Reserve your right to age gracefully.
By Pam Houghton
“Eeew,” I thought as my reflection peered back at me, thanks to that evil invention, Facetime.
Even though my emerging-adult daughter had told me (several times!), “You look good for your age,” all I saw was my double chin and a neck long past the spring-chicken stage.
Not to worry, says Bloomfield Hills psychotherapist Pam Vaughan. Others “see you as their mother, their sister, their aunt. They don’t think, ‘Oh, my gosh, you have a double chin,’ and if they do, it leaves their thoughts almost instantly.”
So why is there a difference between the way we think we look, and the way others see us, especially for older women?
Women aren’t allowed to grow old gracefully, Vaughan notes. Society “doesn’t like to see women get old.”
Once you reach a certain age, society seems to imply you no longer look good. Because of loud and clear advertising messages, along with magazines and other media outlets “that tell us we need to change, it’s easier in this society for men to age with grace than it is for women,” Vaughan says.
Deanna Geisler, a certified physician’s assistant and cosmetic facial aesthetics specialist for Rochester Dermatology Clinic, and its spa, SkinOvations, agrees. But she puts the issue in the context of the women’s liberation movement. While the first few waves of feminism dealt with issues such as voting rights, birth control and workforce participation, Geisler believes that, in spite of these advancements, we have entered a fourth wave where we seem to grapple with a woman’s right to age gracefully.
“Subconsciously, no one likes to get old, but there’s not as much social pressure on men to remain youthful. They get distinguished as they get older. When you look at the timeline of the women’s liberation movement, we’re still pretty new with it. Men have had time to establish confidence with aging. Women haven’t.”
That means women are more likely than men to use cosmetic procedures such as fillers and laser treatments. Geisler, who has been performing non-surgical procedures on women for more than 25 years, thinks they are an acceptable self-improvement technique, as long as women are realistic about the work they want done.
Smaller procedures, such as filling out a lip line, are preferred over drastic change. “Most women, once you have a heart-to-heart talk, are on board with subtle modifications,” Geisler says. “The goal is to make women feel confident.
“I think women should look better, not different,” she adds. “Part of our appearance is in the art — our makeup, hair and jewelry are an art, and so are fillers. That’s part of our grace to be able to do that.”
But no one need go overboard a la Hollywood actresses who can barely move their foreheads, she advises. “Women lose their grace when [cosmetic procedures are] overdone.”
Birmingham resident Lisa Peers, a former stage actor who moved to Michigan from San Francisco in 2006, watched fellow thespians struggle with the acting industry’s preference for youth over age. But relying on Botox and fillers to compete for roles causes “more problems over time than they solve,” she says. “The actors aren’t able to be as expressive if their faces can’t move easily and naturally.”
It isn’t as if their frozen expressions go unnoticed. “I think we’re screaming out for women to look more natural,” says Vaughan, who cites Diane Keaton and Susan Sarandon as two examples of famous women aging gracefully. “They still look like themselves.”
After she turned 40, actor-turned- novelist Peers had to face her own changing appearance. “I’d always been a character actress, so I thought I’d be able to take the aging process in stride. Then I got a new headshot soon after I moved here, and I was completely thrown by the crow’s feet and all that. I realized I’d have to restart my acting career in an unfamiliar city with an unfamiliar face.”
Almost as an antidote, Peers, who also works in the health care industry as a communications manager, made the transition to writing, and published a novel, Love and Other B-Sides, about an aging male rock star. “It was gratifying to write a male character that had come to terms with wrinkles, a gut and gray hair.”
Maybe that’s what women “of a certain age” have to do.
“Some of the most beautiful women I know are 50 and over,” Vaughan says. “They let their gray hair come in, they don’t hide their wrinkles and still they look beautiful.”
Geisler says thanks to the inevitable ups and downs of life, we’ve earned our wrinkles. “Smile lines are there because we’ve had joy.”
So why hide every nook and cranny? “We all have the right to age gracefully,” Vaughan says. “Age can represent wisdom and experience and knowledge. It doesn’t have to be a negative thing.”
Vaughan, 52, says she’s never had more “chutzpah.” Instead of falling in step with society’s message that getting older is a bad thing, Vaughan says we should be able to say, “Oh my gosh; I’m 50 and I’m healthy, and I feel damn good.”
Go tell that to the reflection in the mirror. Or Facetime. NS