plastered along the makeup aisle, but last I checked women of all ages use it. It would be nice to see more images of beauty beyond our years to showcase how it can evolve into something different but not inherently worse. Until that message becomes more well-rounded, we must remember that beauty is all around us, and it doesn’t fit neatly into a brand.
And neither do you.
Find something admirable about strangers
You know when you’re 12 and all you want to be is like those cool 16-year-old girls? My response to turning 30 was to continue looking up to those older than me. While my peers were freaking out (why, I’m not sure, because 30 is still young), I decided I wasn’t going to view the inevitable through a fatalistic lens.
So I started a new habit, looking for something beautiful in the older women I saw around me. While she was ringing up my groceries, I noticed the cashier had great bone structure. A woman waiting for her grandchild at my kids’ school had stunning long gray hair. The librarian had the perfect figure for that rockabilly dress.
Noticing these things in others made the picture of aging while retaining beauty attainable and less scary in my mind. The thing about finding beauty in strangers is you end up with the permission to find it in yourself.
For Your Children and Grandchildren
Make zero negative comments about appearances in front of kids
I mean it. None. There is a difference between “that woman was rude to me at the store” and “that woman needs to touch up her roots.” Both have a negative tone, but one teaches kids you were honestly irritated by someone’s behavior, the other teaches them you are chatty about someone’s appearance.
Kids are picking up on what you say and internalizing it in ways you can’t control.
Much like how finding beauty in others gives you the permission to find it in yourself, those who focus on the negative in others are drowning in their own low self-esteem. Let the unrealistic expectations on aging end with your generation before you taint the next one.
Teach them how to find beauty
When reading a picture book or searching images for new hair cuts or watching a video with my kids, I make positive comments about appearances when I have them. I don’t fake it if I don’t mean it. I just find something positive to say about every age, shape, race and style, so they can find beauty in themselves and also in those who look completely different than they do. I will say, “that sweater is not my style, but it looks good on her,” instead of “what an ugly sweater.”
I want to teach my children to realize that beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder and it doesn’t take one form.
For many, the damage has been done. But just know if we cross paths on the street, I am finding something beautiful about you.