April 2019

Beauty and the Birthday: Thoughts on death, taxes and aging

Author: Linda S. Hopkins

After celebrating the dawn of my next wild ride around the sun, I sit at my vanity table, switch on the lighted 10X magnifying mirror, and contemplate an ever-growing collection of skincare products. Surely the newest balm will be the one to give me back my crinkle-free eyes, firm chin line, and smooth neck. I’m fighting the good fight, but the tug of the moon is undeniable. Like death and taxes, aging is a given, not a choice.

In spite of the inevitability of our changing appearance, in today’s youth-obsessed, Instagram-glorified culture, women of all ages are under pressure to look as young as possible. There is no end to the parade of new serums, oils, lotions and creams promising “dewy” skin and/or the disappearance of fine lines. With hair colors to banish the dreaded gray; miracle supplements to smooth crepey skin; massage rollers to eradicate cellulite; injections to freeze, fill, and plump whatever needs freezing, filling or plumping; not to mention laser treatments and surgical options to lift and tighten just about anything you can dream of lifting or tightening, it’s as if we have a duty to battle every natural phenomenon of aging—or at least to hide the evidence. Based on the billions (yes billions with a B) of dollars spent on cosmetics, beauty treatments and cosmetic procedures every year, clearly the war rages on.

In her wickedly witty book, I Feel Bad About my Neck and Other Thoughts on Being a Woman, author Nora Ephron devotes an entire chapter to what happens to our necks as we age (hint: it’s not pretty)! “One of my biggest regrets … is that I didn’t spend my youth staring lovingly at my neck,” she wrote. “It never crossed my mind to be grateful for it.” She goes on to extol the value of turtlenecks and scarves and to chronical her own collection of promising beauty products, each for a specific two square inches of skin on said facial area or body part. She pokes fun at the desperate and often absurdly time-consuming self-maintenance routines to which many of us are enslaved, nudging at the gentle truth of the matter. Ageless beauty? Ha! Might as well laugh now, because the Universe has plenty more surprises up her sleeve.

While I would love to say I have risen above it and accepted the gifts bestowed annually by the birthday fairy, I am still drinking the Kool-Aid, as they say, searching for some secret combination of youthifying ingredients to convince Mother Nature to put the brakes on Father Time. For many women, myself included, caring for our appearance remains an important part of our self-image. We do what we must to feel good about ourselves, even if it means investing in the jar of hope, hiring the award-winning hair colorist, or visiting a skincare spa or makeup guru to learn a few new tricks.

As I see it, we have two choices. We can give up—admitting defeat while resigning to look like dried up old prunes and become couch vegetables—or we can keep fighting the ravages of age until our loved ones are forced to pretty us up for one last viewing where everyone will walk by, stare at the wax museum version of what’s left of us and say, “She looks so natural.” My family has been warned: My remains are not to be viewed without eyeliner, blush and lipstick. I’ve left a product list and step-by-step instructions for the undertaker in my will and have tipped my hairdresser generously in hopes that she will do one final root touch up with highlights for a dearly departed customer—nothing too natural, please.

Sometimes I laugh to keep from crying, but I am seriously working on my attitude towards beauty and aging. This year, I have decided to cut myself some slack. Oh, I’m not going to stop dying my hair or quit using fancy creams, but I am going to cease comparing myself to movie stars, cover girls and supermodels. I’m no longer buying into those, “Look at me, I’m 60-something” infomercials featuring celebrities who apparently have been preserved in formaldehyde or splashing about in some elusive fountain of youth for the past 30 years. (Take heart, my fellow boomers. It’s fake news at its fakest.)

As much as I would like to think that I can slow down or camouflage the outward signs of aging, I’m on a daily quest to negotiate what it means to love this old(er) self and how to best sustain my overall health and spirit. As for semantics, I don’t believe in “anti-aging.” I’m not exactly against aging since the way to stop the process is to die. As for “ageless beauty”—also a misnomer—in my estimation, the only truly ageless beauty is the kind that emanates from our character.

I rather like what Elizabeth Taylor had to say on the topic in an interview with Rolling Stone: “Eventually the inner you shapes the outer you, especially when you reach a certain age … the inner you actually chisels your features. It has to do with a connection with nature, God, your inner being—whatever you want to call it.”

Still, and I think Liz would agree (rest her soul), modern skincare products can be remarkably effective, and professional cosmetic services can work wonders to refresh and revitalize tired faces, worn bodies and fragile egos. I will continue carefully considering what’s available on the beauty front, recognizing that these are merely tools to enhance what exists while my inner beauty threatens a major eruption most any moment now.

With that in mind, as evening approaches, I reach for my eye makeup remover, lip scrub, special cleansing cream, and toner—rinsing and ever so gently patting off the day’s public face. I glance again in the lighted 10X mirror and explore my arsenal of magic nighttime potions. Perhaps tomorrow I will wake up a more youthful-looking version of myself. Or maybe it’s simply time to retire the magnifying mirror and rely on my dimming eyesight to convince me I’m still okay.

Tax return? Oh yeah. Where the heck are my glasses?

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