In Defence of Aging

Recently, I made my husband promise that he would support my effort to embrace a natural aging process rather than spending the rest of my life trying to look younger. He squeezed my hand and agreed that he would.

There is a lot of scientific evidence that there are in fact universally-recognized attributes that are seen to be more beautiful. One of these is a “youthful” appearance, probably to do with instinctive calculations for mating.

However, there is also evidence suggesting that our tenets of beauty are socially constructed ideals. It also seems to me like the greater availability of anti-aging procedures and products is making us even more youth-obsessed. Now, because you can erase wrinkles, lift the skin around your eyes, and redesign your jawline or cheekbones, we see fewer naturally-aged faces around us.

I realized this when I was watching Crocodile Dundee recently. Generally, it still holds up. Classic, fun film. However, during the scene of the posh party in NYC, aside from the fantastic 80s touchpoints–shoulder pads, big hair, doing lines of coke–something felt different about how everyone looked. It took a few minutes, but as I watched Linda Kozlowski’s Sue laugh at Crocodile Dundee’s foibles, I realized it wasn’t just the poor video quality or cheesy dance moves. Her teeth were yellow. Yellow! They sort of blended in with the rest of her face, instead of shining impossibly as if all of the surrounding light had been sucked into her mouth. This was jarring, because today we see teeth that are so artificially, blinding, blue-tinted white that they are literally ALL you can look at.

It’s a shame to try to hold onto how you look at a particular age. Many techniques that attempt to prolong youth end up making the bearer look strange. Faces that are pinched and tight–incompatible with the rest of the body, its movement, the sound of its voice. A flat and common hair colour that doesn’t match the eyebrows and is betrayed by drastically different roots. The overall effect looks disjointed.

It’s a shame to turn away from all signs of aging as not beautiful. We appreciate intellectual and spiritual change and maturation; why not physical? There are features of an aged face and body that are not possible to have when young. Just look at a young person who’s tried to die her hair silver–it doesn’t fit. Sometimes people ask of married couples–isn’t it depressing to think you’ll be with the same person forever? But of course, you’re not with the same person forever! Change is supposed to happen. There’s excitement in that, if we let ourselves appreciate it.

The lines around the eyes and the mouth are said to add character. I think they literally show character. They become outward markers of what’s within–a quickness to laugh, a propensity to worry, a pensive nature, lightness of spirit. As you (hopefully) become more comfortable with the person you are, it becomes easier for others to ascertain that as well. What a time-saver!

{Lauren Hutton is one of my graceful aging icons!}

Accepting aging doesn’t mean that you have to give up entirely. While I am determined to embrace the changes that are inevitable and to not fight them, I still take measures to age as gracefully as possible. I wear sunscreen, sunglasses, and hats; I stay as active as time and toddlers will permit; I try to eat well and take care of my skin–I wash my face religiously at night and moisturize.

I know that I will struggle with the continuing changes in my face and body, especially as they become more dramatic. I suppose this is why I asked my husband for support, and why I hope others will embrace their natural aging process, too.

***

I seem to be on a kick about ideals of beauty lately. I’m sure it has to do with having a kid, realizing that I’m getting older, and seeing my body change. But perhaps I’m starting to build some defences against the impending onslaught of information that’s going to tell me I’m not looking as I should want to look.

In all of these beauty discussions, it seems it’s artifice that I have a problem with. Attempting to recreate your face, assume a different age, ignore the changes your body goes through when you have children–how sad to think that we can’t wear the truth of our life experiences with confidence and authenticity!

But this is something we can change, to become more accepting and expand our idea of beauty beyond the slim and very young-looking margins being set and perpetuated by the media and our minds.

How do you feel about aging? Do you struggle with the physical changes of getting older, or do you embrace them?

{Featured image credit:  “Old Woman” by Petr and Bara Ruzicka on Flickr}

 

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16 responses to “In Defence of Aging

  1. I am very happy to grow old with grace and dignity. I go to the gym regularly so that I can maintain my core strength and flexibility into old age and I try to keep my brain ticking over but that’s about all I do as far as aging goes. And most importantly, growing older is far better than the alternative!

    • Definitely! Yeah, they say core and leg strength is one of the most important indicators of how mobile we will be into old age. I think having one eye on the future is great motivation for taking care of ourselves now.

      Thanks for sharing!

  2. Beautiful post, Jean! Thank you for writing this. This is also something that I have started thinking about as the early grey hairs that I inherit from my mom have begun to make their appearance in not so small numbers. I also noticed crinkle lines around my eyes in a picture I took with my son the other day. Like my mom, I am determined to age as gracefully and naturally as possible but the pull to try to hide certain features is strong sometimes. When I feel that pull, I think of how I want my son to understand that beauty is more than what we see in magazines and movies. I also don’t want him to fear ageing, as so many good things come from it.

    I agree that our perception of beauty is so narrow now. I definitely see a peaceful and pure kind of beauty in people who age naturally, as though they just have one less thing to worry about so they can focus their attention on more important things, like deepening those smile lines! One of the most beautiful things I have ever seen was at the Veterans Hospital in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue. They had a display of photographs of many of the veterans they cared for. Every single one of them had a beautiful smile on a weathered face that was so full of stories.

    • Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts, Caitlin!

      Yes, worrying about what my daughter will absorb from how I treat myself is definitely part of the concern, too. I think how we treat ourselves is one of those things that our kids learn from us in a very unconscious sort of way. Treating ourselves well–taking care, staying healthy, but allowing ourselves to be real–will, I believe, have an important impact on their ability to see the best in themselves and have a healthy self-perception.

      I love the story of the vets’ photos. That sounds lovely!

  3. Excellent post Jean! As a child of the 70’s and 80’s I have seen the attitude shift regarding the aging process. I vividly remember loving the smile lines around your mom’s eyes and hoping that one day I too would have them. To me they were a physical badge of the inner happiness she possessed. I am 46 now. I do not dye my hair, I think the silver actually is becoming! I have had inner struggles with my own aging, but when I allow my heart and head to embrace the present moment, accept and love who I am and where I am right now, that negative inner voice fades. I hoe that when my daughter looks at me she sees my smile lines and hopes she will possess them one day…

    • I think smile lines are fantastic! What’s better than showing everyone how happy and radiant you are?!

      I noticed my own smile lines around my eyes in a recent pic of me with my daughter. I also had that moment of disappointment, until I checked myself. I think it’s very ingrained in us to balk against these things, and we really have to make a conscious effort to embrace rather than resent.

      I love the silver coming through hair. My husband is starting to get some and he’s always freaking out about it, but I constantly tell him how much I love it!

  4. Well said, there is so much pressure on the idea that you are failing as a woman if you allow yourself to look your actual age it’s quite depressing. I like the idea of the characteristics of our own individual aging process being a way to see the character reflected within.

    • Thanks! Ugh, yes, failing as a woman if we look our age. I mean, I didn’t even get into all of the feminist angles on all of this, but it is definitely depressing. I really think we need to broaden our concept of what beautiful is. I feel it’s become so narrow and so impossible to feel beautiful in your natural state. Sad.

  5. I try to embrace them but hate the droopy eyelids. By the way I think some women become more beautiful after they have children. they tend to reach a mature pedestal of beauty.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Yes, like I said, I know that some of the aging process is going to be difficult. Sometimes I see pictures now that totally betray my smile lines and whatnot, and it makes me cringe. I try to remember that I’m going to see these “imperfections” way more than other people–they’ll all be focussed on the smile!

  6. Great post and something that needs to be said more often! These days it seems that the anti-ageing measures start sooner and sooner which is just sad.. I’m with you on the natural anti-ageing measures like avoiding over exposure to the sun, staying active, etc but the rest? I don’t know.. There’s just too many anti-ageing products on the shelves these days each and every one of them promising miracles

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Sally!

      I hear you on the starting early. I’ve seen botox promoted as an anti-aging solution for people in their 20s… basically saying that if you freeze your face now, your limited range of motion in your face muscles will keep you from getting wrinkles. It’s totally insane.

      And definitely, I think just basic, good care is probably enough. I always find it so weird when people are simultaneously going tanning and buying expensive anti-aging creams. Doesn’t make sense. My mom’s skin is fabulous, and she always just used plain old Pond’s. 🙂

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