I´m grateful to be in my forties

What did beauty mean to you when you were in your 20s?

In my twenties, I think I took my beauty for granted. In fact, I didn’t give it much thought. Who needs to when your skin is glowing, your boobs are chin-height, and everyone tells you how beautiful you are? I definitely had my insecurities and in fact, feel like my 20-something body and face were somehow ‘wasted’ on me because I didn’t appreciate them back then. When it came to how I looked, I was incessantly critical and hard on myself for being too short, too dark, too curvy, and the list went on. When I look back at pictures of myself in my twenties now, I feel sad that I didn’t appreciate how lovely and beautiful I actually was. Now I truly understand what George Bernard Shaw meant when he proclaimed, “Youth is wasted on the young”.

Also, in my twenties, I was engrossed in university studies and managed to obtain two degrees during those years. I like the fact that my looks didn’t help me in any way with getting good grades or becoming a good therapist. In fact, I had to rely on my brain more than anything and that, in retrospect, is a very good thing. I learned at a very young age that I was first and foremost, intelligent and being smart and using my abilities to think critically was what was most encouraged in my family. I’m glad my family had those values, otherwise I would have been in deep trouble. I feel so much for those young women out there who are valued mostly for how they look, not for who they are. Models and pop singers come to mind. I always look at them and think, “What’s going to happen to your self-concept and self-worth when your looks are gone and you’re no longer considered “hot”?”

What does beauty mean to you now? If different, why have your ideas about beauty changed over the years?

My concept of beauty has definitely changed over the years, especially since I turned forty recently. As I said before, I was always considered attractive, even beautiful, by some, so I didn’t obsess over my looks too much. I just thought they would ‘do’ and went on with my life. However, once I reached 35, I started to notice huge changes in the way my body and face looked, and for the first time in my life, really had to face how I felt about looks and the ageing process. Having recently turned 40, however, I have some extra body image concerns to add:

* graying hair

* wrinkling skin

* downward pointing breasts

* unexpected weight gain

All of these have come as a major shock as somehow, I guess I had thought I would be immune to all of the side effects of ageing. But no, Mother Nature would have me learn otherwise. And while I am working really hard at growing older without plastic surgery, botox, or other toxic attempts to extend my youthful appearance, the weight gain has been a real doozy.

However, I have managed to lose most of that weight over the past year and a bit through common sense eating and regular exercise. But my size and shape are definitely different from when I was in my twenties- a fact of life that I have resigned myself to as it’s better than the alternative- having no body at all.

I guess I’m becoming a more spiritual person as a result of facing these facts about my body and the ageing process, which in my opinion, is a good thing. I mean, who couldn’t use a bit more spirituality in their life? Plus, I’m starting to change my view of what is considered “beautiful” which is providing a great sense of peace and well-being. I’m really starting to appreciate the beauty in women who are 40+. I’m starting to realize that confidence, wisdom gained through life experience, and knowing oneself, is incredibly beautiful, and even sexy!

Sure, I really appreciate the smooth skin and gorgeous physiques of women in their twenties, but instead of comparing myself to them, I silently say “bless you sister-it’s your turn now” and make a mental list of reasons I’m grateful to be in my forties. This always helps me feel better and centers me back into myself and the reality of the wonderful life I have now. It’s definitely not the same life I had when I was in my twenties, but the more I reflect on it, the more I realize that I like the life I have now SO MUCH MORE…

 

Esther Kane, MSW, (www.estherkane.com) is a psychotherapist, author and women’s emotional well-being expert. As a respected speaker on women’s issues, she has written and published three self-help books for women including What Your Mama Can’t or Won’t Teach You: Grown Women’s Stories of Their Teen Years; Dump That Chump: A Ten-Step Plan for Ending Bad Relationships and Attracting the Fabulous Partner You Deserve, and It’s Not About The Food: A Woman’s Guide To Making Peace with Food and Our Bodies. The book and audioprogram is available to order online at http://www.itsnotaboutthefood.net

 

kittens on black velvet

What did beauty mean to you when you were in your 20s?

How you dressed was important.. You always had high-heeled shoes on, which I’m sorry I did because I had problems later on. I was living in Stockholm, Sweden. I came to the US  when I was 23. The style was prominent waist and an underskirt so your skirt stayed out. I wore my hair in a French twist. My hair was slightly long. Sometimes I went to the hairdresser and she puffed it up. When I look at pictures now, I get frightened. The styles in Sweden and the US were about the same. In Sweden, no one was super rich, but we got by. You bought a new sweater for Easter or maybe a new French lipstick. But you didn’t go out to shop and shop.Women wore more make-up in the US.

I came to the US and stayed (at first) for a couple of years. It was very exciting. I had a relative in New Orleans who sponsored me. It was exciting to go to America. Today everybody comes here for vacation, but at that time you didn’t. I lived with my relatives, and they had a young daughter who was 16. She was into make-up, clothing and dating, and I thought it was odd. I had other interests, like my dance study. I liked boys, but it wasn’t the same. I never used to date when I was 16. She was really angry because she didn’t get a car on her 16th birthday. For me, to get a car you had to work and buy it.

I was pretty ignorant about Americans. From the movies, everybody had big Cadillacs and lived on cul-de-sac streets. They slept in nice negligees and never had sex. When I first came to the South, people didn’t know where Sweden was. They thought I said Swiss and mentioned coo-coo clocks. My best friend was German. If  people thought I was German, they didn’t like that, understandably. Maybe some of the men had been in the War. So I always had to to say, “I’m Swedish.” And they said, “What’s that? Oh, coo-coo clocks and watches.”

The economy wasn’t that fantastic in Europe. In Sweden, the economy got much better in the ‘70s. There really were no foreigners in Sweden when I was young. But then in 1956, with the Hungarian Revolution, I met a lot of Hungarian students who came to Sweden. They worked as dishwashers. They had a lot of problems, a lot of run-ins with the police. In the ‘60s, a lot of Italians came. Growing up, I never saw a black person really. If you saw someone, he probably worked at an embassy. Today the picture is altogether different. It has changed for the better in many ways…interesting food, more cosmopolitan, but there are also problems.

I studied classic and modern dance in Sweden – that was my first love. But I was tall, so there weren’t many opportunities for me as a dancer. I was offered a couple of jobs abroad but my mother wouldn’t let me go. One was in a nightclub in Germany. I could have worked a job in Paris too. But if was a little iffy. It was more like a showgirl cabaret. I got a job for one season in a theater in Malm in My Fair Lady. The ballet master told me he liked my expressions but he said,“You have to go abroad because you’re too tall for ballet.”

During this time, one was very concerned about one’s appearance and weight, especially studying dance. Not everyone was naturally skinny. So everybody was on diets all the time. We just didn’t eat. We had our regular jobs at the office during the day. At night, we had to study. We ate something made of grape sugar to get energy. That’s all we ate. We sometimes ate a meal late, but not regularly. Everybody was like this…you had to be really skinny and on a very strict diet.

We drank a lot of coffee, and people smoked a lot. I smoked a little. I think people did this so they wouldn’t eat. My sister smoked and unfortuantely, it killed her. She was afraid to gain weight. We didn’t talk about anorexia. It was just the style. I had some friends who were naturally skinny. I thought they ate so much and still didn’t get fat. In that world of dance and modeling, you make your living from your body. Nowadays you have to be skinnier than ever. The models today in all these magazines are like 14 years old.

For me, weight has always been a problem. Now in my old age, I still want to be skinny, but it’s hard. Your system changes. I like to eat certain things. Except for the last 15 years, I have been on diets all my life.

Some foreign art students interview me (as an artist) because they have to write papers. They ask me why I paint women’s legs. It’s sort of a feminist statement. In Europe, men used to look at your legs. Here they look at your breasts. I remember many years ago, I walked up a hilly street here in the city, and some guy came running after me because he saw my legs. He was a foreign man and was interested. I never thought I had very good legs, but he thought so. I thought it was cute and good for my ego.

What does beauty mean to you now?

I think inner beauty is more important. I probably thought that when I was younger too, but there are many other things, like wanting to please a man. That’s why we all dressed up. When you get a little older, you get dressed up for your girlfriends. Now dressing up is nice, but it’s not important.

I have a Swedish niece who lives in Florida. She used to be a model (and I did too in Sweden). She just came back from Paris where she met her American model friends.They are all so skinny. They have lifts and breast implants. My niece doesn’t, but she says, “Oh, my nose is so bad. I need to do plastic surgery,”.

She is 54, and she is a very good-looking girl. She is slender and worked many years in Japan as a model. She meets other models and they tell her she needs to lift this and that. I tell her, “Please don’t do that,”. It can be very dangerous. Plastic surgery was nothing we talked about when I was young. My friends here talk about face lifts. I don’t think European women are so much into it as American women. It’s much more natural.

If different, why have your ideas about beauty changed over the years?

Hopefully we change for the better as we get older. Your value system should be different. Otherwise it means you’ve stopped growing.

I have a feeling that people look at you (and judge). I’m overweight with gray hair. I used to have red hair. (As an older woman), they think I do a certain type of art…sweet art. It can’t be anything interesting. If they see my art, that’s one thing. But if they see me, they expect I’ll be painting kitten s on black velvet. I’ve heard comments like“Your art looks like some young person did it.” They all like my colors. And it’s nice when they give you a chance. We always have to give people a chance. We cannot judge people from the façade.

Anonymous, over 60

San Francisco

A little grooming makes heads turn

What did beauty mean to you when you were in your 20s?

I wasn’t aware of notions of beauty. As a consequence I wore no make up. Nor did I go out and by any fashionable clothes ( financial restraints restricted my desire to deck out in fine clothes.) The circle of people I moved in did not spend time making themselves look attractive, as we did not feel the need to do so, because we were not allowed to date men. I did not wear make up until my 30’s when I got married and had two children. I wore make up in order to gain confidence, to feel good within myself, to go out, mix with people and socialise, hoping that the foundation that I wore would hide all imperfections that I had. The same went with clothes and visiting the hair dresser once a week. I was more aware of the need to make myself more attractive once I was out and about from the confines of domesticity (including bringing up the children).  At the end of the day, it really made me feel good, and I gained self confidence to talk to people etc.

If you look at Western culture, girls wear make up and nice frocks to go out on dates with boys, which was totally alien to us, because our (Indian) culture was different – it was not the done thing. I felt blase about beauty in this sense until I discovered a little grooming made heads turn when I left the front door – especially the male species.

What does beauty mean to you now?

Beauty is definitely as asset if you have it, whatever age you are. But with advancing years, if you can preserve it, all the better. To keep  what you have is important at my age, it makes me feel  happy in my inner-self. I sometimes look in the mirror and think, ‘I still look good at this age!’ Often people cannot guess my age correctly. It is a back handed compliment in a way!

I once had an interview with an Avon sales rep at my door step. When I told her my true age, she nearly fell backwards in pure disbelief. I think it was very flattering and made my day! If someone of your own sex says how good you look, that is uplifting, but its even more flattering when men pay you compliments. Beauty to me now is something that makes me happy.

I don’t give aging a thought. It is a natural progression which everyone has to face sometime. One has to accept the fact that one can’t be beautiful as you grow older, as I do not believe in cosmetic surgery or anything like that to preserve what I have got.

Why have your ideas of beauty changed over the years?
My ideas about beauty have changed over time due to environment and competition all around you – i.e women trying to look good to go out to work. This made me embrace the fact that to be beautiful inside and out can make me friends.
Shantala, over 60
London

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