Aging, Identity, And Style (Encore)

Does the image you see in the mirror align with your identity? Read more at une femme d'un certain age.

During the month of August, I’ll be periodically reprising some popular posts from the last year. This post was first published in February, 2018. You can read the original post and comments here.

Mirror, Mirror…

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?

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13 Comments

  1. No Fear of Fashion
    August 6, 2018 / 11:01 am

    I was sure I would have commented the first time but haven’t.
    I think you are absolutely right. But, as you know, I did have some plastic surgery done. Not out of vanity (well …OK .. also out of vanity) but mostly because I looked very sad. Which is in total contrast to who I am most of the time. I had that “adjusted”. All my old skin which has lost every elasticity (bad genes), I will have to live with. Too much to do anything about haha.
    And I can vouch for your sense of humour.
    Greetje

  2. Lisa B
    August 6, 2018 / 3:09 pm

    I had my droopy eyelids “done” when I was 55 which is the age when I looked in the mirror and just didn’t recognize myself. I have a very thin face so had some fillers put in two years ago, mainly to lift my neck as I was developing jowls. I really didn’t like the look of it. I always had full lips but recently they’ve thinned out and, although I’ve never smoked, developed those crepey lines around my mouth. I had a tiny bit of filler to rid myself of the lines and am very pleased with how it looks. I don’t have the fish pout at all and the lines are gone. Had some botox put in the v I was developing between my brows too. Very minimal but enough to keep me happy and a bit less stern.

    • Kristina
      September 1, 2018 / 11:54 pm

      Hello! Thank you for this interesting comment. I think I could just give you a piece of an idea: What if you put on a couple of kilos? I am 54 and have never been thin if not fat either. Now I find that this is working to my advantage: My face is still quite youthful and I do not have wrinkles, well maybe just a few around the eyes when smiling. I find this burden of needing to be stick thin is just out!

  3. Lisa B
    August 6, 2018 / 3:11 pm

    Meant, and looking a bit less stern. I really need to proofread before hitting send!

  4. Deborah
    August 6, 2018 / 3:29 pm

    “Wit, not clownishness.” What a great turn of phrase! You’ve perfectly expressed the sweet spot I’m always trying to find.

  5. Gail
    August 6, 2018 / 3:40 pm

    I choose to not have cosmetic procedures. I am more focused on changing the deeply inculcated messages that women are not of worth if they don’t look young. It’s hard work to counter the prevailing mind set against looking “old.” I think of my beloved grandmother, such a kind, strong, brilliant woman of pure love when I look in the mirror and don’t recognize myself as the young faced woman I once was. I see something in my face that looks like her face, and remember what I truly value in life, and keep working on loving the aging me. Every drug we take, every shot of Botox, every surgical procedure opens us up to myriad complications and can sow the seeds of further disease. The only biocompatible hormones are those our own bodies produce. Everything else imbalances the sacred balance of our own body. Better to focus on health, avoid poisoned foods and cultivate inner happiness. A radiantly happy woman, fulfilled and accepting of her own history and passage of her own time regardless of what has transpired, is the most beautiful sight! She inspires living in the truth of now, empowering all she meets with the reality, radical acceptance and enjoyment of a life well lived and living fully alive in every moment.

    • Anon
      August 7, 2018 / 7:41 am

      Beautiful!

    • Lynn
      August 19, 2018 / 11:38 am

      Gail, I believe you have it exactly right. Ever notice that women who are happy with themselves, comfortable in their own skins as we now term it, glow with this inner beauty regardless of makeup or what clothes they have on? And it truly is BEAUTY that seems to come out from their inner cores and rest wonderfully on their faces affecting their carriage as they move, walk and play. I’m in awe of such women and strive to be one myself (still woefully lacking but working on it).

  6. August 6, 2018 / 9:32 pm

    Great post. Being the same age, I face the same situation and have had many of the same thoughts on aging and identity. I like your general approach and follow many of your suggestions.

  7. Linda Boardman Kerr
    August 7, 2018 / 6:44 am

    I am fortunate to have used sunscreen from my mid-thirties on (I am 65 now) and am focused on a skin-care routine which includes, besides sunscreen, retinol, vitamin C, Hylauronic acid, and some basic oils and creams. See my pic on FB if you’re curious.
    Make-up is important, but must be minimal. I have friends who use way too much dark eye makeup and eyeliner and it ages them terribly! I am tempted to say something, but won’t, of course.

    A few months after I turned 50 I had an out-of-the blue heart attack. My ONLY risk factor was family history. I had to have a triple bypass, and then ANOTHER very tricky single bypass two years later–at University of Chicago–by an excellent surgeon. Since then I attend a cardio exercise program 3X week, and am also involved in WomenHeart, the only patient advocacy group for heart disease in women. This exercize, along with some meds, is what has kept me from going “under the knife” another time. The bonus is that it keeps my weight down and my muscles pretty trim. Were it not for heart disease I’m sure I wouldn’t exercise as much.

    BUT MY MAIN POINT here is actually this: Two of the very best things you can do for your looks are:
    1) Smile! Seriously. As much as you can!
    2) Good posture! It makes a huge difference!

    AND THEY’RE FREE!

    Love your blog.

    • Elle
      August 11, 2018 / 6:04 am

      Glan your health has so improved. Yes, posture, smiling, exercise all so important.

      Linda or Sue, Can you share what vitamin C product you use? I must add that one.

      Sue, thanks for repeating this great post.

  8. LaQuita
    August 7, 2018 / 8:49 am

    Love this post!!! It is all so true and the comments are spot on. As we age gracefully, we do indeed have to take care of our skin, our hearts, and our inner selves. I think we will always live in an era of ageism because that is the culture – but if we approach it with grace and graciousness we will be beautiful, whatever our definition of beauty is. Accept your self, exercise and eat well to enjoy the many adventures ahead. I am looking forward to many holidays to meet new people, experience new cultures, new styles, new food And new beauty products to keep me looking the best that I can. I find getting a good facial is a must!

  9. Belinda
    August 15, 2018 / 4:53 am

    Thanks for writing this. I too am 61 and still coming to terms with it. I think one of the most positive things about growing older is that you really do feel more invisible. And I quite like it! I don’t worry about putting on makeup if I don’t feel like it, or being fussy about always looking put together. It gives me a real sense of freedom. Like no one will judge me. Has anyone else felt the same?

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