“Zest is the secret of all beauty. There is no beauty that is attractive without zest.” “The beauty of a woman grows with the passing of years. The true beauty of a woman is reflected in her soul”
These are not the words of Grey Panthers or Radical Baby Boomers. The first statement came from Christian Dior and the second from Audrey Hepburn, back in the day.
You must have been a beautiful baby
A woman in her thirties, said to a woman her fifties, “You must have been really attractive when you were younger”, and was surprised the older woman did not take it as a compliment.
So, was the older woman touchy, or was the younger woman rude?
There are several things going on here: firstly, the older woman feels attractive to warrant a compliment – as she is now. Whereas for the younger woman (and let’s assume her remark was meant kindly), women’s attractiveness is linked to youthfulness; we reach a certain age and become invisible.
The fashion industry reflects this by using teenagers to model clothes meant for their mothers and grandmothers. Fortunately, things are changing.
I hear some of the hottest models are now are over 50 (although often airbrushed to look 20 years younger) and we now have models in their 90s promoting jeans, and glossily produced books devoted to ‘Advanced Style’.
Perhaps it’s to do with the economic situation or Baby Boomers having more money to spend than their younger sisters. No matter. Let’s rejoice and keep older women in the public eye, so in turn we are all visible and valued for our contribution to society, style and yes, our beauty.
The visibility of older models brings another welcome shift in fashion, ‘wearability’, which stretches from shoes we can walk in, to easy-to-do hairstyles. What a liberation from the days when women like me hobbled along in high heels and tight skirts trying to look elegant and in control as we ran for, and then attempted stepping up on to the bus.
Appearance matters because, initially, that’s all we have to assess what sort of person (we think) someone is, and we make instant judgments to fit our pre-conceived ideas, standards, values and criteria. Who doesn’t want to make a good first impression?
Sadly, most women, regardless of age, are not happy with some aspects of their appearance and, because our self esteem is closely linked to self image, this can negatively impact on all aspects of our lives: which is one reason we are prepared to ‘make an effort’ – or go to great lengths to look good.
If we buy in to the idea that to be attractive we have to be young, thin and flawless, the future will indeed seem very bleak for anyone over 30. So we must unlearn that fallacy. We could take the advice of British artist Lucien Freud to look for beauty beneath the surface. If you don’t know his work take a look at his nudes, which many find confronting. He challenges us to question our values of our own beauty, and of others.
The more I see you
There was a time in [white] western society when black people were not considered beautiful simply because they were black, so the likes of Lena Horne were only given cameo parts rather than leading roles. Thankfully, we have unlearned that lie – about other people and ourselves – because, the more we look for positives we’ll find them.
The world is full of beautiful men and women of all ages, races and sizes. What we have to do is soften, adapt our eyes, broaden the canvas and take Bob Dylan’s approach: “I define nothing. Not beauty, not patriotism. I take each thing as it is, without prior rules about what it should be.”
It is never too early – or too late – to look after ourselves, to cherish and make the best of what we have – which is fundamentally different from the pressure to ‘improve’ or radically change our appearance and encourage self-loathing.
Looking and feeling good gives us more confidence but it will never be enough if we accept the diktat that youth equals beauty because anyone not in their twenties may be out of the frame, written off.
Take good care of yourself
Our beauty is in our essence – our inner beauty is reflected in our outer beauty. Eating a wholesome varied diet, having an active, healthy lifestyle, looking after our skin, wearing clothes in colours and styles we like and that suit us, and having a decent haircut are important. A positive attitude to life and an open and loving heart that radiates we are glad to be alive, will make it real. I think that’s what Christian Dior and Audrey Hepburn meant.
© 2013 Mary Evans Young
Mary Evans Young is the co-author of
Ageing with Attitude – a guide for baby boomers not ready to hang up their boots
Mary lives in Oxfordshire, England.