“Your crown has been bought and paid for. Put it on your head and wear it.” –Maya Angelou
I don’t know whether I want to shake them or hug them.
Lately, I’ve been bombarded on social media—Facebook, Twitter, YouTube—with images of women who look like they’re trying too hard to be supple and youthful. The forehead is too smooth, the lips unnaturally plumped, the cheeks those of a 20-something. Artfully done, it’s ok, I guess. Less than artfully done, it’s a bit scary. I’ll admit to my own bits of maintenance, but I try to keep it minimal. I’m a big fan of authenticity.
It feels off to me, these faces with nary a flaw. I joke with women I know who spend significantly on looking youthful—with every procedure they get, they age me 10 years. When really, we are the same age. (Author Jennifer Weiner put it well in her 2015 New York Times article, “The Pressure to Look Good.”)
Some try to hold onto husbands whose roving eyes alight far too long on the truly youthful—women in their 20s and early 30s who embody what their wife used to be. Others, divorced or single for a lifetime, try to attract what society tells them they should have to be worthy—a man who adores them. Many argue that it’s “self-care.” Hogwash. Self-care is exercise, eating right, a balanced lifestyle. If looking 35 at 55 is “self-care,” we’re all in trouble. Since when does self-care involve anesthesia and painful recuperation?
I recently posted a photo of myself on social media. I was wearing my new reading glasses and joked that the older I get, the bigger they get. Not many of those commenting mentioned the glasses. Instead, they wrote encouraging bits: “Beautiful!” or “Looking good!”. I so appreciated their kind words. But I also cringed to think I might appear to be one of those women who posts a selfie to garner comments that bolster her ego.
If I sound catty, I don’t mean to. I have just tired quickly of women who advertise themselves while trying so hard to appear not to do so. I appreciate substance. And anyone who over-indexes on plastic surgery, self-promotion and artifice, values the outer at the expense of the inner. She also supports a culture that tells us who we are—just as we are—is somehow not good enough.
I’ll admit that I briefly considered joining the fray. After my divorce, I found myself—at the urging of a few of the moms from school—in a plastic surgeon’s office. I was suffering from Nora Ephron’s malaise about her aging neck. As he talked to me about a “simple procedure” in which I’d have “minimal bruising,” at a cost that made me gulp, I checked myself. And realized I had bought into these moms’ fears about aging, rather than listening to my own internal wisdom. I walked out of his office knowing this was not a path I want to take. There are days it’s tempting, in the corporate world I swim in. But I’m trying to hold onto what’s important rather than joining women who fear becoming a certain age.
I don’t always succeed. I recently interviewed a woman easily 10 years my senior who looked glam and youthful in the most tasteful way. It brought up every insecurity I have about aging—and the comparison game is one we women know we’ll never win. There will always be someone with a tighter, prettier or more youthful something. I had to lean on a friend to help me regain perspective after that interview.
What I had to remember was what matters. Ms. Angelou’s quote about earning your crown? So true. I’ve earned it, baby. When you’ve sat in the wreckage of the life you thought you were going to live, post-divorce (or post-anything-major, for that matter), it should bring you up short. When you’ve had to dig deep to re-enter the workforce, to decide which bill can wait for a few more days, to watch your kids pay for mistakes they didn’t make—well, you get clear about what matters really quick, if you’re brave enough.
A close friend from my college days recently surprised me with a beautiful Tiffany & Co. silver key charm. We were having lunch when she placed that little blue box on the table, with a card that read: “Because you created your own key to success as a provider and mother . . . Love you my friend!” Years of “figuring it out,” reduced to one simple phrase. But a really satisfying simple phrase. One that began when I came home from the courthouse after my divorce became official. I was shaken to my core. I made myself a steak dinner with a dynamite sparkling rosé. And I tried to let the relief—and yes, a little joy—creep in. It was my way of showing myself I was going to be there for myself. A simple dinner but it meant so much more . . .
. . . just as my friend’s simple gift means so much more. She has witnessed my struggle. She saw me earn my deep inner knowing. She saw me realize that my worth has nothing to do with my neck or my forehead. And she acknowledged that worth. Man, friends like that are forever keepers.
I want to tell these women showing up in my social media feeds, with their oversized lips and necks stretched taut, to stop. To put on their damn crown—a crown that has nothing to do with holding onto their long-lost 20s or 30s. And then to own their years. To spend more time developing and mining their substance than their collagen. Poor Nora died in 2012. To watch the video of her talking about aging is sad now. Because, did her neck really matter in the end? Do any of us sit around talking about it? No. But we still enjoy her substance—the movies and books she brought to the zeitgeist to enrich us.
Nora was 60 when she appeared in that video. I’m still years from that age, but I can fathom in our youth-obsessed society that 60 can be tough for a woman who is less than comfortable in her own skin. So, in the years between now and then, I will continue to try to be authentic. Just today, I updated my photo on my social sites. The old one was great, but I need to show people who I am as I age. Not who I was five or 10 years ago. I’m wearing aforementioned big ‘ole reading glasses and I still worry about my aging neck. But this is me. Now. And I earned this face, with all of its wisdom lines.
Yes, I’ll still spoon collagen peptides into my coffee every morning. I’ll exercise to combat the middle-aged middle. I’ll even get mild help with the thinker’s lines between my eyebrows.
But instead of succumbing to fears about aging, I will remember—my crown is bought and paid for. By me. Because I’ve earned my years and the different kind of beauty that comes with them. Perhaps more inner than outer.
Substance comes at a price having nothing to do with money. It beats bee-stung lips any day. Which do you want to sit next to at a dinner party?
Your answer tells me all I need to know. Show me what you’ve earned, not what you’ve bought. Because a vast chasm usually lies between the two.