How Do You Make Peace with Aging Gracefully?

November 30, 2012

We are a society that is obsessed with being young. Our culture revolves around it. The media glorifies it. And, our mirrors reflect it (or not!). And, with each passing day, it seems we become more and more aware of whether we are meeting or falling short of these arbitrary standards.

Whether you are fast approaching 30 or about to cross the 65-year mark doesn’t really matter. The issues change only slightly but the focus is the same – how to maintain a youthful appearance and healthy, energetic attitude. It’s a constant source of conversation among women as we compare notes and recognize body parts that are changing before our eyes. On the surface it’s a good thing. Staying youthful and enjoying life is good. But, the problem arises when we spend an inordinate amount of time assessing how we measure up or trying to hide or ignore the fact that we are getting older.

Hardly a week goes by that I do not have a regular conversation with friends and clients on this topic. Conventional society reveres youth, and the wisdom and natural beauty that come with aging are rarely given the respect they deserve (especially for women). In most of these conversations, the discussion usually comes down to how do you age gracefully. Does it mean accepting without reservation all that comes with getting older? Do you have to buy into the growing market of cosmetic surgeries and additional “beauty” treatments in order to look in the mirror and feel youthful? If not, how do you compete (and by that I mean feel comfortable with who you are) when the standard of youthful aging is constantly been raised?

We have all seen celebrities who have taken their quest for youth to an extreme with a seemingly endless series of cosmetic surgeries that result in a taut, pursed, unnatural look. Some women have gone to the other extreme and relinquish all effort to feel good about how they look because they feel like it’s a losing battle.

Wrinkles, sagging skin, shifting weight and gray hair make us aware of time passing and are seen as unfortunate by-products of getting older. And, guess what! Whether we embrace it or dread it, no amount of lotions, potions, praying, exercise, good genes or plastic surgery can keep it at bay forever. So, for those of us who fall somewhere in the middle, how do we make choices that make us happy? And, most importantly, how do you make peace with the aging process without losing yourself completely as in the extremes above?

Getting Perspective:

When you think back to when you were a child or teenager, what were the older women in your family like? I remember a friend’s mother putting cold cream on her face at night because that was the only “anti-aging” product available. One of my aunts, who looked exactly like the Queen of England for as long as I can remember, wore no makeup, let her hair go gray and adjusted her dress size as her weight shifted. She offered no apologies and had seemingly little or no angst associated with it. Few older women dyed their hair (at least in my town), no one whitened their teeth (was that even invented then?) and if someone had plastic surgery it was very hush-hush and you could barely tell. To be honest, I don’t remember anyone having had it done in my town.

I can’t say all of these women eagerly embraced the aging experience but they certainly were not grasping at youth, and there was no encouragement to do so that I know of. Maybe it was easier then or maybe not. Perhaps they felt discouraged or resigned to wrinkles and sagging skin, but there was not the pressure to do something about it.

Actually, in all my wondering I decided to call my mom and ask her if my memory served me well. She didn’t hesitate a second before sharing that, “In my 30’s and 40’s I didn’t go around with a group that worried about whether our chins sagged. We didn’t talk about getting older. We were a happy group and content with ourselves.”

What a gift! While I’m sure women today can be happy with themselves they are still bucking the current of pressure to address every line and age spot that appears, and the standards are certainly different today than they were 30 or 40 years ago. When you see celebrities who are 60 or 70 looking 40 or 50 (or at least trying to) it’s hard not to consider how we, personally, measure up.

My mom added that, “We weren’t comparing ourselves to each other or to movie stars. It’s not that we didn’t care how we looked. We were all about fashion and loved getting dressed up (we’d each buy 2 dresses before going to a party because we weren’t sure which one we wanted to wear) and loved having our hair done. But, we didn’t notice wrinkles even when they came, and we didn’t feel old. There wasn’t the pressure there is today to have everything fixed.”

As we talked I found myself wishing that we could turn back the clock. These days it seems we have to make a conscious decision to be okay with how we look rather than have it just be a non-issue. And, it would be nice to have the playing field leveled again. Right now, there’s an unattainable standard of beauty for women over age 50 (and often much younger) that bears no resemblance to how we age naturally. So, even if you’ve taken good care of yourself all of your life you cannot compete with women who are having multiple treatments done. So, what do you do?

If you take my mom’s advice, she’ll tell you to “go with the flow and you’ll have fewer worries and won’t wrinkle so fast.” There’s definitely truth to that statement. But, what do you do when you’re already worried and wondering how to keep up?

Tips for Embracing the Aging Process

Since we can’t turn back the clock to a time when there was less focus on not aging, and we can’t erase the awareness from our consciousness, here are a few tips I use to keep me feeling good most of the time.

  1. Don’t worry…be happy – Okay, so it sounds silly but I’ve watched friends age before my eyes when they’ve been under an inordinate amount of stress. Stress causes blood flow to your skin to be restricted, it makes you frown more and it can cause inflammation. None of this makes you feel beautiful or relaxed. And, over time, these internal stress responses will have long-term negative impact on your skin and your entire body. Regular meditation, exercise, fun distractions or positive affirmations can all contribute to a happier feeling and positive energy. Yes, it takes effort and focus to move away from stressful situations but the results are worth it in the end on many levels.
  2. Focus on your health – Take it from someone who knows. When you don’t feel well you don’t feel happy or beautiful. Protect your health. Eat well, avoid toxins, exercise, sleep and play. While it’s not always easy to do these things, the effects of uncontrolled stress, are not fun or pretty.
  3. Banish your magnifying mirrors – I understand that sometimes they are necessary for applying eye makeup but if so, stick to that and then put them away. Don’t spend time examining and critiquing your face through a 5- or 10-magnitude mirror. Yikes! Everyone on the planet can find something to obsess about in one of those. And, while we’re on the topic of mirrors, try to avoid mirrors that have overhead lighting. They make everyone look tired and old.
  4. Always wear your best colors – This one probably should be first! In fact, during my conversation with my mom and without any prompting from me, she told a story about a friend who is now in her mid-80’s. Every time she sees this woman she is dressed nicely and is wearing beautiful colors that make her glow. This is true at any age and even more important as we get older. Sure, you might have to hold out a bit to find your best colors in the stores, but it’s worth the wait to look radiant and beautiful all of your life. (And, your colors do not stay the same throughout your life. If it has been more than 10 years since you’ve had a color analysis done (or your hair color has changed), it’s time to do it again.)
  5. Smile – This is my new way of coping. I don’t see the lines around my lips or the softening of my jaw when I smile so I take every opportunity to do so. See…I made you smile!
  6. Do what makes you feel good – If you look in the mirror and all you can see is dark spots on your face or lines around your lips and it’s that all-consuming, find out what your options are to soften those concerns. There’s no right or wrong way to address your experience with aging. When it comes to making choices about feeling youthful, only you can decide for yourself.

So, take a good look in the mirror and what do you see? Look past the lines, spots or gray hairs (if they bother you) and identify what it means to be the age you are. Perhaps make a list of what makes you happy and what doesn’t. Start by focusing more on what you feel good about. Then, choose one thing that is pestering you about getting older, and find out what you can do to ease that discomfort. Maybe a good first step is to whiten your teeth, get a new haircut or buy a top in a gorgeous color instead of black. If plastic surgery or a non-invasive skin treatment is the answer, then get a referral from a trusted source, and check it out. Or, the next time you have tea with friends encourage them to talk about what they love about themselves rather than what is making them feel old. Lighten the energy and help each other see how beautiful you are at whatever age you are now. We thrive on this kind of connection and need to create our own support network when the media and society ignore or harass us. Don’t buy into their youth-crazed messages.

Will there still be days when we wish we had firm knees again, a tiny waist or our natural colored hair? Sure. But even if it means lengthening your dresses a bit or buying a top that skims your waist instead of accentuating it or finding out what colors make your gray or colored hair look amazing, you can look and feel great now. This is your personal journey. It is worth it to find out how to make peace with aging gracefully so you can enjoy every step along the way!

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