Yesterday I talked about our culture’s obsession with youth, and how tricky it is if you actually look too young. Today I’m going to get personal and reveal some rather shameful things about myself and my vanity.
When I was in my teens and twenties, and I would read stories of celebrities getting facelifts and other forms of plastic surgery, I was contemptuous in the extreme. I understood their need to look youthful because of the careers they were in, but at the same time I despised them for giving in to that pressure. To this day, I am not even a little tempted by that particular strategy.
“I don’t want to look younger than I am,” I said over and over to my friends when I was young, “and I don’t want to look older than I am. I just want to look my age. When I’m 40 I hope I look 40, and when I’m 70 I hope I look 70.” I said that with deep conviction and I truly believed it.
The reality is that no one can say when they are 20 what they are going to be like when they are 40. And the situation has become much murkier thanks to advances in cosmetics and other treatments which are now available. When I did actually hit that milestone of my fortieth birthday, I found myself much more troubled and ambivalent than my younger self would have believed.
For starters, what is 40 actually supposed to look like? If there ever was a standard for that, it’s long gone. Many female celebrities could easily pass for 25 at 40. Some of them have been surgically enhanced—and some have not. Some women who won the DNA lottery look truly fabulous at 40, despite not taking any special care of themselves. The young ladies who currently are frustrated about looking “too young” probably will fall into that category. Some go gray early and that makes them look much older even if their faces remain unwrinkled. Some have spent years battling depression, alcoholism, or drugs and their faces show it. Some eat and exercise very wisely and use the most expensive products on their faces to retain their youthful glow. Some have spent decades maintaining their tans and as a result their faces at 40 resemble leather.
So you can see my dilemma. I had always said I wanted to look my age, but what did that mean for me? I most certainly did not want to look like a 40-year-old chain-smoking alcoholic meth addict. I had no hope of looking like a movie star, but I was distressed at the signs of aging I saw and I felt guilty about feeling that way. I began using various products on my face and believed that they did hold back the clock a little bit. Makeup was not part of my arsenal: I was fortunate enough to marry a man who likes my actual face, so I reserve the wearing of makeup for professional events and lately, I do use foundation to cover up my severe rosacea when I know I am going to be photographed. *shudder*
That, of course, is another point. My rosacea has gotten steadily worse over the last ten years or so, despite my best efforts to combat it, and that has added to my dissatisfaction over my aging appearance. I suppose everyone has their bête noire when it comes to their looks, and that is mine. I can’t afford to treat it, but I can’t stand to look at my face, either! It’s not like I want to look younger than I am, exactly. What I want is to look attractive somehow regardless of my age.
And that brings us to the crux of the matter. It was wrong of me to think in terms of looking my age, or younger or older. What matters deep down is being attractive, and by “attractive,” I do not mean beautiful in the classical sense. I mean being the sort of person that others are attracted to. My childhood friend Carol used to describe various people as “nice-looking.” She did not mean she thought they were stunningly beautiful. She meant they looked like they were nice people.
Now I’m not a big fan of the word “nice,” but I do like the sentiment. When I think about what I want to look like, I think about character qualities I long to possess and that I believe would be visible on my countenance. The idealized woman in Proverbs 31 is clothed in “strength and dignity,” and I think that’s a good place to start.
So, rather than looking “pretty,” or “older” or “younger” than I am, or even looking my age, what I really desire is to look strong, dignified, honorable, kind, and compassionate. These qualities are beautiful at any age!
Oh, and if you’re wondering how old I actually look, now that I’m in my 50s? My age, like beauty, seems to be in the eye of the beholder. I have been mistaken both for my daughter’s sister and for my son’s grandmother!
What are your thoughts on this subject? How do you feel about “looking your age,” whatever that may be for you?