A Good Look in the Mirror
…by Prill Boyle
When did aging become such a sin?
Everywhere we look-magazines, movies, TV, billboards-we see airbrushed images of gorgeous, wrinkle-free women who appear to be in their twenties, even when they\’re considerably older. These women are held up as our cultural ideal, as if adhering to this rigid and unattainable (at least for ninety-five percent of the population) standard of beauty ensures that we\’ll feel fulfilled.
But as social anthropologist Kate Fox argues, we don\’t just equate this distorted vision of beauty with fulfillment. We equate it with goodness, holding onto “an irrational but deep-seated belief that physically attractive people possess other desirable characteristics such as intelligence, competence, social skills, confidence -even moral virtue.”
No wonder women on average spend two years of their lives looking in the mirror-or so I recently read on Yahoo News. And my guess is that most of the time, we Boomers aren\’t glancing at ourselves and saying, “Hi gorgeous!” We\’re scrutinizing every square inch of our bodies, watching out for each new wrinkle and sag.
I\’m tempted to say, “What a waste of energy!” But that would be disingenuous of me. I, too, spend a fair amount of time looking at myself in the mirror, worrying how much longer I\’ve got before my 52-year old body starts looking, well, old. Like most of you, I intuitively understand that I live in a culture which has what Fox calls a proven “beauty bias,” a society where teachers give attractive students higher marks; employers prefer attractive job applicants; and, in court, judges and juries find attractive people guilty less often.
In other words, it\’s no wonder we pay attention to our appearance. The problem is, we don\’t just pay attention. We obsess. And the most self-destructive aspect of our obsession is thinking that to be beautiful we have to look young.
It\’s not just ourselves we\’re hurting. When we become complicit in the culture of youth, we\’re also doing our daughters a disservice. My friend Tamara argues that the best thing we could do for them-and for us-would be to start an “older women are sexy” movement. I think she\’s onto something. So let\’s take care of our skin, but be at peace with our wrinkles.” (Do you know any eighty year olds without them?) Let\’s maintain a healthy weight, but enjoy our curves. In other words, let\’s send our daughters the message that we love being who we are-whatever our age. Let\’s give them something to look forward to.
But if we Boomer women want to be seen by our daughters-and the world at large-as vital, interesting, hot mamas, we need to understand that being “hot” starts inside our heads and that being beautiful is something we already are.
So feel free to take that look in the mirror, but view yourself through kinder eyes. Instead of counting your wrinkles, celebrate each and every one of your triumphs, both large and small. Then ask yourself, “What do my friends and family love about me?” and see yourself through those eyes. Finally, after taking stock of what you\’ve accomplished and who you are, ask yourself if there\’s anything more you\’d like to give, anything else you\’d like to do. Because there\’s nothing quite as irresistible as a woman who\’s doing something that gives her life purpose and meaning. Once you get beyond the first few glances, passion trumps physical beauty every time.