I turned forty-one last Friday. It isn’t exactly ancient, but it does seem like only yesterday that forty-one was a lifetime away. My six-and-a-half year-old daughter definitely thinks I’m old. She tells me all the time. Mostly, I just laugh. Sometimes, while I’m standing in front of the bathroom mirror hunting gray hairs with my trusty tweezers, I sigh.
Women say they want to age “gracefully,” as if there was an elegant way to slide down the other side of The Hill. Each of us does her best. We try to maintain our dignity as we go tripping and skidding down, the dirt and gravel slipping out from under our feet, causing us to stumble and grope for something to slow our descent. Some of us grin and bear it, some of us turn to cosmetics or even cosmetic surgery, some of us laugh out loud. As Bette Davis use to say, “Getting old ain’t for sissies.”
She had a point, but the truth is we don’t have any choice in the matter. Ready or not, you will continue to have birthdays, adding years and then decades to your life. At some point, the bloom on the rose will begin to fade. Small changes will appear – a wrinkle here, a gray hair there, thinning hair, brittle nails, a little extra pooch around the middle. You’ll ban bikinis from your wardrobe and then decide that short skirts just aren’t your thing anymore. There will be age spots, jiggly arms, and drooping derrieres. In fact, lots of things will start to head south and require industrial grade support systems.
You may start to question your beauty more frequently. I say “more frequently” because we all – even the most enlightened of us – question our beauty. How can we not when, unless we live under a rock, we are constantly bombarded with images of unattainable perfection created by brands with big advertising budgets and hi-tech software?
How can a woman compete against the big business of beauty and her own inner critic? How can she hold her belief in her own beauty strong and clear in her heart?
I’m no guru. I’m not even a wise woman (yet). But, I’m pretty sure those old clichés hold the answers: true beauty is on the inside, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, beauty is as beauty does, and so on. They may be trite, but they are also true. Think of the women you consider beautiful – not the super models and actresses (we’ve already established that their beauty is a contrivance of Hollywood), but the Real Women in your life. I’m willing to bet you this month’s rent check that your perception of their beauty is directly proportional to how much you admire the other, non-physical traits they possess. Maybe you have a friend who is extremely kind, very funny, or a wonderful artist. Maybe she is an inspired hostess, a tireless volunteer, or bailed you out of a tight spot once. Whatever the case, it is not the arrangement of features on her face or her dress size that you find beautiful. It is her personality and her actions.
Learning to cultivate and appreciate those things in ourselves is the trick to creating and believing in our own ageless beauty. Fitting into a size four is not nearly as important as being able to make someone smile. Having flawless skin is less critical than taking pride and joy in our work. Perfectly manicured nails and chiseled cheekbones are no match for the woman who can heal boo-boos and chase away nightmares.
As I’ve gotten a bit older, life’s lessons have finally started to sink in. I’m still plucking those gray hairs and wedging myself into jeans that are two sizes too small, but I’m starting to figure out that those aren’t the things that make me feel beautiful. I feel beautiful when I am doing work that I love, helping others, or laughing out loud. The moments when I feel most beautiful are the moments when I am not thinking about beauty at all, the moments when I am simply living my life fully with joy and love. In those moments, my beauty is not contained by my skin; it radiates out into the world like the love I feel in my heart.
Though I hope I have my maternal grandmother’s good genes, I’m not that concerned about aging gracefully. I’d rather age passionately. I’d rather have my beauty shine in the smiles I bring to others. After all, physical beauty is only fleeting, but inner beauty continues to grow and deepen each day we are kind to ourselves and others.
Image Credit: bobtravis (http://www.flickr.com/photos/11334344@N00/2282550354/)