Almost three weeks ago, I turned fifty-five. Yes, the “double nickel” or “the speed limit,” as I’ve heard it referred to colloquially. The cute nicknames don’t really help to ease the blow of my reaching this milestone, though. I know that age is just a number and I shouldn’t really care what the calendar says, but I have to be honest and say that it does matter to me.
I’ve been ruminating a lot about my milestone birthday and what it means to me. Because I know I’m not alone in what I’m experiencing related to aging, I’ve decided to share my sentiments on the blog. I have a lot to say about this topic, so I’m going to split my musings into two parts. Today’s post is about the physical manifestations of aging and how I’m struggling to make peace with looking older. In a later essay, I’ll address some deeper considerations, including mindset, regrets, complacency, and “letting the old woman in” (or not).
I’m sure I’ll continue to write about the aging process in future posts, as it’s an important component of the “myself” area of My Wardrobe, Myself. I plan to sprinkle such writings in from time to time among the wardrobe-related posts that are the main focus of this blog.
On Looking Older…
Of the struggles I’m experiencing around getting older, the one that’s most often top of mind is the way I look. My appearance has been a major source of concern for as long as I can remember. I know I shouldn’t place such primary importance on something that’s just “skin-deep,” but I’ve done so ever since my pre-teen years. I’ve always attached a big chunk of my self-worth to my appearance, and old habits are hard to break.
Although I’ve long been insecure about how I look, it’s become increasingly difficult since going through menopause five years ago. I’m having a hard time not ruminating on the changes that have taken place in my physical being. Sometimes I look in the mirror and don’t even recognize the older woman reflected back to me. In my heart, I still feel around age thirty-five, so it’s disheartening to realize the sharp disconnect between that inner sense and the external reality.
I still want to look good. I haven’t had a magical epiphany that’s made me feel okay about gaining wrinkles and losing muscle tone. I’ve managed to embrace my gray hair, at least to some extent, but I pretty much went kicking and screaming into that transition, which made the whole thing that much harder for myself. I don’t necessarily believe that gray hair makes a person look older. I think that’s sort of a societal myth that many people have bought into. I believe that if a woman styles her gray hair nicely and is well-groomed overall, the lack of pigment in her hair won’t automatically make her look like a senior citizen.
In my case, I definitely feel like makeup – especially blush and lipstick – is more important now that I have gray hair, but that’s only because I have so much less contrast in my coloring than I used to. The same situation might also apply to much younger pale-skinned blondes with light eyes or brunettes with dark eyes and dark skin. These women may also feel the need to wear blush, lipstick, and eye makeup to increase the contrast in their coloring. I know I feel like my features all sort of blend together without makeup these days, whereas I never used to feel that way with my dyed auburn hair.
Why is Looking Older So Hard for Me?
I believe that my struggle with the physical manifestations of aging comes down to two main issues, over-identification and societal attitudes and pressures. First, I identify too much with what I look like. For years, I received a lot of attention for my appearance, and I also derived a great deal of my self-esteem from looking a certain way and getting praise from others. I don’t believe it was right or healthy for me to equate my worth with something as superficial as my appearance, but I was socialized to place tremendous value on that facet of my being. Anything that becomes part of our identity or sense of self can be extremely painful to let go of, which is why people often steadfastly hold on to things that aren’t serving them any longer.
When I was in my late forties, I read multiple articles about how women become “invisible” once they reach fifty. I thought it was hogwash at the time, and I still don’t believe that once a woman passes that milestone birthday, people cease to notice her. But I do feel that we become less visible as we age, despite how beautiful we may have been at one time.
My mother-in-law looked like Audrey Hepburn as a young woman, and she turned heads wherever she went. In her sixties, seventies, and eighties, she was still quite attractive, but she was more what might be considered an attractive older woman instead of drop-dead gorgeous at that point. She seemed to have made peace with it somehow, as she wasn’t chasing her youth by way of cosmetic procedures and other means, but I never talked to her about this issue. I wish I had, though, because perhaps she might have shared some insights that could help me navigate my own aging journey.
Attitudes About Aging in the U.S. vs. Europe and Elsewhere
Women in my mother-in-law’s generation didn’t seem to fear aging as much as women in my generation do. Of course, there also weren’t as many options available to them to try to push back the hands of time (or at least the appearance of them) as there are today. So, in some respects, they simply had no choice but to accept the inevitable. My mother-in-law was also European (Dutch), and it seems to me that European cultures revere the older generations far more than we do here in the United States.
Europeans seem to more readily embrace “aging gracefully,” whereas so many American women fight against aging through any method they can afford (of course, there is privilege inherent in the whole anti-aging industry, as many women can’t even go there due to financial constraints). I think the focus on extended family in many cultures, as well as the respect given to one’s elders, likely helps older European women be more at peace with their aging. At least they’re not becoming “invisible” and pushed off to the sidelines of life like what happens to many women over fifty or sixty in the U.S. Perhaps some of my readers from Europe and elsewhere can weigh in on this issue and potential regional differences, as I may have a mistaken or outdated viewpoint.
Body Image Issues
Thus far in this essay, I’ve mostly concentrated on aging related to my face, but I have at least as many issues about my body as I get older, if not more. I mentioned a loss of muscle tone earlier… That’s actually something that came as a big surprise to me. I knew that women often gained weight after menopause, particularly around the midsection, but I wasn’t aware that I’d also experience a dramatic decrease in my muscle tone. I’ve always been someone who exercises most days, including doing regular strength training. I’m not a “gym rat” or a “sporty girl” by any means, but I make a point of being active enough to stay in reasonably good shape.
For most of my adult life, the physical activity I did was usually sufficient to maintain my weight and shape, as long as I didn’t go off the rails with my eating. But after menopause, things shifted fairly rapidly. Without changing my diet or exercise practices in any way, I gradually went up two sizes and also lost the firmness that I was accustomed to having. My thighs grew flabbier, my previously toned arms became loose, and I experienced excess fat around my waist for the first time.
I was able to drop some weight over the past couple of years by increasing my activity and being more careful with my diet (i.e., reduced sugar, fewer snacks, and smaller portion sizes), but I’m still up a size from where I was prior to undergoing “the change.” I’ve also toned up somewhat after stepping up my strength training, but I don’t think I’ll ever be as firm as I was before age fifty no matter what I do.
Two Unpalatable Choices
My larger and looser body feels uncomfortable and unfamiliar to me. It’s been a struggle figuring out how to dress myself in a way that’s both flattering and feels emotionally comfortable. More often than not, I resort to hiding my body rather than showing it off these days. I used to wear more form-fitting garments, at least on my upper half, but now my default is to aim for looser-fitting clothing that glides over lumps and bulges rather than highlighting them.
I know that most people wouldn’t consider me overweight, and I objectively know that I’m not. But I struggled with eating disorders for many years, and I still feel a lot more comfortable and attractive when my weight is lower. However, I don’t want to resort to extreme diets to achieve and maintain my ideal weight, as I went through hell with diet mentality, obsession, and restriction for a large portion of my life. I hate that my choices seem to be either accepting being bigger or reverting back to behavior that I was happy to finally leave behind. Both seem like unhappy options for me.
It may seem on the surface that I’ve accepted my larger body, as I’ve passed on all of my smaller-sized clothing and have a relatively large wardrobe filled with items that fit me now. But I don’t accept the weight gain – and the loss of muscle tone – in my mind and in my heart. I feel self-conscious about my body, which is part of why I rarely post photos of myself these days. I’ve even stopped taking them for the most part because I tend to be too self-critical of what I see. It’s painful to be mean to myself about my age and my body. It’s a longtime bad habit that I’d like to break for the sake of my mental health and inner peace.
Pushing Back Against Societal Influences
Society isn’t kind to women “of a certain age.” There’s a major double-standard related to women and men in middle-age and beyond. Men are often viewed as “distinguished” or “silver foxes,” but there are no such positive terms for women as we get older. Even with the rise of feminism over the course of my lifetime, women are still expected to look youthful by whatever means possible, whereas men are afforded the grace to age in a natural manner.
This is all too evident when we view men and women in the media and Hollywood. How often do we see a woman over fifty doing the evening news? And how many female actresses in that age group are given “meaty” roles, Meryl Streep notwithstanding? Some famous actresses like Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman have had to create their own production companies so they could continue to act in roles other than bit parts as someone’s mother (and Reese is only forty-five!). In contrast, male stars like Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford, and Sylvester Stallone are still headlining action films well into their late-fifties, sixties, and seventies, with their wrinkles on full display!
It’s a strong woman who eschews all of the societal nonsense and bravely owns who she is and how she looks at any age. I wish I could be such a woman, but I’m not. Perhaps the issues that I’ll address in part two of this series will shed some light on why I seem to be struggling so much with aging. Maybe if I felt better about myself and my life, the changes I see in the mirror wouldn’t be so scary and difficult for me to accept.
I don’t know, but I’m having a hard time with it all, and I’m struggling to make peace with where I am at this stage of my life. It seems like just yesterday that I turned fifty – or even forty, but time marches on… I want to experience peace and happiness in this season of life, so I’ll continue to work on accepting what is. But I have to admit that it’s not easy…
Speaking of easy, this wasn’t an easy post for me to write, and it was even harder for me to publish it, but my intent in sharing my thoughts is that maybe those battling with similar issues will feel less alone. If you have insights to share that might help me and others who are struggling with the physical manifestations of aging, please impart your words of wisdom, especially if you’re a bit older and have managed to navigate your way to a place of peace, acceptance, and freedom.
Also, if you identify with what I’ve written in this post, I invite you to weigh in as well. You’re welcome to do so anonymously, if you wish. Thank you for reading and thank you for your support of me, this blog, and your fellow readers.
30 thoughts on “Reflections at Fifty Five: Physical Appearance”
I’m very touched that you took the time to express such deep feelings to us! First, I’ll be 55 in 2 months. There are days when I don’t like my body. A lot of days! But I wear clothing items that skim over my bulges and are very fashionable. I can tell you’re much thinner than I am. I as always a 4 to 6 until my 40’s. I had menopause at 43. Then I as diagnosed with celiac disease. I had to eat gluten-free. As my body healed, I gained 40 pounds! I was sick about it! Soon after, I had a very bad injury that almost made me a quad, but praise the Lord the surgery worked. I’ve been on a walker for many, many years. I have also been on dialysis for 25 years!
In some ways, age doesn’t affect me as it does other women. I guess because I’m so very thankful just to be alive. I live with chronic pain that’s severe, but I still want to live! I never thought I would be here now. What a privilege! I was able to raise our son. He’s married and I have 4 grandchildren! My husband is at home with me so things have worked out for us. He says that I’m to relax and enjoy life and to take care of myself, so that is what I do! I do color my hair and I have always worn a full face of make-up. I love perfume! I love a feminine classic soft style with glamour accessories. This is me! I express who I am by how I dress! I lost the ability to wear heels of any kind nine years (almost ten) years ago! There are some great flats out there, although I’m unable to ear any shoe without a back. Life is good!!
Happy early birthday, Natalie! It sounds like you’ve experienced many difficult challenges over the past decade, but you seem to have a very good attitude about live and aging. You’ve faced your challenges head on and found ways to deal with them and still get on with enjoying life. I appreciate your sharing your experience and perspective with us here. I’m glad your surgery was successful and you’ve been able to raise your son and spend time with your grandchildren. It’s great that you’re still enjoying getting dressed and wearing clothes that you love despite everything. You set a good example for many, I’m sure, both in your life an online. It’s helpful to take a step back and realize the many blessings we have in our lives. I try to do that as much as possible. I don’t always feel the things I expressed here, as we are all a “mixed bag” and have lots of different feelings, but I chose to express the sentiments I did to help those who feel the same feel less alone. I hope it had such an effect… and I hope others read and benefit from your perspective and those of other readers who took the time to comment.
I’m younger than you, but to me, some invisibility has been a huge relief. I always felt too visible, especially to men that had no interest in me as a person, just a body. As I’ve aged I’ve been less judged, good or bad, on my appearance.
The muscle tone bit is most concerning, though I do daily strength training. Is this inevitable for some biological reason, I wonder?
Thank you for taking the time to add this perspective. I can definitely see this point, too, as sometimes attention is not welcomed. As for the loss of muscle tone, I think at least to some degree it’s inevitable. Strength training and eating more protein can help to slow it down (how great that you do DAILY strength training – I think I need to step mine up), but we’re going to experience some of it no matter what 😦
Hello Debbie. I feel sad to read that from you. I am 70 years old, live in France and have read all, really all, your post since “recovering shophaholic”.I would like to hug you and to help you. I am waiting for friends right now but as soon as I have time I will write to you at your mail address (vhitch one?).Please take care and don’t worry.
Thank you for being such a long-term reader, Martine, and for the sentiments you expressed. I see that you came back to comment, so I will respond there, but if you ever want to send me a private message, the best way to do so is via my Contact page.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, I feel what you are going through, you are not alone.
Since I stopped working due to depression and anxiety I don’t like going out, so I’m not getting the exercise I used to and I have put on lots of weight, as I have turned to food to comfort me and I have been emotional eating.
I used to have an hourglass figure but now all my weight has gone on my tummy due to peri-menopause and I am now apple shaped.
Like you, my ego’s self esteem was tied up with my appearance. I used to be admired for my looks and my figure, as society and the media judge success on beauty and thinness.
I used to love shopping as I looked good in most things and I used to get many compliments. I loved having my photo taken and sharing them with friends and family, as they told me how great I looked, which boosted my self esteem.
I hate the way I look now, none of my clothes fit anymore and shopping is a nightmare as I don’t look good in anything. I never have my photo taken anymore as I don’t want anyone to see how I look now.
I went to a dietician and managed to lose some weight whilst seeing her, but the minute I stopped I went back to emotional eating again and put on even more weight.
When I’m moaning about how I look, one thing my husband has said to me over the years is “ Today is the best you are ever going to look, so appreciate it now” and it’s true.
I look back at old photos from other times when I wasn’t happy with how I looked, when I thought I was fat, or I didn’t like my hair or I had found a wrinkle. I can see now how beautiful I looked, how slim I was, yet I couldn’t see it at the time and I had made myself miserable, instead of appreciating what I had.
I am lucky that my husband loves me whatever I look like. The problem is I don’t love myself, so that it what I am working on now.
I know this post is just about appearance, but how you feel about yourself on the inside affects how you view yourself on the outside. If you work on your inner self, you will feel better about your outer self.
I know now that my ego is just my outer self, it is not who I really am, it’s the mask I wear to face the world, to hide my imperfections from others, to present my best self.
I can now recognise when my ego is talking to me, as it is loud, negative and critical and I try not to pay attention to it.
My soul is my inner self, who I really am behind my mask. It’s my true self, it is something we are all born with, it doesn’t change and it will be with us forever.
Our soul is where self-love, self-forgiveness, self-acceptance and self-worth reside and it is only by learning to connect with our soul that we can find these. They come from within us and are not dependent on external things or other people’s opinions or how people treat us, so they can’t be taken away from us.
I knew I needed to work on these areas, but just saying affirmations to myself didn’t work, as I didn’t really believe them. I hadn’t been able to learn self-love, self-acceptance and self-worth, because I had been looking externally for validation, for someone or something to make me feel this way. The truth is they were within me all along, I just had to learn how to listen and connect with my soul.
Intuition is an ability that we are all born with. It is an ability to understand or know something immediately based on our feelings rather than facts. It is the voice of our heart and soul, the voice of truth and love, it is quiet, calm and peaceful. However, it can often get drowned out by our ego’s loud, dominant, critical voice.
The way to connect to our soul is to do something that we enjoy, that relaxes us and helps us to switch off, go with the flow and quiet our ego mind, so that it is easier to listen to our intuition, our “gut” feeling.
When I started listening, my soul told me I was loveable, I didn’t need to be perfect or prove myself to others, I was valuable and good enough just as I was and I was necessary to this life. I could never be worthless, because worth is part of my true self and no one can take that away from me, I just had to start believing in myself.
In the first half of my life I listened to my ego and I focused on my outer self. In the second half of my life I am listening to my soul and focusing on my inner self.
“Create a life that feels good on the inside, not one that just looks good on the outside.” ~ Unknown
I hope some of this helps you or your readers.
Thank you for sharing so openly here, Sally. I know from what you’ve written previously that you understand what I’ve been going through regarding the physical manifestations of aging. Your husband’s statement is very wise! I have often looked at photos when I was younger and slimmer and remembered that I didn’t like the way I looked back then, so the same may very likely be true of my older self looking at 2021 photos of me. I’ve been working on self-acceptance from multiple levels, but it’s been challenging. Getting rid of the clothes that were too small was a big step, as has been dressing in a way that feels good to me with my current body (and having clothes that don’t require that I stay within a very narrow weight range for them to fit). I agree with you that how we feel about ourselves on the INSIDE is of primary importance. The second half of this post will focus more on that… It’s so difficult for me to show the same compassion for myself that I readily offer to others, but I’m working on being less critical towards myself. What you wrote about the ego vs. our soul is powerful. The ego always tells us we’re not good enough or that we have to look a certain way or have high achievements in order to be worthy. It’s exhausting… I’m glad you’re finding your way to a better place now.
Your readers’ responses are wise and show they care about you: that says a great deal about you yourself.
You would not judge another woman by her physical appearance, I am sure, provided she was clean and groomed decently. Well, the reverse is true, too. People are defined by their spirit, their creativity, their humanitarian instincts. Debbie–you are so strong in all of these. Your readers admire you!
From photos, for the record, you look fine. I for one prefer interesting appearances to conforming ones. Admittedly I tend to pre-judge Barbie doll and movie star-looking types in a negative way. I am working on this. It’s what is inside that counts.
This is not intended to minimize the effort many make to look their best or to find clothing a fun hobby. To each her own. Caring, compassion, empathy, intelligence, creativity packaged in a clean and not unpleasant appearance that is consistent with one’s intent and truth: that is what matters to me.
You are respected, well-written, very compassionate and know how to talk about wardrobes. For all this and more, we love you!
I appreciate your kind words, Gail. You’re right that I don’t judge others nearly as harshly as I judge myself. I value all of the characteristics that you mentioned, and I’m working on valuing them more in myself. Yes, it’s what’s inside that counts most. And it’s perfectly fine to love clothes and use them as a means of self-expression. It’s when we judge the way we LOOK in those clothes too harshly that it becomes a problem.
This is a very meaningful essay and it was very courageous and generous of you to publish it for us. Almost every word of it had me saying been there, done that, and I expect that even though we all might have different physical changes, everyone goes through similar emotional challenges. I will probably come back to this post several times because you’ve made me think quite a lot about things I thought I had moved past.
I went through a lengthy perimenopause – about 9 years – and I wish I had documented some of the mental and physical changes so I could piece it together now. I know that at the beginning it seemed like an annoyance with perpetual hot flashes, but my appearance didn’t change much so I was OK with it. About halfway through the hormones really took off – goodbye, estrogen! – and I looked like I had aged about 20 years in a few months. It was horrifying. I was surprised at my response because a) I grew up in a family where appearances were not considered important and to pay much attention to your looks was considered a waste of time, and b) as a young woman I felt way too visible and was terrorized by the attention that my looks received. So it was a bit unexpected to be so upset about physical aging. Anyway one day it just hit me really hard and I sat down and cried for hours. It was real grieving, and after that episode I started to feel much more comfortable with my older self. Of course I still moan a bit about my big belly and varicose veins, my wrinkles and facial hair, but those have become more of an annoyance than a deeply felt tragedy. I’m telling this long drawn out story because I hope for you that you will have that “magical epiphany” in some way, even if it ends up being an active grieving process like I had.
There are two other reasons why I’m generally OK with being old and looking old. One is that as I mentioned above I got way too much attention when I was younger and it contributed to my self esteem issues. Turning “invisible” has been like finally exhaling, an unbelievable relief. The other is that, just like Sally, I often look at old pictures of myself and I see the amazing beauty, at the same time remembering how I felt at the time. There was ALWAYS something wrong with me: legs too skinny, belly too big, hair too flat. I was never happy with my appearance and it’s just laughable to see the pictures now and realize that NONE of those things were wrong. I tell myself I will not continue with this nonsense because when in 2041 I look back at 2021 photos of myself I want to remember being happy.
I believe that women (and many men) will always have these conflicting feelings about their appearance because we are subjected to so many conflicting expectations. I have some thoughts on retraining ourselves in how we respond to these expectations, but I will probably put them in another comment.
Thank you for sharing about your own experience, Katrina. Menopause can be SO challenging. I really had no idea what I was in for! I thought it would be a relief, as I had a lot of issues around my cycles and symptoms, but it was traumatic in many ways. I’m glad you were able to grieve and get to a place of more acceptance with looking older. Perhaps I need to have a really good cry… And maybe one day I will see being more invisible as a blessing. I think I just need to get to a place of less attachment to my appearance. I’ve never fully appreciated the way I look anyway, as I’ve always been prone to find fault. I like the perspective that both you and Sally gave on this issue. I’d be interested in reading your thoughts on retraining ourselves in how we respond to societal expectations, so I hope you come back and say more.
Wow, such a thoughtful and insightful post and so many compassionate, helpful comments already!
To reinforce what others have said, Debbie, your readers (including me) love and admire you not just for your lovely looks, but because you are smart, talented, honest, and kind. I’m lucky enough to have met you in person and can say with conviction that you are a beautiful person inside and out – and I’m a good judge of character 🙂
That said, I can relate to many of your struggles. US society is not forgiving about women’s looks as we get older. For me personally, I grew up in a family where my looks were constantly judged and found wanting. My mother especially was never happy with me: she constantly criticized my hair, didn’t think I wore enough makeup, wouldn’t let me pick out my own clothes, mocked the way I walked, etc. She is 88 and she STILL criticizes my looks. So I responded by trying to focus more on other things, like being successful in my job. Now that I’m in my 60s I find that aging is still sometimes hard because my employer encourages people to retire, even though it’s not required. So I’m having a bit of an identity crisis because even though I look good for my age, I’m definitely senior at work and that’s a mixed thing.
I have decided that the real problem is that I have always been looking for external validation that I’m cute enough or smart enough or productive enough. The key is to accept myself. Or as a friend of mine said recently « I have enough, I do enough, I am enough. » Working on believing that.
I’m so glad I had a chance to meet you, too, Murphy, as you are also a beautiful person inside and out! I’m sorry you also grew up in a family where your looks were criticized. That’s where the stage is set for a potential lifetime of not liking the way we look. Achievement was also highly stressed for me, too, and I feel like I’ve fallen short there. For a while, I felt like I did okay in the looks department, but not so much lately… It’s sad that many employers try to push people to retire before they’re ready. It’s interesting because we currently have a 78 year-old president, so why can’t people in other professions work for as long as they want to and are able? Yes, looking for external validation is a huge problem! If we can come to a place of self-acceptance, we won’t need that so much. I love what your friend said. I hope both of us will be able to believe that soon!
As I have promised to you, I write again.Since your post I thought a lot about you.I would like you to be peaceful.
Of course, I relate to a lot of what you have said (and what your readers have written too).
I am not sure I can help you but I can share my thoughts.
Since retiring about ten years ago, I have lost, by surgery, many teeths. I suffer from hair loss, osteoporosis, etc…Many years ago I have read « Necessary losses » by Judith Viorst. This woman is clever, compassionate and human. Yes, with her, I think growing older is facing a lot of losses. Aging requires grieving as Katrina have written beautifully.
Nowadays my goal is to become older and older with lightness and dignity. Sure we are facing losses, regrets, disappointment,but all we can is enjoying the rest of our life with the best of it. Now I try garments with my skin, eyes closed sometimes, focusing on the softness and lightness of the fabric, the comfort of the fit. Softness, lightness, comfort are what I am craving and pursuing in my wardrobe, but in my life too. I wish you a lot of happiness. Your readers have said beautifully how we appreciate you, how clever your are, how sincere your are. You are a person many women would like as a friend or sister. And do you know what ? You are beautiful inside and outside.
American English is not my native langage. So if I have expressed my thoughts incorrectly, please excuse me. I have a tenderness for you as many readers I suppose. Be quiet.
Thank you for coming back to comment, Martine, and no worries about English not being your native language. You expressed your sentiments beautifully, and I appreciate what you had to say, especially from the perspective of someone who’s a bit older than I am. I’ve heard of the book you mentioned – maybe I should read it… I love what you wrote about growing older with lightness and dignity. What a wonderful way of approaching the aging process. Great idea to try on garments with your eyes closed and focus first on how you FEEL. Thank you for your kind words and wishes. I’m trying my best to take in what everyone is saying here. I wasn’t fishing for compliments with what I wrote, but I certainly appreciate them – and all of you.
Hi Debbie, a belated happy birthday 🙂 As other readers have already said, our appearance is only a part of who we are. I’ve never met you in person, but from everything I’ve read I know you’re so much more than an attractive woman.
I’m a regular reader, but I rarely comment. I read carefully about your experience with menopause and going grey. I’ll turn 41 in about two weeks and trying to understand what awaits me.
I don’t know if you’ve checked your tiroid gland, as an underactive gland can lead to weight gain, feeling cold, sleeping issues, even depression. It’s more common in women, especially “of a certain age”. Don’t get me wrong, I’m only trying to be helpful.
I don’t like watching old photos of myself, as it makes me sad when I see how beautiful I was, yet I never felt like that. Either I was fat, or my skin wasn’t clear, there was always something.
Wish you all the best!
Thank you, Jelena. I actually do suffer from hypothyroid and have been taking medication for it for about four years. It has helped with some of my symptoms, but my weight is still higher than I want it to be. As for trying to understand what awaits you, aging is different for everyone. I know some women who seemed to sail through menopause and are rolling with the changes in how they look, so hopefully that will be true for you. Yes, it’s sad that so many of us don’t seem to appreciate the positives about our appearance. When I look at old photos, I have some of the same types of recollections as you do, but I don’t see the “flaws” now that I saw then. So hopefully we can find a way to better appreciate what we have today in terms of the way we look.
I understand aging and menopause are different for everyone, however, I’m grateful to hear of different experiences people have.
I like to hear other people’s experiences, too. I just didn’t want you to think that you would necessarily be in store for the same types of challenges as I have. Hopefully it will be more smooth sailing for you…
I too have found this post and the various comments very thought provoking. From my side, I find it sad that so many struggle with ageing. Personally, I did not particularly appreciate my youthful looks when I was young, and I do not miss the unwanted attention my youth drew from some men back then. Nowadays, my husband finds me gorgeous (and I him) and that’s enough for me.
And I feel many benefits from being older – I know what I like (personal clothing style, leisure pursuits, ambitions) and don’t worry about what others think I should be wearing, doing in my free time or aiming for in my career. It’s my children’s turn to be young and I try to support them in that. I notice that being young is not always what it’s cracked up to be. The young worry about the opinions of their peers, what paths they should choose, what their future will look like. It’s not easy for them. I remember that it wasn’t for me. Maybe that’s why I feel happy to see a more mature face in my mirror these days 😂.
Perhaps too, my perspective is influenced by other women I see around me. I live in the Netherlands and here, women do not seem unduly concerned with ageing. They keep fit cycling about everywhere, go out with friends, join sports clubs, have careers and enjoy their families. My impression is that the obsession with looking young is a Hollywood thing. I see much written about the outrageous plastic surgeries of 40-something movie stars (usually female but also male, particularly when it comes to hair transplants).
In my opinion, the stars who do not wash up at 40 are the ones who can actually act, the ones who do not just rely on their youth and looks to get them through another rom com. Meryl Streep is a good example. Laurie Metcalf, Samuel L. Jackson, Morgan Freeman etc., and a legion of British actors like Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Patrick Stewart and Sean Connery (I do have a thing for British actors, I guess) are just a few other examples. I find so many older actors who actually look their age are absolutely gorgeous and so much more interesting to watch than unconvincing plastic faces pretending to be young.
P. S. I’m 57 years young.
I love that you said “57 years young,” Sue, and I appreciate your insights, especially since you’re in another country. You’re so right that we’re heavily influenced by the people around us. I agree that Americans tend to be influenced too much by movies and television. Of course, that’s not true for everyone, but a lot of us compare ourselves either to women who are much younger than we are or those in our age group for whom the way they look is their “bread and butter” (although I don’t think it should be that way for actresses). I like the stars that you mentioned and agree that they are interesting to watch.
I like what you wrote about the benefits of aging. I guess I need to focus more on those… I don’t think I’d want to go back to my twenties, and I’ve gained a lot of wisdom over the years for which I’m very grateful. It’s true that we tend to be more in touch with who we are and what we want as we age. I’m still working on not caring so much what other people think of me. I think I’ve made some good strides there over the past couple of years.
Debbie, I am happy that you found my small contribution in any way useful. When it comes to ageing, I try to remember the very old quip about getting older not being so bad – just think of the alternative. Meanwhile, perhaps the best really is to come, at least according to the Kiwis (I loved reading Clint Eastwood’s insight in this Guardian interview): https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2021/aug/04/good-old-days-why-body-confidence-improves-after-60
I actually use that line about “the alternative” often, Sue! I’m very grateful to be alive and I try to keep gratitude for my many blessings top of mind. Hopefully the best IS yet to come! Thanks so much for sharing the article. Interestingly, the concept of not letting the old man (or woman, in our case) will be in part two of my reflections on aging. A friend of my husband’s used that phrase. Maybe he got it from Clint Eastwood (who I didn’t realize was in his nineties now!).
In my eyes, this is definitely all societal. We absorb our standards from the media or from other women who in turn have been influenced by media. Even now when you discover what is meant by looking “better” you discover that this is shorthand for younger, taller, slimmer. And there is an unending supply of advice to help you cheat that.
Most of my life I have been most concerned with being noticed. In my case, I think this comes from a childhood spent watching old movies. So what did I want from being noticed? I wanted romance. I wanted to be pursued and special in someone’s eyes. And I wanted to be grown up. Why? So no one would tell me what to do. What did I want to do? Nothing, really, beyond this. And it took me years to figure out that you could pretty much do what you wanted so long as you didn’t inform your parents and seek their approval. But mind, I was a “good” girl and had no interest in all those activities that I wasn’t supposed to be doing. I had no sense of fun and was a serious child. Looking back, I see that the high school girls who
had boyfriends and were popular were all fun-loving. In those days that meant they were fine with going out drinking and having sex. They were
“natural” in that way and I was always artificial and aloof. There was a girl in my high school who shunned trends, wearing a ponytail when the
rest of us were teasing our hair. She dressed down in a comfortable way but she always had a college boyfriend. She had chosen to drive over
to a nearby college campus to do her homework in their library setting and of course met college guys. And she had a similar disregard for any rules that girls were supposed to follow. She lived her life independently without anyone’s permission or approval.
I grew up right in the heart of Southern California beach culture. When my classmates went on to junior college, they often arranged all their classes in the early morning so they could drive to the beach in the afternoons. And of course I saw plenty of movies where boys and girls met cute on the beach. But when my girlfriend and I plopped down on the beach, no one ever approached us. She was hefty and voluptuous and perhaps I looked like her chaparoning younger sister since I was 4’11’ and weighed less than a hundred pounds. Even the bikinis I wore couldn’t change the fact that
I looked childlike and not “legal”. She wore a one piece dark suit to disguise her weight and possibly if it were she who wore that bikini she would have drawn the attention of whatever boys were around.
So I felt invisible in those years because the ideal seemed to be a very blond, tanned, buxom young woman. I was a honey blond – not blond enough to be noticed – and a size 3 junior petite. And since I longed to be grown up, wore clothes that were too serious and too adult. The antithesis of fun.
My mother made many of my clothes – I had a passion for those Sabrina dresses – and I could sew, also. But in those years I couldn’t buy clothes
in my size where I lived since they began at size 5. It never occurred to either me or my mother that the clothes could be altered down! In fact, I remember that my friend’s older sister took an instant dislike to me when we talked of belts. Perhaps she showed a new one she got. I loved belts
and didn’t own a single one. Where we lived, the smallest size available was 24 inches. Way too big for me. We didn’t own a hole punch and I suppose I never brought it up to my mother, an apple shape who had maybe one tailored belt that came with a dress, so never heard any suggestion of bringing the belt to a shoe repair. And neither did my friend or her older sister mention how I could solve this problem. Instead, I was deemed by the sister to be “bragging” about my small waist. It would never have entered my head to think this was something to brag about.
Since this was the 60s, clothes had gotten boxier – verging toward Mod and chemises, shifts, A-line dresses – so there wasn’t talk about belts and waistlines. There was talk about controlling your appearance for weight. Most girls I knew, including me, heeded the advice to wear panty girdles.
I remember spending my school years in a long line rubberized panty girdle. Because you were supposed to. My measurements were 32 1/2
21 1/2 and 32 1/2. I couldn’t see for myself that the girdle had nothing to control. And dieting. We were always dieting.
Two casual remarks were a watershed for me and changed my perspective on my body – and all bodies – forever. I walked a lot and had strong
muscular thighs with a front bulge. Definitely not the long-legged thigh gap body. My boyfriend told me how sexy he thought my thighs were.
Now, I could’ve just thought he had no aesthetic taste but it made me realize that if one person liked what he wasn’t supposed to appreciate, there were likely many more – a lid for every pot – and that all bodies could be considered attractive, desirable. So I never gave another thought to my
thighs. And the other one was a talk at the junior college by Ray Bradbury. The honors classes at my high school were bused over and while I had read his books I was most interested in getting away from school which, though being a good student, I always hated. Being called on was one kind
of attention I didn’t want so I learned to quickly volunteer answers to take further attention away from me. I no longer have this brand of self-consciousness because I’ve trained myself to not mind looking like a fool and even focus on clownish behavior or remarks, encouraging people to laugh.
We sat outside on bleachers and Bradbury threw in some remarks about models. He said who wants to make love to them with their sharp
elbows poking you. Men want somewhere soft to lie on. This was shocking talk to me coming from a grown up and aimed at teenagers.
But even more shocking was that all the males around me guffawed. They agreed! I’m not, of course, lending credence to his
viewpoint that skinny bony women aren’t good bed partners but for me it suddenly exposed a bill of goods I’d swallowed – that I had to be
thinner and thinner in order to be attractive. I felt betrayed by all the magazines aimed at me. Though magazines are in decline, until quite
recently the most popular articles – now click bait – were about weight loss. I remember, as a grown woman, enjoying a magazine called More,
that was pointedly not about weight loss. It didn’t succeed.
In my twenties, my boyfriend and I were visiting a lifelong friend of his whose family company was a worldwide manufacturer of undergarments.
I had wholeheartedly embraced the no-bra look since my breasts were wide and flat and I teased him about the effects of this trend on his
business. He told me they didn’t care since they had convinced women they needed girdles and those were much more expensive products.
I painfully remembered all those girlhood years encased in girdles. Of course the magazine editorial departments had catered to their advertisers!
I was always fascinated by advertising and marketing but had stopped too short to understand how I myself had been manipulated.
So, aging. I always looked very young for my age, because people repeatedly tell me so. I had a boyfriend who, at 24, was six years younger than me and his family teased him about robbing the cradle. Even today, when I’ve been undergoing a lot of medical tests, I’ve had hospital personnel
argue with each other that the charts must be mixed up because this woman isn’t possibly 73. I do, though, have a significant loss of skin tone. I didn’t have that until a couple years ago when I tried the Fodmap diet to give my gut a rest. I was aware many people have lost weight on it but
that wasn’t my aim. I did, though, lose 19 pounds and was shocked that the skin on my arms and legs looked crepey. The diet was boring enough
that I went off it and gained back about 10 pounds, since lost plus more, owing to a low carb diet change. Gaining back those ten pounds did absolutely nothing for my skin tone. And so I definitely felt old. As in the discussion about how men can look weatherbeaten and be considered
romantic leads I think the same is true for a weatherbeaten older woman. Only that isn’t my persona.
I still don’t feel invisible, though. It’s owing to taking control of my appearance throughout my life and eventually focusing on more vivid clothing.
I don’t mean that I’m Iris Apfel but that I choose clothing that is interesting and visible in some way, even if it were monochromatic. If I’m wearing
all beige or camel, I think of it in my mind as resembling something delicious like creme brulee.
I visited relatives back East when I was a teenager, suddenly I *was* noticed because I *was* blonde in that locale. Plus, one evening my
cousin and I went into Manhattan and he observed that everyone was looking at me. I was startled because I had been oblivious. I feared I
was doing something “wrong”. He offered that they weren’t used to seeing anyone dressed like me. I was wearing a hot pink winter coat – my first such purchase since I realized coats didn’t have to be earnest and drab.
Thanks so much for sharing your insights and experiences, Vildy. It’s interesting that some things have changed a lot over the years, while others have stayed much the same (like the emphasis on appearance and “beauty,” although the way it’s defined has shifted). I love the stories you shared about changing your perspective on your body and others’ bodies. The “lid for every pot” concept is something I’ve heard before, but it’s good to be reminded that there is no one definition of beauty, sexiness, or whatever. I used to love More Magazine, too, and was sad when it went out of business. I don’t read magazines much anymore, as the articles seem to be very much the same and I’ve been there, done that many times. Even since you’ve been commenting here, I’ve been very curious about your wardrobe, as it sounds both stylish and individual. I share your love of vivid clothing and also have a hot pink coat 🙂
I also want to question what exactly are the benefits of looking young for your age. I’ve had women exclaim in hushed tones when learning my age, “You don’t look it.” It causes me to wonder what good it does someone. Possibly better for job-seeking where people may have a bias against older workers. But what else? A bit less likely to be dismissed as living in the past and not able to get up to speed with current life. That one could be dismissed on the basis of actual conversation.
So, recently I was diagnosed with galloping breast cancer. I told the breast surgeon and the young female doctor who was shadowing him that there are two widespread myths. One was that breast feeding protected you. A nurse told me about a meme they were all sending around to each other,
a photo of a half naked Barbie doll on the floor on her side with the caption about trying to avoid breast cancer. The other myth was that looking really young for your age meant that you were very healthy. Both the doctors shook their heads. I’ve had a dizzying number of scans and blood panels and
I’m hear to say that I do seem to be incredibly healthy and yet I’m waiting now to hear about the bone marrow biopsy pathology results that may doom me to an incurable disease. So what does looking very young do for me, or anyone?
Vildy, your comment here really touched a chord with me. Thank you for sharing your perspective and experience. What does looking young (or tall or thin or whatever) do for us, indeed. I wish the best for you!
Like Sally, this comment touched a chord with me, too. I can only imagine how hard it much be to get such a difficult diagnosis. I really hope your biopsy results will be favorable and you will be able to recover – and soon. What you said made me think about what truly matters in life, and it’s not how young or thin we look. The health of our bodies is much more important than the way they look. I’ll be keeping you in my thoughts and wishing you well.
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