There are so many elements of getting older, most of which no one told me about. But I did hear a whole lot about skincare and makeup. For women, the aspect discussed the most—in the media, social media, and even among friends—is how we look as we age.
In a column for The Cut, Amil Niazi explored this social dilemma and she really got me thinking. Does our focus on the physical aging process prevent us from truly contending with the feeling and experience of middle age in an honest way?
Look Good, Feel Good?
The vast majority of aging tips online and in magazines focus on looking younger. And having a carefully-curated skincare routine to prevent lines and wrinkles is big business.
Anti-aging products, along with cosmetic procedures like Botox and filler are wildly popular among Gen X, older Millennials—even Gen Zers are getting in on the act as a preventive tactic.
Meanwhile, older women are told they’re too old for glittery eyeshadow, liquid eyeliner, false eyelashes, and brightly-colored lipsticks. Don’t show too much skin, don’t wear anything form-fitting or too colorful or too black or too white.
Act your age but please don’t look your age.
The stunning lack of women over 50 in pop culture is no secret. We also know that’s not a reflection of real life. And the disconnect leaves older women feeling like there’s something wrong with their very existence.
You Can’t Outrun Heartbreak
Despite some inroads when it comes to the representation of older women, youth worship is pervasive. The messages we receive from every corner of our lives often leads to spending a lot of time and money in attempts to remain as youthful-looking as possible.
The thing is, as Niazi points out, by concentrating so much on looking good, we forgot to make sure we’re feeling good. Once you make it to your 40s and older, a whole new set of personal issues can emerge. What you can’t outrun, she says, is what it means to really age. And how time actually “reshapes” us.
Niazi hit the nail on the head when she wrote that “no amount of Botox, cryo baths, or epigenetic age-reversing can stop that heartbreaking moment when you have to decide how to care for an elderly parent.” That task is going to be daunting no matter how young you look.
In addition to aging parents, you might see old friends popping up on your social media feed announcing a cancer diagnosis or going through a divorce.
Maybe you are going through a divorce and are suddenly all alone with three kids. Or, your career isn’t where you want it to be and you are thinking about making a change. Life in middle age is difficult, and it can also be beautiful if we pay attention to more than just looking beautiful.
One thing is for sure—not having wrinkles isn’t going to prevent you from going through the hardships that come with getting older.
Aging Is A Gift
As Niazi writes in her piece, “Aging is a privilege, a measure of fullness, a gift of time, even when it takes as much as it gives.” But all our conversations about this inevitable process seem to focus entirely on the physical.
Getting older might be much more enjoyable if we removed the emphasis on physical appearances and allowed people to just be. To experience our lives and focus on what really matters without constantly worrying about how we look.
Instead of worrying about makeup tips for looking younger or the latest trendy hairstyle, if women in middle age were fed at least as much information about their careers, making new friends, or the challenges of dating after 50, we might be a little better prepared for what’s to come.
I just bought a house and would love to know about paying off my mortgage as fast as possible and retiring debt free. I’d also like to have conversations about the weird feelings at this stage of my life about choosing to not get married and have kids. Being a strong, independent woman in her 40s isn’t as easy as it looks.
Honestly, the older I get, this focus on youth is starting to mess with my head. It’s time to change the middle-age narrative.