I recently had the opportunity to speak with Vivian Diller, Ph.D. the author of Face It: What Women Really Feel as Their Looks Change, which is a book about helping women strike a healthy balance between letting their looks matter and accepting the inevitable fact that their looks will change as they age. As a psychologist myself and as a middle-aged woman, I was particularly interested in learning how to help today’s women navigate the ups and downs associated with aging in a youth-obsessed culture that reinforces the notion that our looks are our currency, power and what makes us ultimately female.
Although most of us have been taught that beauty is really only skin deep, we may still find ourselves frantically attempting to push the pause button on our own aging as soon as our first wrinkle or gray hair appears. Our own conflicted feelings and the conflicting messages we receive from the media and sometimes from our own family and friends can leave us feeling confused and with a lack of clarity regarding how we should address our aging and changing looks. Aging is a difficult process that involves mourning multiple losses, one of which is our youthful appearance and physical vitality.
Here is some of what Dr. Diller had to say that I found particularly helpful. I hope you will too:
• Have a flexible definition of beauty. Try not to have only one vision of what you consider to be “the right look” in mind. When we achieve a flexible image of beauty we develop a kinder inner dialogue as well as a more realistic concept of what “beauty” truly is and means.
• Admit to yourself that looks matter. Working through feelings of loss and grieving associated with our changing looks helps us achieve a healthy balance between “holding on” and “moving on” and gives us the ability to enjoy our looks at any age.
• Mothers can make a difference. It is important for mothers to educate their daughters about the myth of beauty created by the media. It is also important for mothers to have conversations with their daughters about the impact the media can have on self-image. Young girls also need to be made aware of the fact that most, if not all, of the images they see in magazines have been digitally manipulated.
• It is impossible to anti-age. This is my personal favorite lesson from my conversation with Dr. Diller. She suggests focusing on caring for your skin and health with the goal of promoting health and vitality for your whole being and a realistic improvement of appearance.
• Nurture your intellect: Although we have been taught that beauty isn’t everything, many women still feel that their looks are their currency, power and what’s makes them truly female. Letting go of this priority allows women the chance to nurture and develop other aspects of themselves.
How do you feel about aging? Are you concerned about looking older? What are you feeling about how the media portrays women and beauty? Do you have other suggestions for how we can better cope with our changing looks and aging? I would like to hear from you.