I’ve traveled in four continents and the Middle East, and I call two places home—Haskell, a small, rural, farm-and-ranch, town in West Texas and Fort Worth, half of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, a sprawling cluster of roughly 7 million souls. Until 2012 I lived in LA for nearly 30 years. So, I’ve been around just about every type of folks imaginable.
Since the mid 1990’s I’ve also been out talking with, speaking to, writing about and researching the midlife and older women I’ve met. What strikes me most about these women is that no matter who we are or we come from, when the conversation turns to appearance, women in the second half of life are more alike than different. Oh, sure, we look different and don’t follow the same fashion trends. But despite these outward differences, we’re pretty much the same on the inside.
We all strive for self-acceptance. As our bodies age, more often than not the innate need to love ourselves becomes the wedge that splits who we are on the inside from how we look on the outside. This is because we experience changes in our appearance that society finds unacceptable. We are told that older is uglier. Younger women take over the fashion and entertainment media. The dating field shrinks because many men want younger, firmer women. I could go on. The crux of the matter is that the culmination of all of this external negativity begins to make us feel that we’re no longer ‘good enough’ because of how we look. I’ve heard this reiterated a thousand times over from women from America to Asia to Africa.
Also, just as we seek self-acceptance we want to be accepted by others. Yet, when we don’t find acceptance within ourselves we project this dissatisfaction onto others and begin to believe that they don’t find us acceptable either. Worse case scenario: we become paranoid and think that others can’t love us because of how we look. While we don’t all hit this extreme low, at some point in midlife or beyond, most of us will question our value to society.
Finally, midlife appearance issues are exacerbated because most apparel and shoes are designed for women in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. We’re left having to make choices that we’d rather not make—trying to fit into the younger styles or searching for items that make us look good. The latter can be few and far between. My search for a lightweight maxi dress with sleeves this summer has turned up nil.
So how do we deal with theses seemingly insurmountable issues of our aging appearance? In upcoming blogs I’ll tackle each of the three problems separately. But today I’m laying the foundation for those discussions. For just as when building a structure, if you don’t have a solid base, nothing will hold up for long.
We need, no, we MUST support each other as we age. No one has a blueprint for constructing an older self, yet older women can be as critical of other’s appearance as are junior high girls and for the same reason. As in adolescence our bodies are changing. Like 12-year-olds, we question where we fit into the world around us. We don’t know how our future lives will play out. So, in an effort to buoy ourselves up we set up standards for acceptable appearance and put down those who look different from us. They become too fat, too thin, too dowdy, too fixed up, too natural, too surgically enhanced . . .
The problem with this defense mechanism is that it doesn’t work any better at midlife and beyond than it did when we were 13. Instead, it creates more anxiety and loss of self-esteem—both to us and to the targets of our angst.
Unfortunately, we live in a social environment where tearing others apart, voting people off of the show, name-calling on the street, and picking on the weak is encouraged and applauded. One of my worst nightmares as a fashion blogger is the threat that readers will tear apart those followers who post pictures of themselves on my FB page. While this may seem harmless in light of what we see in the media, dissing perfect strangers in regard to how they look inhibits all of us from accepting and dealing with the changes that we face as we age.
Therefore, let’s start our journey through the landscape of our aging appearance by looking at ourselves and other women our age with compassion and an open heart. Working together, we just might find our way out of the jungle of doubt, fear and distress that our shifting appearance is causing.