Note: Welcome to the ongoing discussion about life after 50. As regular readers of my posts know, I asked people on Facebook, Twitter and in person (imagine that!) to tell me their most top-of-mind questions and concerns about entering this new phase of life. These articles address those questions head on and, hopefully, will help build an even larger audience so that we can all talk together, regularly, about what matters most. Please read, comment, offer your own ideas and views, and keep coming back!
One of the concerns that pops up a lot is that of dealing with (or not dealing with) our changing bodies and faces as we age, and the feeling that we're losing our sexuality and slowly becoming invisible to the world. It came up so much -- especially among those who are trying to reinvent themselves in the work world -- that it clearly had to be addressed and discussed here on The Huffington Post.
Recently, I went to a lecture about women, aging and self-esteem. It was...disconcerting.
The lecturer, a therapist in her mid-50s, deals frequently with women who are unhappy with how they look, and who feel unprepared for the changes that they are seeing as they get older. The lecturer acknowledged that women in their 50s (and over) are in a "beauty bind." In the past, women (like our grandmothers) aged together. The playing field was level. Very few of them had the option to have any kind of plastic surgery (that was the domain of Hollywood movie stars), so they all aged together. Now? We can easily choose between marching forth with a wrinkled brow -- or not. What to do?
Full disclosure: I have nothing against plastic surgery (nor did the lecturer). I'm over 50, and every once in a while I look in the mirror and threaten to get my "eyes done." Then I crack a huge smile and see my hard-earned crow's feet come out around my eyes. I don't want to look younger; I just want to look as good as I can for my age, whatever that age happens to be. And therein lies the crux of the problem, but also the solution.
The problem is when a woman feels that she must look younger to compete for a man, a job, a place in the world without feeling invisible; it's then that she does things that she may not want to do, like plastic surgery. The therapist also pointed out that if a woman feels that she is aging and losing the battle to compete, she can get depressed and engage in unhealthy and counter-productive behaviors like drinking too much, using drugs, and developing eating disorders that are normally associated with much younger women. The statistics were dramatic, and as I walked out of the lecture hall, my body language revealed how I was feeling.
The lecture started me thinking about all the ways the media make us feel like aging is such a horrible thing, and one to be avoided at all costs. Books with titles like "How Not to Look Old" and magazine covers and ads with perfect, young bodies and faces just perpetuate the belief that younger is better. True, it's always been like this, but the means to achieve a more youthful look have never been more accessible than they are now. All you have to do is go to a Botox Party, and voilà, you've turned back the clock (at least for four months).
I decided that this was a kind of wake-up call for all of us, no matter what our ages.
What I mean is this: it's time to re-frame how we look at how we look. We can't look 20 when we're 40, and we can't look 30 when we're 50. It simply isn't possible. And, if "looking younger" is your goal, then you may be in for a lot of heartache.
I'm not saying to give up and give in. Far from it! Nor am I telling women to forgo having plastic surgery or other kinds of procedures. What I am saying is this: before you start to think about trying to make yourself look younger, ask yourself first whether you've taken the steps to make yourself be the most healthy, fit and engaged at whatever age you are.
If this is seriously on your mind, take a look at this list, and ask yourself this question:
"Before I do that, have I done this?"
When I turned 50, I stepped back and assessed every part of my life, and I saw that I was heading in the wrong direction. The post-menopausal weight was piling on, my muscle tone was gone, and I was starting to look, for lack of a better word, frumpy. Not wanting to continue along that path, I put myself on simple, uncomplicated programs (including what's listed above), which helped me lose the weight, get strong and lean, improve my skin and "fight the frump."
When I give talks around the country, the audience often asks about my arms. Why? Because at the age of 53, my arms have never looked as good as they do right now -- not even when I was 20 or 30 -- and I'm not afraid to show them off. A few short years ago I completely understood why women were getting liposuction to deal with their "bat wing arms." But now I wonder whether they had first tried incorporating 20 push-ups a day into their daily routines. That's what I do, and it works.
The real message, from one "woman over 50" to another, is this: Embrace, engage, take control, and live your life. Take care of your body, exercise your mind, be a part of the world, stay connected with people who are supportive, and you'll discover a secret that many women over 50 who are doing these things already know: if you feel good, you look good. And if you feel and look good, age will be the furthest thing from your mind.
Please post your comments here, and tell me your views. Let's keep the discussion going. Stay tuned for more posts about life after 50. If you're on Facebook, please "friend" me, and let's stay connected on Twitter (@BGrufferman).
Follow Barbara Hannah Grufferman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/BGrufferman