“Wrinkles completely disappear with filler. It’s magic!” a mother in my neighborhood group admitted at the playground one afternoon. We gathered around to admire her newly smoothed forehead. I know about exacting gym routines, the pills, or powdery shake additions that replaced meals.
Regularly I heard these mamas refer to themselves as “fat,” or compare arm jiggles. But I’d thought Botox was for movie stars, not the middling-aged, middling-incomed. A jaded feeling crept in as I realized how my neighbor friends earned their “beautiful” labels. Of course, I was also jealous.
I won’t pretend looks don’t matter to me. They definitely do. But I’m not afraid to go my own way – perhaps due to growing up slightly outside the “normal” range – the vegetarian daughter of an Adventist minister in rural Minnesota towns where no one had heard of either.
As a teen in a town of 700, no one spoke of beauty or aging. Adults maintained farms and equipment – lives based on logistics and weather – and frequently slept during church. We girls shopped at the same three stores. Our hair looked similar: curling down backs with sprayed waves over foreheads. We were not allowed makeup, jewelry, nail polish, or skirts above the knee.
I spent at least an hour readying my teenaged self each morning. My looks intersected with other people’s treatment of me, and my dimpled smile paved many paths – as long as I played the part. My father told me I was beautiful, and so did all the men at our church.
It was awkward, falling short of the encouragement I know they intended. Their praise only touched my facade. The boys’ commentary strayed from sports to grades to their farm jobs. But me, I was pretty, and I used that as a door-opener throughout my professional, adult life too.
When gray hairs arrived before I hit 30, I gracelessly yanked them out, blaming my parents for early pigment failure. Both grandmothers dyed their hair, and my mother followed along in her early 50s.
“It looks so fake,” I told Mom, “that grandma’s hair is bright red. Everybody knows it isn’t real.”
My mother’s response: “If it makes her feel better, why do you care ”?
Why do I care? That gave me pause. I was used to noting, and often commenting, on other people’s personal choices. Wasn’t caring part of the social contract? According to popular culture, I’m supposed to try. The sheer volume of shape-shifting clothing, types of makeup for every “issue,” hair removal kits, diets, and body treatments make it obvious that I'm never doing enough. But Grandma was trying too.
Time rolled by, and I spent a little longer in the mirror, trimming, plucking, examining those new lines. On the surface, there’s nothing wrong with that – why shouldn’t we feel pretty? Below, I found a devalued feeling, then a wide chasm of fear over not being seen as pretty anymore.
When I recognized that fear, I understood how little of this charade I was doing for myself. And that’s when I stopped.
I began slowly: just looking into the mirror with kindness. That was a switch from the punishing scrutiny I’d learned on my steady diet of teen magazines that had morphed into adult ones, still concerned with beauty routines, clothing and products to “fix” me. I unsubscribed to those, and to the clothing catalogs, I learned what I liked to wear, and I bought new clothes when I needed them.
Years have passed, and I’m now deep into middle age. My dark auburn hair sparkles with gray. Even the white hairs in my eyebrows catch the light. I’m still so beautiful, even with the lines that show my eyesight isn’t what it used to be and how often my patience wears thin. Deeper still are the smile lines, and that balances the rest. I mostly look happy, like I have lived well.
These days, my morning routine includes a clean face and teeth, ad simple hair that doesn’t deliver a midafternoon headache. I wear mascara if I feel like it, and my daughter often asks to give me a bright eye shadow.
I sometimes say yes – it’s fluorescent, people! – when I can wear it with pride. My wardrobe rotates between simple outlines in colors and soft fabrics that I love to wear, and I can move fluidly in my clothing. Most days I feel happy, comfortable, and confident.
Over time, I’ve found the biggest speed bump to feeling lovely is my mood. I am gentle with myself when I feel ragged. I’ll spend more time on stretches, or gift myself an extra-long walk to clear my head.
Why pretend I’m not changing as my body ages? I live a real, whole life, including the way that I look. The dimpled smile remains. I feel like myself. And I have so much extra time in the morning, it's a glory.
Thanks to Christine Emming from Vibrant Life magazine. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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