“Please stop debating about whether or not I aged well. Youth and beauty are not accomplishments, they’re the temporary happy by-products of time and/or DNA. Don’t hold your breath for either.” — Carrie Fisher
It’s a touchy subject for women when you start talking about “aging well”. Even as I’m writing this I’m holding my breath while mentally predicting the reactions of friends and colleagues. They usually fall into one of two camps:
Camp One is comprised of the women who insist there’s nothing wrong with preserving youth and beauty as much as possible for as long as possible. This is the camp that embraces plastic surgery, lipo procedures, Botox, weekly facials, clean eating, cleanses, meditation, and anything else that might prove to fight back the ravages of time.
Camp Two is where the women gather who instead let the gray hairs and the wrinkles loose, proudly displaying their age and daring others to find them unattractive or unworthy. Regaling me with stories of long-ago cultures where the old were revered and wrinkles were a sign of godliness.
And then there’s me…rapidly approaching thirty, and for the first time starting to realize I’m no longer in the “young” category, but I’m not considered “old” either. I’m just solidly an adult, noting a few silver hairs and a few extra marks on my skin from many years of suntans, and trying to figure out which camp I want to live in. I can feel that pressure these days…and how ridiculous is that? How silly is it that I almost preen any time a waiter asks me for my ID, as though validating I’m not “old” yet? Why does it even matter?
There’s no question women feel pressured to fight for preservation of youth and beauty for as long as possible. And I applaud Carrie Fisher (may she rest in peace) for getting out in front of the issue as best she could with her reprisal of Princess Leia in the new Star Wars. Hell, I’d say just reprising the iconic role took a lot of guts, since comparisons to her twenty-one year old self were going to be inevitable.
She said something else I loved during Wishful Drinking, her HBO special based on her one-woman Broadway play. And while I don’t recall it verbatim, it was comedically poking fun at the very real (and unfair) reality that she’d not known when she first donned the now-infamous metal bikini from Return of the Jedi that she’d signed an invisible contract with the public to continue looking like that for the rest of her life. Obviously an impossible task for anyone to pull off…and in Carrie’s case, even more challenging given the legitimate battles she’s fought in her personal life over the years. Everything from Bi-Polar disorder to smoking to weight fluctuations and addiction to prescription medications have left battle scars on her body.
But really…why is that a bad thing? Why is a woman judged when she has the audacity to look her age?
It all boils down to the reality that no matter how far women have come, there’s still an intrinsic pressure from a male-dominated society to look ‘sexy’ and ‘desirable’ at all times…and according to the media, young women with tight bodies are what men find most desirable. We’re basically objectified from the day the X Chromosome is discovered on the ultrasound.
I was lucky enough to not experience it too much growing up; the men in my life treated me as an equal, and as a competitive swimmer I found validation for my accomplishments rather than what my body looked like. But what I didn’t experience growing up, I unfortunately made up for in spades while caught up in the negativity of my abusive relationship. Randall surrounded himself with other women constantly, and never forgot to talk about how attractive he found them. Young women who were barely legal, prancing around in tight little shorts and even tighter crop tops, fully aware of all the salivating males as they shimmied and sashayed their way around the living room.
It was a sobering experience for me…because for the brief period of time where that became my reality, I felt utterly invisible.
Randall talked about other women constantly; this girl’s fat ass that he wanted to squeeze, or the fantasy of how it would feel to enjoy that girl’s tight…ahem. It never ended. And when I’d try and address the issue of how uncomfortable or undesirable it made me feel to have him do that so blatantly in front of me, instead of reassuring me or stopping the behavior, his response would simply be: “Well what do you want me to say? I’m not going to lie…I want to f*ck them. You’ll never be that young again, Meghann…you’ll only get older. You just have to get over it.”
Well, he was an asshole. We’ve established that. And I’m not saying all men are like this, because they’re not. But society as a whole seems to present variations on that message to women of all ages nonetheless. It might be presented differently; a beautifully designed magazine perhaps, or a glamorous actress on the red carpet having her body analyzed by commentators rather than analyzing the roles she’s played. But make no mistake, the message is still the same; and it’s enough to leave scars and insecurities as deep and wide as the Grand Canyon over a woman’s self-esteem.
I know my experience with it was dehumanizing; reducing everything I was down to my age, height, weight, and measurements. It also instilled in me a powerful resentment toward those younger women, even if they hadn’t done anything overtly disrespectful towards me. Instead of feeling a commonality with my fellow females, I felt nothing but mistrust and anger.
In short, it was a highly toxic, unhealthy frame of mind, and I’m grateful to be out of it. But I’ve thought about it a lot since, as I’ve recovered and picked up the pieces of my heart and soul and put it all back together. And the conclusion I’ve come to is simple. Youth and Beauty are both just part of the genetic lottery; you are either born with the “beauty” genes, or you aren’t. Either programmed to lose your hair starting at twenty, or you’re not. Programmed to be short, or programmed to be tall. You are either predisposed to wrinkles and gray hair, or you’re not. (I myself have several strands of brilliantly silver hair starting to appear on my scalp, courtesy of dad’s genes.)
And while I’ll never shame a woman for trying to ‘age gracefully’…I still wish society as a whole allowed women to feel comfortable with the aging process. Because guess what? We all do it eventually.
I wish we as women will finally rise up and take control of how we are portrayed and valued and perceived by our male counterparts. Demand better of them, instead of just giving them a “boys will be boys” pass when there are episodes of chauvinistic asshattery on full display.
Unfortunately we’re not there yet. So until we are, all I can say is try really, really hard not to judge yourself based on your looks or how much attention you get. Instead try to value yourself based on your accomplishments in life. Your education. Your career. The quality of your friends. How you treat others. Surround yourself with people who also appreciate those things in you, and find you beautiful and sexy whether you’re twenty five or fifty five, because of who you are as a person
Accept the following as reality, and get on with your life:
- You’re going to get older. So are we all.
- There will always be women who are perceived as “prettier”; I don’t care what age you are. Don’t begrudge them their genetic winning lottery ticket; they couldn’t help how they were born any more than you could. Don’t covet or resent. Just love yourself, and remember…they may be sick of being seen for only one thing too.
- There will always be ‘younger’ women coming up behind you with ‘fresher’ faces and ‘tighter’ bodies. This has been happening since you turned 19 and had the ‘barely legal’ crowd to compete with. So……let it go. There is nothing for you to keep up with; just appreciate yourself as you are right now, and don’t resent the younger generation for being young. We were all young once.
- The majority of men will probably lust after the aforementioned women from time to time, much to your annoyance. But again…let it go. It is what it is. (And let’s not pretend you didn’t notice that cute lifeguard at the pool either…)
- Ultimately, a good man will lust for five seconds…and then come back to you. He will appreciate all of the qualities that make you YOU…and usually those qualities have nothing to do with your age or your measurements, and everything to do with your mind, your heart, and your personality. Find that man, and love him with all your heart.
Love yourself. That’s ultimately all you can do. And live a life that you’re proud of. If someone makes you feel less than amazing, eject them from your life. They have no place there. And then carry yourself with pride, because you are perfect exactly the way you are.
It’s as simple…and as hard…as that.
Meghann Andreassen is a businesswoman, author, and personal success coach who contributes to this and other blogs on a regular basis. To learn more or to work with her personally, contact her through her website for a free consultation.
**Names and other personal identifying information of some individuals referenced throughout this blog have been changed to protect their identities