There is a moment in every woman’s life when she passes a mirror and doesn’t recognize the person looking back. Maybe it’s too many fine lines, maybe sagging, maybe the midlife pounds have crept up until we can’t ignore them.
What do we do when this happens? Do we run to the nearest salon, surgeon or diet center in a panic? Should we cling as tightly as possible to our youthful looks? Or should we just hang it up – after all, as smart, accomplished women, shouldn’t we be above such things?
Vivian Diller, Ph.D. and Jill Muir Sukenick, Ph.D. know this dilemma from many angles. As models turned psychotherapists, they have physically represented beauty in the media, worked as consultants to the cosmetics industry, and counseled patients transitioning from youth-based careers. Now, with editor Michele Willens, they have written Face It: What Women Really Feel as Their Looks Change.
Face It offers a psychological approach to dealing with the cosmetic aspects of aging: since we cannot stop the clock, racing mindlessly into cosmetic and surgical procedures will not alleviate our anxiety. But by acknowledging the process, and listening to the internal dialogues during this phase in our lives, we can then seek our own responses to aging.
Diller and Sukenick point out that aging in the twenty-first century is more complicated than it used to be. There is a dizzying array of anti-aging tools and technology at our disposal. We are surrounded by images of youthful beauty, and bombarded with accounts of how famous women defy the clock. The dominant message is that looking old is something that can be avoided, that should be avoided. But there are also the messages resulting from our increased opportunities in the world: as our accomplishments increase, shouldn’t we be less superficial? Why does this still bother us?
The short answer is this: we care anyway. This is, in many ways, another adolescence – a time of major growth and huge insecurity. And dealing with the facts openly – not just hiding in embarrassment – is in our best interests. Like adolescents we wear masks to hide our true feelings about our changing looks – our fears about not being young anymore. But as grown women we have the right to listen to the dialogues behind those defenses, and to find our truths – what youthful self we are really losing, and what new self is developing.
Because in the end, aging is not about techniques or technology – it’s about being human. How we care for ourselves as we age will most likely involve pampering and/or procedures. None of these things are, in themselves, right or wrong. But having this conversation about what’s really going on within ourselves will help us recognize what we truly value about our looks and physicality. And it will allow us to take pleasure in ourselves and our appearance, as we choose the most appropriate ways to care for ourselves, at any age.