03/29/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Face It: Those Masks Are Made For Hiding

I'm back! The one who brought you your 'uh-oh moment,' (at least the recognition of it) as the first step on the road to aging wisely. That was followed by listening to our Internal Dialogues and learning to judge ourselves more kindly. Another step in dealing with our changing appearance is confronting the "masks" we employ. Yes, I said employ, not wear. We are not talking about Halloween playthings, nor the new faces cosmetic surgery may offer. Masks in this respect are out-of-character behaviors that are actually protective measures. "These are not voluntary and at times they are not even in our conscious awareness," says Dr. Jill Muir-Sukenick. "They arise out of an emotional need more than a physical one."

As I learned from editing a book with Dr. Muir-Sukenick and another psychologist (both former models to boot), these behaviors may cover a wide swath: becoming obsessed with having another child; entering into a reckless affair with a younger man; sudden shopaholic tendencies; relentless over working at the office, etc. Such actions function to psychologically deny and physically defy aging. And while they may temporarily allow us to hold onto an outdated sense of self, they also keep us stuck and unable to acknowledge our true emotions.

How do you know if you're masking? Ask yourself some pointed questions and hang around for the answers. Are you spending too much time getting involved with and criticizing your children's activities? Are you preoccupied with making social, renovation, or travel plans to keep you from staying still in one place? All of these, it seems, can be disguised expressions of and distractions from what is really bothering you.

"When women recognize that no personal action halts the process of aging, they feel vulnerable and powerless," explains Dr. Vivian Diller. Working on the book, I learned of the therapists' numerous patients who come in with symptoms that may seem distant cousins to the subject of beauty. (And its obvious waning despite all the waxing.) But eventually they admit to some strange behavior. One woman, for example, could not stop marathon training although her physician said it was unwise. "Some actions that appear to help women defy age can actually victimize us instead," adds Dr.Diller. "Working out excessively is a culturally sanctioned and simplistic approach to the complicated issues many women face as their looks change. Too often such compulsive action is directed against a target that is unclear, not to mention endlessly moving."

The key, of course, is to gradually expose the feelings behind our masks, allowing better access to the ambivalence so many of us Boomer Babes are experiencing. As with many corrective actions, it is critical simply to confront the confusion: "Yes I am smart and evolved and successful and fulfilled yada yada yada. But damn it, I don't look as good as I used to. I don't even look as good as I feel!" Once that acknowledgement comes, we are ready for the strategies for dealing with what's under these invisible masks. Stay tuned.

FACE IT: What Women Really Feel As Their Looks Change by Vivian Diller, Ph.D, with Jill Muir-Sukenick, Ph.D. and edited by Michele Willens is a psychological guide to help women deal with the emotions brought on by their changing appearances. As models turned psychotherapists, Diller and Sukenick have had the opportunity to examine the world of beauty from two very different vantage points. This unique perspective helped them develop a six-step program that begins with recognizing "uh-oh" moments that reveal the reality of changing looks, and goes on to identify the masks used to cover deeper issues and define the role beauty plays in a woman's life, and ends with bidding adieu to old definitions of beauty, so women can enjoy their appearance--at any age!

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