Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Accepting Ourselves As...Who?

I’ve had a couple of conversations recently that have provoked ponderment on my part about just how far to go with maintaining a youthful appearance. Conversations about going gray, about Botox, and ‘letting oneself go’. They’ve sprung from the research and writing we’ve been doing on WomenBloom about 50 something women having trouble on the job hunting front.

They’re kind of tricky, I find, those conversations.

A friend and I fell into conversation about what she feels are the mixed messages in magazines and other media. On the one hand, they encourage women of a 'certain age' to accept themselves, embrace who they really are, etc etc. Admirable. Yet, on the other, they are filled with ads for skin salves, plastic surgeons etc. What gives?

As far as I can tell, in this context anyway, 'embracing one's real self' seems to mean things like canceling future color and highlight appointments with Jean Paul. Leaving plastic surgery and Botox behind (not that this would be a sacrifice seeing as how I have no personal experience with either, but you know what I mean). Not succumbing to the blandishments of cosmetic companies trying to sell expensive creams and salves to keep the wrinkles at bay and the skin as youthful looking as possible.

I’m trying to be open minded here.

From that perspective...I should let Mother Nature take her course with a minimum of interference. Hmmm, let my hair go gray, allow nature to take her course with my skin, embrace breast sags and skin that is losing its texture and elasticity, and smile at hairs that miraculously sprout to unbelievable lengths overnight, appearing in places that haven't had hairs before! Oh yeah, and all at the same time I’m losing my close in vision. (What is with THAT anyway??)

Alright, SCREW open mindedness! I don't THINK SO!!!!

OK, get a grip, Al. Whew, clearly I have some unresolved issues around this :)

Well, what does accepting yourself as yourself mean....really?

It seems to me that acceptance of self often implies doing nothing to hold gray hair, wrinkles, dry skin and wild hairs at bay. But couldn't that be imposing a stereotype every bit as much as the other end of the spectrum? I mean, where does it all end? Does that mean I shouldn't work out to maintain as much strength, flexibility, and muscle tone as possible? Next time my gall bladder acts up or I crack a tooth, I should just let Nature take her course?

I mean, if I've been inclined to have what Jean Paul calls "Effect Hair", dress some years younger than many women my age, and freely apply ceramides, anti-oxidizers, and killers of free radicals on my skin, wouldn't it be NOT being myself to let myself suddenly go gray, wrinkly, and hairy? What if being me means being my somewhat vain self? What if I've never been the au naturel type?

Then, in a burst of self examination, I realize that hair color, skin creams, and Botox seem more benign to me than tummy tucks and eyebrow lifts. Obviously, that's where my particular line of prejudice begins. Although my boundary with that eyebrow thing is a little fuzzy.

I don't have a good answer for this. But, it seems to me that embracing and accepting who who we really are means just that. If you’ve always been the au naturel type, great, continue that line. If you’ve played with the color of your hair, bought every new miracle skin product that comes out, and winced mightily as the aesthetician ripped off your short hairs, wouldn't it be out of integrity to stop doing those things because that's what women of a certain age should do, according to media or other women?

I met with a physician recently (to research articles, really) who does nothing but aesthetics, that is, he specializes in a number of non-invasive procedures and treatments that get rid of wrinkles, improve sun damaged skin, and re-plump saggy skin. I was surprised when he said his experience was that many women 50 and up thought they shouldn’t be doing these things. They seemed somehow ashamed or guilty about it even as they were handing over their plastic.

That seems wrong to me. Why should they have to feel that way?

This is a huge subject obviously. I guess I’ll wimp out and just say, I think it’s a matter of choice. I certainly don’t have any problem with women who decide to free themselves from the expense and maintenance of coloring their hair, who want to embrace that aspect of who they are. Or, who see their wrinkles as merely the 'patina' acquired from a life's worth of experience. Or, who get the occasional Botox injection. I’m struggling with the more invasive procedures, I admit.

I am clear on one thing though. That the beauty of redefining middle-age means we get to say who we are.


Janie said...

I think "accepting ones self" is a matter of just that. Accepting yourself whether you opt for the natural progression of aging or you believe in many other ways to fight like hell to slow that aging process down. Mainly do what's right for you, and don't judge others if their choices are different.
What was the name of that uh hmm......research doctor, anyway? I think I need to do a little "research" myself.

Anonymous said...

I struggle with the more invasive procedures, too. Some of them, like tummy tucks, can border on self-mutilation. I sometimes wonder if, centuries from now, some forensic anthropologist will look at the scars on some of our remains and wonder what bizarre gods we must have worshipped to treat ourselves so!

msmeta (who uses Renova and colors her hair but doesn't do much else to hide the march of time)

WomenBloom said...


Yep, that's my story for now and I'm sticking to it. It's our choice. And, I'm going to be visiting this doc for a little, ahem, interview. I'll be revealing his name if he measures up :)

Ms Meta,

Yeah, it does seem a little weird doesn't it? I think maybe I don't mind these things so much if they're natural looking and well done. No doubt the anthropologists will find a number of curious and perplexing artifacts about our bodies and our culture :)

Allison (who loves Effect Hair and is toying with the idea of delving into the land of facials and re-surfacing options) :)

Duchess said...

Don't worry, guys, the archaeologists won't pick up any of those skin scars, even the mega tummy tucks and your secret is safe. Skin rots fast. Now if we develop a taste for sawn off arms or chisel our ankle bones, that's another matter. As for me, I colour my hair because when I do I think I look younger all over. That is, to me the face looking back in the mirror, and the body sauntering down the road, is still okay with hair that has only elegant streaks of gray, not a horrible mousey mop with grizzled clumps. A time will come when, if I continue to colour it, I will simply look grotesque (like Ronald Reagan in his latter years). I hope I will know that's the time to stop. But even if I don't, I am pretty sure my kids will tell me.

WomenBloom said...


THAT'S what worries me! I have no kids to tell me that my eyebrows look like wings on a bird that is banking steeply to the right. Or, that I generally am looking like Bette Davis in Sweet Baby Jane. I will pass on the sawn off arms etc. but I think the going gray will be a struggle for me.