Guest blog by Vivian Diller Ph.D. with Jill Muir-Sukenick Ph.D., edited by Michele Willens
Author of Face It: What Women Really Feel as Their Looks Change
Face it: there is no magic solution to aging with grace and dignity. Having just written a book offering guidance to millions of women who feel trapped by conflicting feelings, we think we are on to something. We have found satisfying, long term solutions that help us deal with a culture that virtually programs women to have a crisis over their aging appearance. We were once professional models, so we were made acutely aware how quickly a premium on physical beauty can fade with age. It took hard work and time, but we learned the secret of how to enjoy our changing appearance. Now we are therapists treating hundreds of women who may be fulfilled and evolved in many ways, but are still having difficulty coming to terms with the lines of time. Here are some great psychological tips we tell women to "think" about that help them change the way they "feel" and "look." They worked for us. They can work for you!
1) Beauty is not just a physical experience, but a psychological one as well. We all tend to think of beauty as a skin-deep issue, all about how we physically look. But research tells us that perception of what is deemed attractive and unattractive is much more complicated. Why do you think some beautiful women say, "I've never thought I was pretty"? Yes, even beauties like Uma Thurman and Michelle Pfeiffer have drawn attention to what they consider flaws. Similarly, there are women who may not be your typical image of beauty, yet when you ask them they say they are quite confident in their looks. Serena Williams never tries to cover up her unconventionally muscular physique: in fact, she flaunts it and somehow it makes her more appealing. What makes people feel attractive goes well beyond our physical self. It runs deep, much deeper than the eye can see.
2) Although we can't stop the physical changes of aging, we can change our experience of aging. No one, not any doctor, dermatologist or surgeon can stop physical changes of aging. There may be ways to look better, take care of your skin and bodies that put things temporarily on hold, at least on the surface. We're all for that! We're also for ways we can experience -- and even enjoy -- our changing looks. If we take care of ourselves, it makes us feel better and we smile more. When we smile, we look more attractive. The sooner we go through an interior process, (we offer six steps in our book) the better you will feel inside and out.
3) While aging is inevitable and irreversible, self-image is not. Self-image can be fluid and timeless. Self-image is not an actual still picture of oneself. It is an internal experience, how we see ourselves from within, over time throughout our lives. It's flexible and malleable. And if we understand that self image is changeable, then that is what we try to help women conquer. Not age itself. That's a battle we can't win.
4) Beauty is in the "I" of the beholder. If we become our own internal "eye," we can take control over how we see ourselves, rather than give it over to other people to determine if we're attractive or not. Our six steps serve to change the internal lens through which we see, not only ourselves, but others as well. The result? Women will be less self critical and less critical of each other.
5) Chronological age does not have to define you. You can define yourself at your chronological age. A particular age has little to do with how old you feel. You can define how you want to be 40, 50 and onward. We also don't have to let magazine images define what is beautiful. Some women in their 20's feel old. Some women in their 60's feel young.
6) Put your beauty in your identity, not your identity in your beauty. Your identity is made up of many aspects of yourself. How you look is just one of them. As you get older, more aspects of yourself can make up your identity; for example, your experiences in life, your accomplishments and your relationships. If you hold onto youthful beauty as a narrow definition of yourself, you're especially unlikely to enjoy your looks as you age. You leave out so many other ways to feel good about yourself.
7) Take an honest look at who you are, not what you look like. Mirrors tell only a little of what we really look like. Gaze again and go beyond, past your reflection and see who you are as a person. Think of what you see as only the image of yourself, that informs the world of your physical self. But who you are is more than what they see.
8) Rob beauty of its power over you. Take back that power and you will feel more beautiful. Our culture has given beauty power over women. We are told who and what is beautiful. We know that youth is beautiful. Most people see babies as beautiful. But grandmothers can be beautiful as well. Some of the most beautiful women in the world are those who smile, engage and appear happy at any age. If you take back the power of what makes you feel attractive, you will become more attractive to yourself and others.
9) Become less afraid of aging and you will look more beautiful. When you see a face that is scared, you would hardly call it beautiful. There is nothing pretty about fear. Women need to accept that aging happens and that becoming more courageous about all aspects of our lives will enhance them . . . and us.
10) Beauty matters to all women, but to those who age beautifully, it matters neither too much nor too little. We all know that a core aspect of our identities is our appearance. No doubt our looks matter. But women who allow beauty to matter, but keep it in balance with all other aspects of their lives, can enjoy their looks at any age.
Bottom line: Dealing with your looks as they inevitably change is a psychological process as well as a physical challenge. Master the first and the second will come with much more joy. When it comes to your face, your body and your aging process, be smart, be thoughtful and you'll be more beautiful.