Revisited: Freewrite on Beauty, Aging and Worthiness

As I sit here typing, I have dye seeping into the hair on my head. It won’t look particularly great when I’m finished. I used to have rich dark brown, nearly black hair. These days, if I didn’t dye it, I would have a salt and pepper look. I’ve considered letting it go–letting nature take over, but I’m only 43. I’ve seen gorgeous women of various ages with white hair, but I’m not ready yet, not brave enough to set that example.

~~~

Years ago, I had a wonderful romance with a man who spoke frequently and eloquently about his family. The first time he told me about his mother and his step-mother, something about the way he characterized each of them prompted me to say, “She sounds beautiful.” Both times he replied, “She used to be.” It seemed like a harsh thing to say. But I don’t think that was his intention.

He’s the same person who told me the first night we met that I was “plump”. Ouch, right? He’d already completely charmed me by the time he deployed that brutally honest label.

The thing is I don’t think he equated worthiness with physical appearance. Also, “worthy” of what? For what? Clearly, this is my baggage, not his. I’m the one who heard characterizations of people, interpreted them to be positive, and made the assumption of physical beauty–as if it mattered. I’m the one who heard an assessment of my size and interpreted it to be negative whilst disregarding other indicators that he likely found me to be attractive that evening.

So his comments about my extra body fat or his mother and step-mother’s change in form from beauty to something else were—-well, the fact is, I don’t know. Unfortunately, he’s no longer alive to continue the discussion.

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In 12 minutes, it will be time to rinse these chemicals from my head. Why am I posting about this? Why am I rushing and putting up an unedited meandering piece of writing (again?).

The last few books I’ve read have been recently published fiction–two of them Pulitzer Prize winning works. Each of them included lines about the declining beauty of characters my age (or maybe a bit older). These women were described as being past prime because of what aging has done to their bodies and faces. Men were not described this way. I noticed it the way I noticed that a recent OpEd in the NY Times used the word “harness” twice (Editor, switch one out, “channel” would have worked). I noticed it the way I notice my white roots. I noticed it the way a man called me plump to my face.

Why are women writing about women this way–as if our bodies and faces were connected to our worthiness? It’s complicated. I know. And before I begrudge (or is it judge? or both?) the authors, I need to do further analysis of their stories.

Why am I so concerned about my appearance when I have a lot of important learning to do, messages to formulate and communicate? Why haven’t I figured out my answer to this question after writing about it for years? Why can’t I make peace with it?

3 minutes to go. There’s a timer on my hair and apparently there’s a timer on my reasonable expectation to appear beautiful in our culture. I have so much more to say about this. I hope I get to someday.

One thing I know is that regardless of a person’s age, if we can find it in ourselves to smile–really savor the smile-inducing stuff of life–there is something deeper, something positive that comes through.

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In the spirit of standing up for aging with pride I took a self portrait today. No make up. By the time I post again, I’ll have turned 44. I’m actually kind of young in a lot of circles, aren’t I?

Signing off before this stuff burns my scalp. To be continued from a future age.

 

6 thoughts on “Revisited: Freewrite on Beauty, Aging and Worthiness

  1. Legend has it that Oscar Wilde once said “everyone has the face they deserve by the age of forty.” I love that quote. I say – keep on smilin’!

  2. Thanks for this, Ruth! There is alot of truth in your words, and our culture is really permeated with this idea of eternal youth.

    You ARE young, and dog gonnit, you look great! Celebrate well, lovely. Thanks for speaking on this topic which is a bit of a taboo, unfortunately.

  3. I had a conversation with some women friends a few years ago about women and age. I commented that I thought I looked really good in some old pictures I had come across. We all agreed that we didn’t appreciate that elastic skin when we had it. The conversation went on in that vein and I said I’m going to consider myself beautiful now. I know that at some point I will look back at the youth, or happiness, or wisdom that is visible in pictures from my future past (today.) So if I will think I look more beautiful now than at that future date, why not just accept that I do have some youth, beauty, and wisdom now and that is beautiful.

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