There's this pervasive notion that after you reach a certain age, you won't care about your looks anymore, but then you get there and you find out you do.
Another thing I've noticed is that women— and men — who never paid much attention to their looks before discover that they care more in later years.
Over coffee the other day, a friend of mine looked a bit bewildered about her changed attitude. "I never really thought much about my looks," she shrugged, but now that she's in her 40s, she finds herself caring a lot more than she ever thought she would.
Although I do know some women who have just can't be bothered anymore, I've seen other friends who are moving through their 40s and into their 50s make some interesting changes. Two of them had their belly buttons pierced. One acquiesced to Botox (swearing me to secrecy), and she's not sorry she did. Several who were loudly opposed to plastic surgery have quieted down to a whisper. Another scrapes together money for weekly acupuncture "facelift" treatments.
You can see this with celebrities, too. Of course, how they look plays a big part in their continuing to work. But women who downplayed their looks to be taken seriously as actors get considerably more glam as the years increase. And they often demur about plastic surgery but say they'd consider it.
NYC plastic surgeon Gerald Imber, MD. addresses exactly what I'm talking about!
It's easy to be dismissive of one's appearance when one is vital and optimistic about life. It is quite another as youth fades. Many people in the later stages of life become interested in preserving their appearance as they choose to remember themselves, which is not an unhealthy or unrealistic attitude.
Aging has sometimes become synonymous with irrelevance, and visible signs of aging are its obvious markers. So, concern with appearance takes on new meaning."
Gender expert Susan Shapiro Barash, author of You're Grounded Forever... But First Let's Go Shopping, explains it this way:
Unfortunately, due to our constant cultural messages, combined with how much vanity and beauty have always played a part in our lives, women are never too old to care about their looks. What's more important is to what degree this affects our lives and sense of self."
Our go-to guru on aesthetic practices, Wendy Lewis, said she just had dinner with a longtime client who is well into her 70s and "looks amazing. Her biggest complaint is that she had foot surgery and can't wear heels now!"
Chicago dermatologist Amy Forman Taub, MD notes that she doesn't see too many people wanting procedures after age 70: "It isn't that they stop caring, they just seem to be less interested in doing anything about it." But she adds, "That will probably change as the boomers take over."
What she has seen: "Short term changes like having wounds on the face or an extremely red face due to a medical procedure give people concern that they will be viewed by their grandchildren or others who are younger as being "strange" or unattractive."
This is true! A friend if mine told me she was surprised to see how upset her husband got about the mark on his face after having a mole on his face removed.
Dr. Taub says this is a common concern: "Growths on older people's faces cause them embarrassment. If they have a skin cancer, they're very concerned about the scar they will get from surgery. They don't want to appear like they don't take care of themselves."
Other common concerns she notices:
Wrinkles, especially around the mouth in women, are very distressing to them, as it makes them look unhappy or 'sour'. Men don't like their "turkey" necks. Nobody likes jowls or dark under eye circles."
One woman close to 80 came to see her, Dr. Taub relates,"she had a huge number of wrinkles all over her face. I told her it would be difficult for me to make a significant change without some pretty aggressive laser treatments. One wrinkle in particular really bothered her. I told her I could inject filler and make it softer but it wouldn't have much effect on her overall appearance. When she came in for her two-week-after visit and we reviewed her before and after photos, we had accomplished exactly what I'd told her, but she looked at me in all seriousness and said, 'But I wanted to look just like you'. I told her, suppressing a smile, that since I was 30 years younger, that wasn't a realistic goal."
People look into the mirror and don't see themselves, Dr. Taub says.
Most people's enduring vision of themselves is from when they are 25. They don't really feel different, so the fact that the external self looks different causes an almost dissociation from their own image."
I admit, I've gotten sloppier with age. I don't always go out with makeup and I've been seen in frumpy shoes and crumply clothes. I chalk it up to having less time. But I do care about how I look – Dr. Taub is right, I still see a younger me in my mind's eye – and often in the mirror.
A Daily Mail article reports findings of an Invisible Women Study (sponsored by online fashion retailer isme.com).
…' the studies show that most women reach the peak of their mental, emotional and relationship effectiveness as they reach mid-life'...'Having brought up a family, become confident in their jobs, reached a state of wise comfort with their lives, they feel good about the future.
'Sadly the same can't be said for their feelings about their bodies. We live in an age where female beauty is defined as young – a definition that has become an obsession in society...."
This reminded me of a reader comment on How to Develop Thicker Skin:
I love hearing about all the procedures and products that work and for what
specifically, since we all have different complaints and problem areas… I think that as we age (at least for me), I'm not so concerned with having to conform to others' opinions, but I want to look as young as I feel—-which is quite young!
Wendy Lewis has hundreds of clients seeking her out for exactly this reason. "I love to see gals in their 70s and 80s who still get dressed beautifully, wear makeup and get their hair done to look their best. It keeps them young and vital for longer because they are still in the game." She adds"
There is no age limit anymore when it comes to looking after your appearance. When are you too old to care about your looks? I guess not until the pall bearers come."
Well, they're not here for me yet, that's why I look into all the options for how my outside can better reflect my inside.
How about you: Do you care less or care more?
Other insights on caring about – and for — your looks:
The Beauty of Older Women (the George Bernard Shaw quote I cite here also precisely reflects these sentiments!)