12/08/2014 08:06 am ET Updated Feb 07, 2015

Owning Our Beauty On Our Terms And Flipping The Bird

I've had many interesting conversations lately with midlife women about claiming OUR space between attractiveness and authenticity as we age. Intellectually, I understand the paradox of beauty and aging because I was introduced to the beautifying of women at a very young age. I grew up surrounded by QUEENS-beautiful strong women. I mean visibly stunning and smart women.

My mother, her sisters and my grandmothers were all beauties. Our kitchen became the makeshift beauty parlor where my aunts gathered to get their glam on together. We ALL got blessed with big beautiful hair. My youngest aunt, a hairstylist, created lacquered sprayed beehives, immaculate hair color, and glittered 60′s and 70's "doo's" that rivaled runway models. I sat in awe watching as aqua color palettes were applied to lids, and stealth hands created thick winged liner. My mother wore her signature orange Revlon "Queen of Diamonds" lip color perfectly -- every time.

I loved practicing with my coveted AVON lipstick samples perfectly poured into their tiny white cylinders as I wore my grandmothers' party dresses to play dress up. I and my sisters spent our time in the chair, impatiently enduring the painful process of rags twisted tightly into our scalps before bed with the promise of perfect ringlets in the morning. Looking good was important with no apologies made.

Despite all the glamour, I was raised to believe that beauty was a superficial plus, not a road that would get me far. SO, as smart confident successful women, why is it that the first wrinkle, extra 10 pounds or gray hair sends us into an emotional meltdown? The truth is, many of us now in our 40s, 50s, and 60s are preoccupied with thinking about the physical realities that come with aging. We anxiously stare into our mirrors still conflicted and secretly embarrassed that we care.

I confess, I love the idea of growing old by embracing my forehead number 11's and the ocean waves across my forehead. I quickly developed a love/hate relationship with the Botox I had injected into those faint 11's in 2006, and while my developing turkey neck waddle can be affectionately traced back through my maternal genes, like Nora Ephron, I hate it.

I get fleeting comfort from the memes about embracing aging, only to be barraged by the paradox of modern reality telling me not to age, that youthful looks are part of my currency, my power, and more importantly my vitality. I still remember the remark Rush Limbaugh made in reference to Hilary Clinton asking: "Will this country want to actually watch a woman get older before their eyes on a daily basis?" I remember being unmoored as I read it because it caused me to examine my own truth of whether I held the belief that age makes me {women} ugly, worthless and powerless, despite never feeling any of it.

In contrast, I was reminded of my frail mother toward the end of her battle with cancer; she showed such grace and beauty. Even when she could hardly breathe, stand or walk, she wanted to look "presentable". She didn't want anyone to see her in a "state of disarray". I remember the comfort she took her make-up bag and self-care items helping her to look and feel better. Photos of her close to the time of her passing are some of the most beautiful that I cherish.

Too often this internal battle of how we age is waged secretly in isolation. We feel safe openly sharing our concerns about work, relationships, and the kids, yet keeping thoughts about our changing looks hidden from other women. We worry as we witness peers being passed over for younger colleagues, afraid to expose our true feelings about why it happens. We claim ambivalence by quickly dismissing the question of age with a "Who, me? worried about wrinkles?"

I talk about this topic with the women in my work and personal circles; we are open books, admittedly vacillating between...

Aging doesn't matter, "stay true to you". Let your looks take their natural course, so screw the "youth rules" mentality.


Looks do fucking matter in midlife, especially in the professional arena, and we get the message. We must eat well, work out at the gym, keep up with the latest trends and defy aging at whatever the cost, in any way we can. Oh, whatever you choose be sure it looks natural!

We also agree that these ingrained messages create an obstacle course in our path toward feeling and looking good as we age. We fundamentally reject the idea of being solely an object of superficial beauty with our spirits, skills and smarts dismissed; yet we don't want to be regarded as unattractive.

Let's not forget WE are the generation of women who grew up on society's unrealistic recipe for success. We drank that ambitious professional, loyal wife and perfect mother Kool-Aid. For decades we expected -- and were expected -- to have it all and to do it all. For the love of all that is good and holy in this world, our attempts are worth some reward. That long trek of chasing perfection was a hard road; so is it any wonder we are concerned about showing a little wear and tear for all that manic juggling.

Here's the deal! We are buying -- and we have bought into -- the anxiety-fueled cultural and beauty market that requires us to look younger.

The jigs up! {An expression that used to mean "You've been discovered."}

AND..... we're uncomfortable about it......

SO, what DO we want?

Well-meaning memes tell us that "Age is an issue of mind over matter..." Not so fast?

I believe for many women, it's not that simple. We are beautifully complicated, except as long as we are not publicly disclosing how we feel about our aging faces and bodies, as long as we continue to live in our private hell by quieting our emotions for fear of criticism; we make our changing looks a deeper more difficult experience [in midlife] than any societal label ever will. We fear if we promote "au natural" we won't be believed, and we will seem hypocritical; we believe if we are proponents of "getting a little help" we will be automatically shamed as a superficial vain diva.

We have felt damned if we do and damned if we don't.

We all need to accept the reality that our sense of well-being includes the face we present to the world. We need to support one another for our choices and feelings about how we each choose to age. Choice is what I am talking about; supporting our sisters' choices.

Choice negates shame. We are being shamed into silence by our own gender.

Our appearance matters because it is part of the total package in leading happy and productive lives. It also matters because.....

We are smart, independent and courageous women calling the shots on how we choose to age.

Because feeling good in our skin is personal and important to every woman.

Because we recognize that it feels different and looks different to each of us.

SO, globally woman have "bought in" or "sold out" on some level.

Let's just call it and be done with it ladies. Let's flip the contradictory societal messages the proverbial middle finger -- our choices are none of their business.

We are driving the bus on how we choose to think, feel and act about owning our aging.

Owning it means embracing, adorning, embellishing, painting, and even enhancing from a place of love and care. On our terms. We've got this. Thanks anyway!

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

Foods That Make You Look Older