By Rachel Lankester.
Recently I’ve found myself in the company of women I consider to be beautiful. But when I tell them how beautiful they are (usually when they’re moaning about their looks), I’m met with wry smiles and disbelieving eyes. Some are reluctant to have their photo taken because they’re not photogenic enough. Others fear looking old. These women are still under 50! Is that the end of photos for them then?
One spoke of how important it is to bolster self-esteem in her adult daughters but still struggles to give herself the same respect. Another had spent thousands getting her teeth fixed, but a dentist’s unthinking comment about her ‘gummy’ smile, had made her avoid flashing her gorgeous pearly whites in photos ever since.
My own mother has never liked having her picture taken either. Now in her 80s, unless I insist, she’ll grimace and still try to refuse. And then guess what happens, she gets another bad photo, which just reinforces her hatred of the camera! Yet when I manage to get a nice unguarded picture, her beauty radiates from it. But she still doesn’t like seeing a picture of her older self.
Most of us weren’t that happy with our looks to begin with. And our youth-obsessed culture doesn’t acknowledge the beauty of older women. Men are said to get better with age, but the same doesn’t apply to us. We’re sold anti-ageing products, encouraged to dye our hair and persuaded to invest in cosmetic surgery, to hide the fact we’re getting older.
We’re fed a narrative all our lives that youth is paramount and that we lose our looks and relevance as we age. We may have more disposable income than younger women, but who is marketing to us, other than to sell us those anti-ageing products? We’ve been taught and come to believe that beauty is reserved for the young.
I was never a great beauty in my youth, so perhaps I’m therefore less disappointed in my looks as I age. I actually rather like the way I look now! I also learned a while ago that the more I fight the camera, the worse the picture will be. Now I just grin and face the lens. So I look better in photos now than in my youth. Shame I was in my 40s before I realised this!
I haven’t yet had to contend with grey hair though. A few white ones yes – I’m rather proud of those. I wonder if I’d already gone grey by 50, would I be dying my hair? Would fear of looking too old in the workplace have driven me to the bottle? Don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-hair-dye. But I am anti the societal pressures that often contribute to a woman’s sense of shame about her natural hair colour as she ages.
Youth is not the only phase of life that matters, despite what the media may encourage us to believe. And beauty is not reserved for the young. Championing ‘anti-ageing’ isn’t going to get us very far either. It’s a bit like being anti-night-time. It happens, regardless of what we do, so why waste time, energy and money trying to hold back the inevitable? Probably better to embrace it, much like the photo-taking. I want to look good at any age, but not younger.
When I look at mature women’s faces I see great beauty in them. I see the beauty in each crow’s foot because those are the signs of laughter. Dark spots hint at a life lived in the sun. Grey and white hair shines bright and suits our older skin tones well. Our inner beauty makes our eyes sparkle. Every mark tells a story that only we know.
I want us to start celebrating the beauty that comes with age as we celebrate the beauty of youth. A tree is no less attractive in autumn than in spring, it’s just an evolved form of beauty. We don’t dismiss the coppery leaves of autumn in favour of spring blossom. Both are beautiful, just different.
I love every line on my face. Each one tells a story and I wouldn’t be who I am without them. Paraphrasing the words of anti-ageism activist, Ashton Applewhite, I refuse to accept that this version of me now is in any way inferior to me before. And I believe that extends just as much to the outside as to the inside.
It’s time we started challenging the assumption that we get less beautiful as we age. Our beauty, like the rest of us, continues to evolve.
Beauty is also in the eye of the beholder and we behold our own beauty each time we look in the mirror. That’s a choice we can all decide to make.
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