Who wins the wrinkle wars?

BEAUTYThe old proverb, “Beauty is as beauty does,” assumes a whole new meaning for women of a certain age. 

Apparently, weve got a lot of work to do. Pick up any womens magazine and youll notice the terms “anti-aging” and “age-defying” are used to market products to girls who’ve barely graduated from high school. In television ads, surgically altered actresses tout the wonders of lifting serums and other “miracle” creams.

We get the message: Aging is shameful and must be fought at any cost.  She who looks youngest wins.

The anti-aging movement has spawned a new crop of books addressing the “surgery vs. product” faceoff.

“Both the subliminal and obvious messages of the beauty trap are designed to make you dissatisfied with your looks — and to make you go to great lengths and expense to change them,” notes celebrity dermatologist Dr. Harold Lancer in Younger: The Breakthrough Anti-Aging Method for Radiant Skin (Grand Central; $27).  “That being said, there is nothing wrong with wanting to improve your appearance.”

Lancer advises women to focus first on skincare and nutrition, reserving dermal fillers or cosmetic surgery as a last resort.

French mystique

Years ago, I swore Id never waste a minute worrying about under-eye bags or any other flesh that was starting to head south.  I promised to age gracefully; to make peace with the inevitable march of time and the pull of gravity.

I was kidding myself. Today, my medicine cabinet proves Ive become another foot soldier in the war on wrinkles. Armed with an arsenal of products, Im constantly battling the encroaching lines on my face.

Of course, expensive creams are easier to justify than cosmetic surgery. While fillers and facelifts have gone mainstream, theres still a feminist stigma attached to “getting work done” — especially if you end up looking like an homage to Joan Rivers.

“Cosmetic surgery all over the world is becoming almost a religion, and many people worship at the doctors office till they are stretched like a too-tight blouse and bear frozen smiles,” writes Mireille Guiliano in her new book, French Women Dont Get Facelifts (Grand Central; $25).

Guiliano reminds us that mature women are still considered sexy in France – and that cosmetic surgery isnt as popular there as it is in America. French women might “partake in a little Botox or another filler,” Giuliano reports. But for the most part, she says, they rely on good skincare and cleverly tied scarves to enhance their seasoned beauty.

A second look

Sadly, miracle creams really dont work miracles. This morning I caught a glimpse of my tired reflection in the bathroom mirror, and for a moment I considered booking my first Botox treatment. Then I felt guilty for being so hard on myself.

Yes, theres more work to be done.

For starters, we all need to stop judging the cosmetic choices of other women. At the same time, I believe each of us should choose carefully, whether we opt for a facelift or fillers, or simply settle for an attitude adjustment.  And short of moving to France, we must keep challenging our own cultures ambivalent views on aging.

As Dr. Lancer notes in Younger, “True beauty is being the best you can be in all aspects of your life.” Beauty is as beauty does.

 Original artwork by Cindy La Ferle; collage with borrowed detail from Botticelli’s Primavera.

Prime magazine

Be on the alert to recognize your prime at whatever time of your life it may occur.”  ~Muriel Spark

DSCN3801A supplement to The Detroit News and Free Press, Michigan Prime (formerly Michigan Senior Living) has a new title and design.

I’ve been writing a personal column for the magazine since June of last year, fulfilling my longtime dream of reaching a large audience of fellow Baby Boomers. So far, I’ve written columns about the decision to place my mother in assisted living; how to write a memoir; anger management; why self-care isn’t selfish; and more.

I’m always open to fresh ideas and midlife adventures for future columns, so please feel free to send me a private message using the “Contact” tab (above) on this site.

My goal for the bimonthly column is to inspire others who want to embrace the freedoms, changes, and challenges of the second half of life.  Even if you don’t live in the Detroit area, you can read Prime online, where you’ll find my current column, “A Mother-in-law in Training.”

Birthday blues

Growing old is mandatory; growing up is optional.”  ~Chili Davis

Doug and I just returned from a long birthday weekend in St. Joe. To be perfectly honest, my birthday (Saturday) felt a bit sad this time around, as if someone had let the air out of all the party balloons.

I suspect my blue mood had a lot to do with the fact that my mother totally forgot my birthday again this year. Of course, I’m not surprised. Mom’s dementia has progressed to the point where she no longer looks at the calendar I gave her, nor does she care what day or month it is. She still remembers her own birth date when hospital staffers ask her for it, but she can’t keep track of holidays and other special events — even when we write them down to remind her.

Not so long ago, before vascular dementia consumed her former, thoughtful self, my mother would call to schedule my birthday dinners at least a week in advance. And she’d always treat me to something special on a shopping trip we’d take together. Though I’ve learned how to deal with a new and difficult version of my mother, last week I found myself battling the same waves of grief I experienced on my birthday following my father’s death in the summer of 1992.

Watching our parents turn ill (or die) is a grim reminder of our own mortality — not exactly the frosting anyone would choose for her proverbial birthday cake.

It didn’t help that August 4th was blistering hot in St. Joe. And just before we left for dinner that night, a huge turkey vulture swooped down to perch in a poplar tree behind our house. It seemed like an awful omen of some kind. (Another vicious year ahead? Or am I reading too much Alice Hoffman?) Topping it off, a violent storm erupted while we were driving to a local restaurant for my birthday dinner.

Thankfully, my dark mood lifted with the brighter weather on Sunday. Doug and I spent a memorable evening on a gorgeous Lake Michigan beach, then rode the Silver Beach carousel after a casual dinner in St. Joe. (I chose the horse representing Michigan State, my alma mater.) Riding the carousel with my dear husband made me feel like a kid again, which is quite a feat, given that I just turned 58 years old.

Taking a long walk back to the car, the two of us watched the sunset on the beach. The majesty of Lake Michigan — my favorite lake in the world — reminded me that my problems are relatively small; that my mother’s dementia is part of a midlife journey that many others have traveled before me. Blessed with an incredibly patient and loving husband, I know I can handle any rough water ahead. And so turns another year. — Cindy La Ferle

Top photo: The sun begins to set on Lake Michigan in St. Joe. Bottom photo: Doug walks the beach.

Midlife lessons

“Be on the alert to recognize your prime at whatever time of your life it may occur.” — Muriel Spark

Now in assisted living, my mother is battling vascular dementia and heart disease. Watching her decline, I often struggle to find the proverbial wisdom that comes with growing old. Does anyone really look forward to aging — especially in a culture that worships youth?

Even so, if anyone were to ask if I’d like to relive my twenties, my answer would be a firm “no.” I’ve reaped valuable lessons from the prolific fields of midlife, and wouldn’t trade them for the wrinkle-free skin of my youth. Here are just a few …

I’m grateful for (if not entirely thrilled about) the body I have.

I’ve finally accepted the fact that I’ll never be a size 4 and I’ll never be athletic. But I’m grateful that I can ride a bike and walk a few miles. And I’m grateful for Spandex.

I’ve never been into sports and my eyes glaze over when people start keeping score. Maybe I’m just wired that way, and I’ve stopped trying to pretend otherwise. I’m an artist and a writer — but that doesn’t mean I can’t be reasonably fit. I shop the outer aisles of the grocery store and try to eat all the veggies in my fridge before they rot.

Rather than focus on how much I weigh, I try to maintain a healthier lifestyle. My goal is to increase my energy levels and remain fit enough to embrace what life throws at me in the future — including, hopefully, grandkids.

Things aren’t necessarily better because they’re more expensive.

If you’ve never fallen under the spell of a trend or a designer label, you’re probably a candidate for sainthood. But most of us are suckers for status items and designer goods. Like kids who still believe in Santa, we believe the magazine editors who tell us we must buy pricey stuff if we want to be cool or beautiful.

Of course, some items are worth splurging on — but most are just a foolish drain on our retirement funds. If your closet is full of Coach bags you rarely use, you know what I mean.

I can’t tell you how many designer under-eye concealers I tried before making the happy discovery that a cheap one by Maybelline does the absolute-best job. Like seeing the naked emperor for the first time, it’s a thrilling when you get that quality doesn’t have to cost a bundle. It makes you feel like a grown-up.

Life is too short for long, boring books.

I think Socrates was in midlife when he reminded his followers that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” Midlife is the time to ask ourselves why we keep doing the same things while expecting different results.

Until I hit my fifties, I still followed a lot of routines that worked when I was younger — like getting the same haircut every month for years. Even after my son left for college, it took me a few weeks to realize that I didn’t have to keep stocking the cupboard with his favorite snacks. And every time I bought a new novel, I made myself read it — no matter how boring it was. (I was an English major, after all.)

Life is painfully, beautifully short — and for that reason, I no longer feel obligated to finish reading books that don’t grab me by the third chapter. There are too many other things to check off my bucket list. Why waste an hour on anything that doesn’t feel truly worthwhile?

You gotta have friends and work hard to keep them.

She has many wonderful qualities, but my mother has always been a grudge-bearer — and I’ve learned some of my hardest lessons from her. Over the years I’ve watched Mom stew over every little thing that angered her. She’d get mad at her friends for the smallest offenses — things that barely mattered in the long run.

When her dementia and hearing loss got worse, it became even harder for Mom to maintain the friendships she had left. And it became twice as hard to open her mind to new ideas, new hobbies, new people. Mom’s doctors agree that her negative attitude exacerbated her decline — especially her heart disease.

Is there anything more heartbreaking than facing old age without a strong social network? Studies prove that friends are essential to our health, so I won’t stop encouraging my mother to socialize in her new assisted living residence.

At the same time, I know it’s just as important for me to make time for my own friendships. I’ll continue to practice forgiveness, reach out to others, and treasure the friends I’ve made.  — Cindy La Ferle 

 

 

 

Another birthday

Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.” — Samuel Ullman

My birthday rolled around again this week. As I do annually during the first week of August, I take stock of everything that’s happened over the past year. I ask myself where I’ve fallen short or succeeded — but mostly consider what I’ve learned along the way.

Smack in the middle of my fifties now, I’ve finally accepted my imperfections and my weird streak. It’s been a struggle, but I’m also at peace with the idea that not everyone on Earth is going to like me or my ideas.  A woman whose political views I admire once pointed out that if everyone adores you, it’s likely that you don’t have a spine — or any opinions worth defending. I’d rather keep my spine and my opinions.

That said, I don’t ever want to stop growing, changing, and attempting to improve. With that in mind, here are a few things I want to keep working on in the coming year….

Curiosity. One of my favorite quotes from Ray Bradbury goes like this: “Life is trying things to see if they work.” Enthusiasm and curiosity demand a lot of energy — but they keep everyone young in spirit. I’m finding that it helps to hang around with creative people who take risks, seize their passions, try new things, and encourage others to do the same.

Patience. Growing up in the age of instant gratification, I have to keep reminding myself that waiting isn’t such a bad thing. Sometimes I need to chill. Anything worth its salt — including well-written articles, durable relationships, and a great marriage — takes a fair amount of time. And patience. The older I get, the more I appreciate the things I’ve earned through sheer perseverance. But I still need to learn to wait patiently for answers, and to keep the lid sealed on the slow cooker.

Being silly. When I’m at my lowest, it’s usually because I’ve started taking myself way too seriously. And I never cared much for humorless people who take themselves too seriously. I was lucky enough to be raised by a boatload of whimsical Scots who believed that acting silly — really silly — keeps you sane when nothing else makes sense. Now that I’m almost grown up, I know they were spot on.

Listening skills. I’m a talker and a teacher by nature. But as I mature, I hope to become a more accomplished listener and thoughtful conversationalist. My biggest pet peeve is other people who deliver self-absorbed monologues in social situations. I wish I had a dollar for every hour I’ve had to spend with tiresome folks who ramble on and on about their their own stuff — and never ask a single question about my stuff. My new rule of conversation: I must never leave a party, family gathering, lunch date, or interview without knowing at least three new things about the people with whom I’ve spent a few hours. No matter how well I think I know them.

Reality checks. One of my favorite scenes in The Wizard of Oz is when Toto pulls back the curtain and reveals the goofy old guy pretending to be Oz. I’m grateful for every opportunity that serves to zap false illusions and expose the naked emperor. As I age, I hope to have more of these opportunities. This year, I’ve been booked to work as an extra in several feature films and TV episodes. I’ve learned a lot about filmmaking — and human nature. I’ve learned, for instance, that Hollywood is synonymous with hard work, long hours, and sleep deprivation. I’ve met some of the nicest people behind the scenes, and also discovered that real movie stars aren’t quite as glamorous up close as they appear on film. Of course, I knew that all along, but wanted proof. Movie stars are (mostly) regular folks with a knack for high drama. I prefer to be a regular person without the high drama, and I’m ever so grateful I came to that conclusion in my own backyard.

Authenticity. I believe this is the highest quality anyone can aspire to.  As surely as I continue to seek it out in other people and experiences, I must continue to nurture sincerity in myself, in everything I do.

Reading the fine print. I hope to live a healthy life, well into old age, and to die clutching a book in one hand and a real newspaper in the other. I appreciate the Internet and all its wonders, but there isn’t a blog or site in cyberspace that can top or replace the scent of fresh ink on paper, or the discovery of a wonderful novel at my favorite bookstore. This year I must, and will, continue to support the printed word by purchasing newspapers and books and magazines. The employment of many of my dearest (and most respected) friends depends on the endurance and triumph of the printed word. I believe that civilization itself depends on it too.

Appreciation. This has been a year of loss and worry, laced with many reminders to cherish and appreciate the people I love. My father-in-law died in June, and my mother’s health is in question. Meanwhile, a very dear friend is recovering from cancer surgery. Appreciation is the incomparable thrill I get each time I walk through my side door and am reminded of my day-to-day blessings. It’s the sense of comfort that washes over me when I hear my husband breathing next to me, or my son’s voice on the phone. Or when I flip through my address book and glance at the names of the good people I could easily call on for help any time of the day or night. I appreciate every single day and every friend I’m given, and I need to send a thank-you note to the Universe. I really do. — Cindy La Ferle

— Photo: “Crazy Science” by Doug La Ferle —