Becoming the woman I always wanted to be: Angela Paul
This article was shared with permission from Rebelle Society as part of an empowerment campaign, “Wear Yourself In,” led by eco-luxe skin care company Kari Gran. In response to the beauty industry pushing an impossible idea of flawless youth for years, the campaign encourages women to be kind to themselves, and their skin, as they reflect on beauty, aging, wisdom, and self-acceptance.
This year I turned 60, and the truth is, I’m still coming to terms with that. I know it’s just a number — I wrote about this milestone extensively in my book The Beauty of Aging.
But, being 55 — the age when I began the book — and now at 60, just writing the number and speaking it out to people, well, sometimes I can’t quite get my head around it.
I say this not with a sense of terror or sadness, but more with a sense of incredulity. As a child, 60 sounded positively geriatric. Where did all the time go? How did 25 lead to 60 so fast?
When I speak to elders in their eighties and beyond, they all say the same thing — that despite their chronic aches and illnesses, in many ways they still feel like the same young person hiding inside.
Like most things in life, aging is a matter of perspective. 60 years old or 60 years young — it’s all in our mind. Some days I feel like a vibrant 30-year-old, other days I feel ancient. Some days I have energy and vitality to spare, other days I can’t wait to climb into bed and go to sleep.
Some days I feel as if I want to change the world, other days I’m just glad to still be in it.
I accept this and do not fight it. I do more when I have the energy, and rest more when I don’t. The days of comparing myself to others, or even to myself at a younger age, are long gone. One of the many positive side effects of aging!
I have not been an age-denier exactly, but if I’m honest, neither have I truly celebrated turning 60 — until recently. A dear friend of many years passed away unexpectedly this past Spring at the young age of 66. That shook me — and changed me.
And now the world around us seems to be spinning out of control. There is so much suffering, tragedy, and insanity that it makes one wonder how we will survive it all. We have before, and no doubt we will again, but the stakes seem higher these days. For our children, our grandchildren, and our planet.
To be alive at any age is a gift that I do not take lightly. I have absolutely no idea how many years, months or weeks I have left to inhabit this body. I try not to worry about things I cannot control. What is my concern is how fully alive I am while I’m still here.
I refuse to sleepwalk through life, so it’s incumbent upon me to live and love, fully spent until my very last breath.
With that in mind, I am now celebrating turning 60 with effervescent gusto and gratitude on a daily basis. Every birthday that affirms my health, my aliveness, and my presence on this earth, is cause for celebration, be it large or small.
I admit I have some fears about aging, but sharing my biological age isn’t one of them. I don’t want to become debilitated with illness or lose my mind. I have seen that happen to my mum — it was terrifying for her, especially in the early stages of dementia, and it’s excruciating to witness losing a loved one that way.
I have many things I still want to do and places I want to travel to, and hope I’ll have the opportunities and wellness to do them. But there are no guarantees for any of us.
When I was younger, I used to think a good year was when exciting epic stuff happened in my life. You know, world travel, dating, career opportunities, living in foreign countries, meeting new and interesting people, etc.
I’m fortunate that I still have a good share of that in my life, but let’s face it, as we get older, there’s less of the grand experiences and a lot more challenges to deal with.
Now older and a tad wiser, I want to be more like my little dog. By that, I mean I just want to quit thinking about an unknown future. I want to be tickled pink about a walk around the same old neighborhood, delirious about anticipated treats, and fully absorbed in a giddy moment of play followed by a deep contented nap. Doesn’t that sound splendid?
A good year is when there are no deaths or horrible illnesses in my family. That’s been tough going for my extended family and I these past few years. We’ve had to weather a great deal of loss, but even in the midst of all the sorrows, there’s been a bounty of love and blessings bestowed on all of us as well.
So even a harsh, somber year has had ample moments of beauty and grace to pull us through. We just have to be awake, open-hearted, and vigilant about noticing the rays of light piercing through the cracks of darkness and clouds of despair.
A good year is when my daughter met and married the love of her life, and she is happy and thriving. A good year is when I look back at the past 12 months and know I did my best — that I got up, showed up, and didn’t give up. I tried hard to keep doing the next right thing, and the next, no matter how many times I fell short.
A good year is when I’m surrounded by love, and find deep comfort in the dear loved ones who always have my back.
But at this time in my life, I’m more interested in good days, not years. A good day is when I still get to go to sleep at night spooning with my husband of 34 years. A good day is when I get to wake up in the morning in a healthy body, and know I have 24 hours in front of me.
A good day is when I have the funds to pay for all the foods and supplements to feed and take care of this body and my family.
A good day is when I feel a sense of purpose and passion. Right now, I’m passionate about politics, poetry, Zumba, Bernie Sanders, Global Warming, being of service, a glass of aged port, and the next travel destination on my wish list.
At 60, I’m fully engaged in life, but I expect there will come a time in my later years when I will be more than content to pull back from the world and all its drama.
A time when I don’t get all fired up about politics, climate change, greed and the multitude of injustices in the world. A time to let the madness of the world just be what it is. That time is not now.
As for the physical aspects of aging, they are what they are. No one loves it when we start to notice sagging skin, or brown age spots (that thankfully only show up on my back). My long distance sight is abysmal, my near sight is non-existent without reading glasses, and when it’s cold and damp, I get a bit arthritic.
Sometimes I wish I had more energy and stamina, but I’ve never been a high octane Energizer Bunny type of person who climbs mountains and does fine on a few hours of sleep a night. Overall I’m in good health, and I never take that for granted. I work hard at doing my part to stay healthy and well in body, mind and spirit.
We are given this human vessel to look after, and it’s our responsibility to nourish it with excellent self-care. Beyond the physical, it’s the feeling of aliveness that we need to nurture to stay youthful and enthusiastic about life.
For me, nothing makes me feel more sensual and alive than dance — free-form, wild woman, Isadora Duncanesque, move-my-body-till-I-drop, ecstatic dance. Sometimes when I’m home alone, I like to blast music and dance naked around my living room.
My sweet, bewildered malti-poo, who sits quietly on the sofa watching, looks at me as if she clearly thinks her mama has truly lost her marbles.
Having spent most of my adult life as a fashion model, I learned early on that if a woman’s looks have been a valued commodity, one could end up feeling pretty bankrupt when those looks inevitably fade.
At 20, I saw the panic in older models of 25, and I knew I had to develop an inner life and cultivate true self-worth that had nothing to do with my appearance.
I learned to meditate when I was in my twenties and living in Japan, and that became my lifelong daily practice for knowing and loving myself from the inside out. Stress and lack of sleep accelerate the aging process from a deep cellular level, that’s why regular meditation and healthy sleep hygiene is key to aging well.
I’m a lover of silence and solitude, and a staunch protector of my space and peace.
I still have my little vanities and take pride in my appearance, but I do not obsess. I enjoy the occasional indulgences and pampering that feels good and helps to deflect time a bit.
But the most valuable beauty secret that serves me best is the knowledge that while superficial beauty fades over time, beauty derived from wisdom, joy and experience does not.
I’ve also learned, both as a married woman and as a personal coach, that a healthy marriage can add years to your life, while an unhealthy marriage can most definitely make you old before your time. One of the challenges in a long marriage is how to keep the erotic alive, and how to keep seeing each other with fresh eyes.
Time apart helps, and personally, I’m all for a little old-fashioned, innocent flirting. Let me be clear — it’s not about sex, and it’s definitely not about soulless social media hook-ups. It’s about joie de vivre and a sparkle in the eye. It’s about noticing the light in alluring, interesting people, and them seeing it in you.
In general, it is my nature to be somewhat private (some might call it aloof) and I don’t readily engage with people in public as much as my husband does. I love this quality in him, his curiosity and genuine interest when he meets new people.
I’ve learned from him and grown to appreciate the chance encounters that can bring unanticipated magic and meaning into our daily life.
I think that’s partly why people, especially women, are drawn to him. I’ve heard it said about him that he really listens, and makes you feel like the most important person in the room. How rare and wonderful is that!
I love it when women find my husband attractive, and I know he still appreciates the beauty of other women. Our bond is timeless and sacred, so neither of us feels threatened when we see each other aglow from the passing appreciation of others. We’re happily married, but we’re not attached to each other’s hip, nor are we invisible or blind — yet!
And while I don’t go out looking for male attention (or female) I’d be a liar if I said that I don’t appreciate having a few admirers of my own — especially when they’re decades younger. Will I feel sad when that inevitably occurs less and less even though my darling husband swears it won’t? Probably.
But I also hope to have a grounded mature acceptance of the positive attributes of aging — a bank full of treasured memories, healthy loving relationships, and a fulfilling life that affords me the clarity to appreciate what is truly meaningful and important.
I will not be wearing a mini skirt and heels at 75, or practicing the hundred positions of Tantric Sex — then again, one never knows.
At 60, I have so much to be grateful for. I hope I have many more years ahead, but if my time were to be up tomorrow, I will have no significant regrets, and no unfinished business. I’m fully aware of my own flaws, human defects, complexities and contradictions. I’ve learned to love myself not in spite of them, but because of them.
This has made me somewhat softer, and taught me to be kinder and compassionate not just to myself, but to others.
I have had a rich, full and rewarding life. I’ve been deeply loved and valued. I have tried to make a difference in the world through service, through parenting, through my marriage, and through my words. I’ve tried to express what I’ve learned, to fight for what I believe in, and to share what I still struggle with.
I’m not afraid of my own death, but I am afraid of losing my loved ones. I’m sometimes afraid of the unknown, but I’m more afraid of what I do know. I’m afraid of the hatred and injustice in the world, and the overwhelming power of grief that has at times brought me to my knees. I don’t think I’ll ever get over losing my beloved dad.
Sometimes this dazzling, crazy life can feel too intense and too raw for my sensitive soul. Sometimes I get completely exhausted.
It’s hard being human.
And yet I welcome it all — every blessed, wondrous second, for as long as it lasts.
At 50, I started to feel like I was coming into my own. At 60, I am becoming the woman I always wanted to be. A strong woman in full bloom. We may live in a youth-obsessed society, but I’ve never felt more firmly anchored in my inner power and supremely at ease in my own skin.
It is not vain or arrogant to love oneself — to think highly of oneself. If that’s what you’ve been taught, it’s time to unlearn it. To feel and think of yourself as beautiful is your birthright. A woman’s beauty is as much a part of her as her intelligence, wisdom and spirituality.
If we cannot see our own beauty, how can we see it in others? How can we, as women, teach our daughters to love themselves if we don’t mirror it to them first?
What good does it do for anyone to think low of themselves? Humility and self-love are not mutually exclusive. It’s in the fusion of the two that we are able to draw the wisdom and generosity to give love and see the best and highest in others.
I look forward to being a grandmother one day, to growing old with my fine and tender husband, to new adventures together and alone. I look forward to meeting more interesting people as I continue my life’s journey, and delighting in some unexpected magical surprises along the way.
At 60, I have a lot less time ahead of me than behind me, so I’m determined to make every moment count. How will it all look, I have absolutely no idea.
I leave those details up to the Divine.
At 60, life is still a perplexing mystery, and clearly, sometimes so am I.
Angela Paul is an author, model, speaker and life coach whose main focus is on relationships, marriage, life transitions and graceful aging. Her most recent book, "The Beauty of Aging: A Woman’s Guide to Joyful Living," inspires and empowers women of all ages to fearlessly embrace the wisdom and beauty of aging. She rarely Tweets, but you can follow her on Facebook or check out her website.