This article was originally published on Better After 50.
In front of us, piled on a highly glossed wooden table, was an assortment of keys, lipsticks, mascaras, and hand creams. There was one tube of foot cream, two bottles of Advil, one bottle of Excedrin, and assorted prescription drugs. There were tea bags, nail files, perfume, hair brushes, make up, one extra large bobby pin, a dozen hair elastics, pens, several bottles of hand sanitizer, packs of gum, credit cards, receipts, tissues, dental picks, cash, coins, reading glasses, barrettes, bandages, and yes, tampons (wishful thinking, perhaps?)
The pile was a social experiment of sorts. While waiting for our salads to arrive, my friends and I agreed to empty out the contents of our purses at a local restaurant. We wanted to see what we travelled with every day.
When a tennis ball and two golf balls came out of my friend's over-sized bag, I was half expecting that she would next pull out a floor lamp, a la Mary Poppins. "That's Interesting," one of us commented.
"The balls are to exercise my feet for my planta faciatis," she explained, and I had a good laugh, because I'd been there, done that. I was hardly one to pass judgment on the contents of anyone else's handbag. I had four pair of reading glasses in mine.
But I wondered as we sat there, "does what we carry in our purses say anything about where we are in our lives?" Admittedly, we carried a large assortment of beauty, styling and drugs. But as I finished lunch and drove home, all I could think of was a book I had read so many years ago. "The Things They Carried," by Tim O'Brien, is a brilliant novel about the emotional burdens of a Vietnam War platoon, as seen through the things the men in the platoon carried with them.
What we carry at midlife has only a little bit to do with what is in our purses. It is more about what we talked about over lunch. It became clear that we carry a lot more around with us than lipsticks and tennis balls:
We carry laughter. We are itching for that moment where we can let out a great big belly laugh.
We carry a need to be loved; a person to curl up with at night.
We carry a need for good sex... but not every night.
We carry a need for a good night's sleep.
We carry strong shoulders that can be leaned on by our friends.
We carry big egos and big insecurities.
We carry a need to be heard.
We carry a need to read a great book.
We carry a need to nourish our bodies with good healthy food, and then spoil ourselves with chocolate.
We carry the memories and expectations of lost parents, spouses and other loved ones.
We carry the hope that our children will find the right person to love and that someday -- a day not too far away -- they will give us grandchildren.
We carry a desire for a good haircut and an excellent colorist.
We carry the hope that we will have time the time to do the things we really want to do.
We carry willpower.
We carry stability.
We carry empathy.
We carry about 10 pounds more than we would like to carry.
We carry an ability to get things done.
We carry the need to make the world a little bit better.
And for sure, we carry purses that are way too heavy.
After lunch, my friend started to apply the bright orange lipstick she found at the bottom of the bag, but the rest of us nixed it. "Lose that color," we told her, "it's awful."
So I guess we also carry some honesty with us as well, at least when it comes to friends and lipstick colors.
In an attempt to hide or cover up our bodies, especially if we've packed on a few post-menopausal pounds, we end up looking heavier. No matter what our size, a woman over 50 should have the right fit--not tight, but a fit that defines the waist. Best way to do that? Make a great tailor your new best friend.
We live in a world that's constantly shouting in our ears, "Young is better!" ... but don't listen! We've earned every crow's foot we have, and buying into that nonsense is the perfect recipe for a fashion fail. In Barbara Hannah Grufferman's book, "The Best of Everything After 50," she interviewed Diane von Furstenberg, who said the key to looking great is to be comfortable. If you're tugging at your too-short skirt you'll be more focused on covering your thighs than on what you should be engaged in. There are no style rules, but there are definite guidelines, the most important one being this: Just because you're over 50 doesn't mean you have dress like a frump. Update your wardrobe with a few essential basics and build from there.
The majority of American women wear the wrong bra size, and it shows. We just don't take the time to get properly fitted by an expert. The right bra can make all the difference in how your clothes fit, and how you look in them. Make sure to get a few different ones for specific clothes, including one specifically for wearing under a t-shirt or other smooth shirts, and buy them in colors that are close to your own skin color for wearing under white or light-colored tops.
There are no magic amulets for reversing skin damage, but products such as Retin-A are as close as you can get. They work to exfoliate the skin while you sleep, and help build collagen. (Using a retinol product on the skin makes it even more sensitive to the sun, so a product with an SPF of at least 40 is essential).
Women over 50 often try to cover everything up by applying too much concealer, foundation, blush, everything. Foundation should be applied very sparingly, and only then will you be able to see if concealer is even necessary. Keep it light, with pinkish tones for the lips, and rosy for the cheeks. Try a waterproof eyeliner and very lightly follow the last line, top and bottom. A lighter touch is key to a fresh, pretty face.
Using the single process approach to covering gray can create a single block of color, very often either too light or too dark, without any contrast. This can drain the face and be aging. Consider highlights along with your natural color (including the gray), or mixing highlights with the single process.
Diets don't work. Eating, and eating often, does. Diets that focus on a specific category of food (protein, for example) aren't sustainable. Eating small meals consisting of whole grains, lean proteins, dark leafy greens and lots of water go a long way in keeping hunger at bay, and the pounds off.