A few weeks ago, I was chatting with a male friend about another mutual friend’s recommendation for certain cosmetic procedures. This led to a more general discussion about aging, and to what degree we are willing to embrace an aging appearance or fight it. That feeling of looking into a mirror one day and suddenly not recognizing oneself? It turns out he’d experienced that too.
It happened to me for the first time right around when I turned 50. I don’t think I’d “let myself go,” but having been so busy with work and raising a special needs child, I hadn’t really been that focused on skincare beyond SPF or the physical changes that started with menopause. One day the face I saw in the mirror didn’t feel like my own. Duchesse at Passage des Perles recently linked to an interview with Jane Birkin, where she says “it’s gone…my beauty.” And then goes on…
It’s like you wake up one day and suddenly the outside doesn’t correspond to the inside anymore. I’ve adjusted my thinking a bit since then. The essential thing, I now think, is a good sense of humor.
My own shock of non-recognition wasn’t as much about “losing my beauty.” I’ve never been conventionally pretty (body too stout, hair too thin, features too plain etc.) so “beauty” hasn’t been a currency I’ve been able to trade on for much of my life. But yes, that outside-doesn’t-correspond-to-the-inside feeling…that I could relate to! (As well as the value of a sense of humor, something I’ve tried to cultivate and maintain throughout my adult life.)
Yes, we live in a culture where ageism is still rampant. It’s not surprising that we resist recognizing ourselves as older. It occurs to me that the motivation behind the various steps that many women (and increasingly, men) take to maintain a “youthful” appearance isn’t just about vanity, but about trying to align their physical selves and their identity. Our identities don’t necessarily keep up with our chronological age. It takes work to “adjust our thinking.”
Style And Identity
Style is one way to express ourselves regardless of age. Exploring style is one of the ways I’ve been trying to understand my (hopefully) evolving identity. Thinking about what I want to convey with style has helped me to understand how I see myself and what I value now, at a few weeks shy of 61. If I were to make a list, it might look something like this:
- Currency. Openness to new ideas, and staying engaged with the world and what’s going on. I want to look current without being a slave to trends.
- Curiosity. A willingness to try something new.
- A sense of humor. Wit, not clownishness. A quirky piece or two to spice up an outfit (under-represented in my wardrobe now).
- Valuing my own judgement. Trusting what feels right and what doesn’t. Not feeling that I have to live up to anyone else’s expectations.
- Being able to let go of what no longer serves or supports. Letting go of rigid style rules or formulas, or beliefs about what we “should” wear. (I’ve been doing a lot of processing on this lately…will be working on a follow-up post.)
- Confidence. Follows from all of the above.
That’s not a complete picture of my sense of self or values by any means, but those are what I believe I can express through my style. And in ten years, that list may look different.
One doesn’t need to have an unlined face to have great style. In fact, I think the combination of visible age and a well-honed personal style can have a powerful impact.
What aspects of your identity do you try to reflect in your style?