(Editor’s Note: In 50 After 50: Reframing the Next Chapter of Your Life, author Maria Leonard Olsen explores ways women can reinvigorate their lives and write new chapters. She tried 50 things in the year she turned 50, in a quest to find joy and authenticity, practicing the lesson that we are all responsible for our own happiness. This is an excerpt from her book.)
“I look forward to being older, when what you look like becomes less an issue and what you are is the point.” — Susan Sarandon
I used to be vainer. I coveted attention. I had an “All About Maria” party for myself when I turned 40 that featured costume changes from every decade in which I had lived, slide shows and videos about me, Maria trivia games on the tables, and Asian food and green beer (to honor my Southeast Asian and Irish heritage).
A video camera was set up to capture guest tributes — to me. Guests came in outfits from the decade in which they met me. A couple of women who met me when we were pregnant wore baby bumps under their clothes. My friends from high school wore duds from the 1980s. I reveled in their attention.
I enjoyed stylish clothes and good makeup. I got facials. I liked what I saw in the mirror.
‘Aging Is an Honor’
As I entered middle age, I did not like what changes were happening to my body. I looked in the mirror less, and wore less makeup. I knew many women my age who were getting Botox treatments, tummy tucks, boob jobs and face lifts, but did not want any of that for myself, partially because of the cost and mostly because I dry heave when undergoing anything medical. I actually fainted the first time I saw my own blood.
My friend and mentor, Iris Krasnow, challenged me to allow myself to be photographed without makeup and interviewed about my aging visage.
Krasnow says, “The message I like to share is don’t count on your looks because they change. Discover an inner source of energy and fulfillment that has everything to do with your heart and soul and very little to do with your exterior.”
Our photos were featured in a Huffington Post piece about women embracing their natural beauty at every age. All of the women in the piece impressed me with their view of the lines on their faces as road maps of their lives. They rejected society’s ageist and sexist beauty standards and accepted their increasing wrinkles.
“Aging is an honor,” said one. “I think the 50s are the best of all the decades so far.”
“You really come into your own,” said another. A third noted that, “in Africa, women move up in prestige as they go through menopause. It is all those years that play into your value.”
In Asian cultures, elders are revered. I had a friend say recently that, as an elder, you don’t step out and away from people, but you take on more responsibility. You are responsible for educating and teaching and helping others. I admire and learn from all of these women and women like them who have chosen to age naturally and with grace.
With Age Comes Confidence
I also learned to become comfortable with my softer, middle-aged body. After spending my 30s and 40s running almost every day and completing three marathons, I “ran” the Krispy Kreme 5K and took up walking. I sometimes practice the Galloway Walk Run method. It is a form of interval training. In my particular practice, I alternate walking and running each minute. I completed the Philadelphia Half-Marathon this way. It is easier on one’s joints and bones. I can do anything for one minute at a time. So can you.
What makes a person attractive? Many times it is attitude. With age usually comes greater confidence and, I believe, a quieter, more serene beauty. Look at Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep.
Do you embrace how you look as you age? Why not? Is it because you do not like who you are at the moment, or other underlying reasons? Think about the time and money you could save on makeup if you cut it out of your budget. Reflect on these questions and strive for clarity and ease.
If you surround yourself with like-minded people, you will feel more comfortable. Most importantly, if you feel good about yourself, you inevitably will be more attractive, even to yourself.
Excerpt from 50 After 50: Reforming the Next Chapter of Your Life by Maria Leonard Olsen. (Rowman & Littlefield 2018)
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