Have you seen that television ad showing the elegantly dressed older woman gently dabbing a little foundation on her perfect cheekbones as she muses, “They say after a certain age you no longer care about your appearance. I wonder what that age is.”
Every time that ad comes on, I’m reminded of the first time that thought occurred to me. I’m guessing I was about 40 years old. My friend Adelaide and I were sitting on our beach towels by the pool, our tanned legs stretched out before us, watching over our children as we had done every summer for over ten years. Suddenly, I caught sight of my outstretched legs, let out the sigh of the defeated and moaned, “do you think we’ll ever stop caring about how we look?” That opened the door to a painful, previously unstated admission that we both had become embarrassingly uncomfortable with the bodies that used to be so slim and fit but now showed the effects of multiple pregnancies and years filled with activities more important or at least more interesting than exercising. I remember that we went into the club house to find a scale and see just how bad the damage was. It was bad. My once 100 pound dancers’ body was now a mushy 145 pounds and, like a race horse passing its prime, I was starting to show signs of becoming what we called in equestrian circles, over at the knee.
I marched out of the clubhouse that afternoon determined to turn the tide. Resolutions were made but never kept. Life went on as usual. Somehow though, through no great effort of my own, more than half of that excess weight fell off the following year and I went back to caring about my appearance just enough to brush on some mascara before facing the outside world. I really didn’t think about it much for the next 30 years.
Then the real aging began and, instead of accepting that appearance really didn’t matter at all at this point in my life and there wasn’t much I could do about it anyway, I found myself becoming more and more self-conscious about the way I looked.
Now I could understand this if I’d been born with staggering beauty or my success in life had been directly related to my appearance. But, even as a kid growing up, I was comfortable with the way I looked. I always felt my appearance to be a non-issue – and that was fine with me.
Now I look in the mirror and all I see is age – my no longer existent neck and sagging chin, the ever-present bags under my eyes, the graying super-short haircut that I once found flattering but now exposes every age spot, my now all-the-way-over knees and slightly stooped posture, the result of years of chronic back pain. I see all of that and even though I know the brain behind the wrinkled facade is as strong as ever and the heart behind the sagging breasts is as passionate as it ever, I’ve become convinced that the young, firm, fast-moving people around me couldn’t possibly care about anything I might have to say. So just like that fancy model whose career, let’s face it, depends on her appearance, I too wonder when or if I will ever get to the point where I don’t care about my appearance. I hope it’s soon. Frankly, it makes me angry that I allow myself to feel like this – and besides, I’m running out of time.