Who’s aging gracefully?

The key to successful aging is to pay as little attention to it as possible.”  ~Judith Regan

I get annoyed when the terms “anti-aging” and “age-defying” are used to market products to women who are barely out of high school.

Whether I’m thumbing through fashion/lifestyle magazines or surfing channels on TV, I’m bombarded with images of nubile celebrities touting the wonders of wrinkle creams, facial peels, and eye serums. And I rarely see photos of mature women representing my own middle-aged face or body when I browse through mail-order catalogs targeted to my own demographic.

So, I get the message: She who looks youngest wins.

Two years ago, I tried tackling this issue in one of my weekly columns on midlife issues. As a 50-something journalist, I vowed to join the campaign for honest aging. In my column, I promised to celebrate the beauty of graying temples and applaud the infectious charm of laugh lines. I also admitted that I plan to avoid cosmetic surgery (and that I’m terrified of Botox). I know the cliche is as exhausted as I am after a day of caring for my elderly mom, but I’m seriously trying to grow old gracefully.

“Women can look older and fabulous at the same time,” I wrote in the column. And I wasn’t suggesting that middle-aged women ought to give up on their looks. I even disclosed that my own medicine cabinet is an arsenal of anti-aging weapons. (Right now, there’s a back-up tube of Retinol and an outrageously expensive eye cream that promises to perform miracles just short of raising the dead.)  But I added that we all need to be more realistic — and that we’d all be happier if we paid less attention to the beauty-and-fashion police.

Days after the column was published, I received many grateful notes and comments from women even younger than I am. But soon enough, my editor — a sharp woman in her twenties — e-mailed a disturbing note of caution.

“Were getting complaints from plastic surgeons,” the editor warned me. “With so many plastic surgeons and cosmetic salons as our advertisers, its really important that we cater to them.  So I am asking you to stop writing against face lifts and other cosmetic procedures. You can keep writing about the beauty of midlife, but be sure to say that cosmetic surgery is a good option.”

It was the first time in my 25 years as a columnist that Id been told to alter or censor my editorial opinions.  I was miffed – but not totally surprised. Though Id learned years ago in journalism school that its unethical for editors to allow advertisers to drive their editorial content, experience has taught me that many publications – especially womens magazines – are highly influenced by advertising dollars. The editor who scolded me was simply trying to keep her job.

At 56, I hope to keep working and writing as long as there are markets open to me.  Id like to use my years of experience to enhance the quality of life for other women my age. Yet I know it won’t be easy to write honestly about aging in a culture that worships at the temple of youth. Meanwhile, it’s worth remembering that the “advice” you read in most beauty and fashion magazines is barely skin deep, if not totally inspired or supported by advertising dollars. — Cindy La Ferle

–A different version of this column originally appeared in the Oakland Press. Photos by Cindy La Ferle–

17 thoughts on “Who’s aging gracefully?

  1. True confession– Yesterday I had a facial peel to help reduce my age spots– Not sure if that technically qualifies as trying to age gracefully but I’m doing my best.

    Perhaps if I didn’t need a lighted magnifying mirror to apply mascara (since my vision has faded with age) and perhaps if the publishers and advertisers didn’t all seem to live behind an airbrush, it would be a little easier to age without feeling like an old hag, but sheesh– Having to censor yourself should at least get you several (dozen) free jars anti-aging lotions and potions from the dermatologists who would be getting “free” mentions from you.

    Big sigh. Hang in there.
    xo jj

  2. Once again, corporate America sets the agenda. Too bad. I want to give them the single finger salute! Keep writing about aging gracefully, and if you can avoid 1.) stigmatizing plastic surgery and 2.) saying it’s a ‘good option,’ all the better. Since I think you want to talk about feeling good about ourselves as we age, perhaps you can avoid the facial aspects entirely, and address the mental, spiritual and physical strength that we may still possess and cultivate. The photographer Imogen Cunningham published a wonderful photo book called “After Ninety” which was simple portraits of oldsters. They are beautiful and powerful.

  3. The latest advice given to middle-aged women fighting the creep of weight gain is to get eight hours of sleep. And eight and a half is even better!
    Do you know anyone past 50 who sleeps for eight hours a night? If our husbands aren’t snoring and jolting us from sleep, we’re up to visit the potty three times a night, or night sweats are waking us. Eight hours of sleep in mid-life? I am convinced the “scientist” who dreamt that one up is in her twenties, naturally beautiful and thin as my patience at this kind of advice.

  4. Joanna, I think facial peels are healthy and good, especially for women who’ve had sun damage or skin cancer. I’ve had both, and was told that peels are great for encouraging cell turnover. And if they give you a glow that lifts your self-esteem, well, that’s a real bonus, too.

    Debra, I laughed when I read your comment! So true. Stress is a huge factor in sleep deprivation, at least for me, and I know I’m not getting enough zzzzzz. 😉

  5. My mother always said that as we grow older our hair should get shorter and our hems longer.
    She also said if we wore it when it was first in style we shouldn’t try it the second time ’round.
    Seems like easy, practical advice!

  6. Debra, I SO hear you about a mid-life woman’s challenges in getting 8 hours of sleep.

    Cindy, thank you about being upfront with your readers. That says a lot about you.

    By the way, I laughed out loud when you talked about the eye cream that promises to perform a miracle just short of raising the dead!

    Whatever age we are, I think we should wear it confidently and look our best (or as best as we can) and refuse to feel “less than” because of societal pressures.

    Of course, costmetic surgery is an “option” just as choosing not to have costmetic surgery is an “option” as well.

  7. Looks as well as attitudes change as we age. At 20, I too thought youth and beauty was all – I’m just so sad I never felt grateful for what I actually had back then, instead of fretting over and magnifying every imperfection! Now? I guess I AM grateful for what is left, most especially my poor eyesight (grin).

    Cosmetic surgery only delays the inevitable, I’m finally comfortable in my old skin.

  8. @ Cindy: Thanks so much for your comments. I always enjoy your spin on these issues, too.

    @Shrinky: My sentiments exactly! Not long ago, I was looking at some old photos of myself. At the time those were taken, I’m sure I was highly critical of myself and unhappy with how I looked in the photos. Now, of course, I wish I had some of my younger looks back 🙂 It all comes ’round to appreciating what we have, right here, right now. And in the face of all that’s going on in the world, well, worrying about how we look is incredibly …. silly.

  9. I’m right there behind you. Funny how, if I never looked in a mirror, I’d be able to convince myself that I’m still 25. I still FEEL 25. 🙂

  10. I think it’s important to be comfortable with who we are, where we are in life. Trying to turn back the clock seems like lots of wasted efforts that can be so better used directed elsewhere, pursuing our passions, living a gracious, contented life.

  11. I don’t know if you read my post a year or so back about “being real?”
    I can’t stand for this nonsense, we are who we are. Those gray hairs and wrinkles are a sign of wisdom and experience!
    Having said that, I would welcome all kinds of Botox 🙂
    I am a walking, talking, oxymoron!

  12. My first reaction to your editor’s comment is unladylike, along the lines of the plastic drs can take a piss.

    On second thought, how fabulous that you’re such an important figure in your community! And your column is so influential that it can change society!

    Bravo! Keep sharing the beauty of time and life and growing in our own skins.

    Spoken from a 59 year old silver-haired viewpoint.

  13. On the one hand: I hate that society wants women to slice and dice away any evidence of “real life” on our faces. I worry that young people don’t even know what a given age actually looks like anymmore. Some of the most beautiful women I know shine right through every single one of their gray hairs, wrinkles, age spots, and all.

    On the other hand: I recently asked a plastic surgeon what the most gratifying part of her job was. Her face lit up completely as she told me that she often treats women who were in abusive relationships and finally got the courage to walk away and start anew. These women get a real self-esteem and confidence boost when they can look in the mirror without seeing the scars of their past relationships. So…I guess a lot of it depends on where you’re coming from. No easy answers…

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