November 13, 2016
This essay was written 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.
After spending many years spent juggling various passions and honing her marketing acumen in a variety of roles, Deb took a 3,000 mile leap of faith and moved from her home in the northeast clear across the country to Seattle, to help her ex-husband fulfill his dream of building the first organic and fair trade certified chocolate factory in the United States. As chief sales and marketing guru, she continues to ensure that Theo Chocolate is firmly rooted in its commitment to organic, fair trade chocolate while creating a model for sustainable business. Deb lives in Bellevue, Washington with her husband, a Microsoft geek, and her son, a budding musician.
As I sit here on a sunny day, towards the end of my early 50’s, I am faced with the reality that I don’t have any seminal words to share about physical aging as a woman – though I wish that I did. Recently The New York Times’ Lifestyle section published an essay on the topic by a well-educated professor in her early 50’s. I gobbled it up thinking, “Oh a piece in the Sunday Times – she will have some insight. She’ll somehow have the recipe for the right combo of moral compass and intellect peppered with a healthy dose of vanity to prescribe how the educated enlightened woman should navigate the inevitable and inescapable decline into creepy, sagging skin.”
On the other hand, I’ve lived long enough to know that aging is a privilege. When I was in my insecurity-laden early 20’s, I had a woman friend, born on the same day, the same year as me, in fact – who seemed to have a perfect life. She was beautiful (an actual Prince went to her Ivy League college and was in love with her, but sadly for him, she did not return his affection). She was brilliant. She was kind. I envied her, and I fell far-short of her in my own estimation of myself. In our late 20’s, she was diagnosed with leukemia. She was very ill for a period of years, and then went into remission. We both married at age 30 and each became pregnant with our first child at 33. During her pregnancy, her cancer came back. She was able to give birth to a healthy baby girl, but passed away within her daughter’s first year of life. I’m (obviously) still here, and am excitedly planning my son’s 21st birthday dinner.
When she passed away, in the thick of my own elation at the birth of my child, I had the blistering awareness for the first time that envying anyone else’s life is a sin. First of all, every one of us has our “row to hoe” in life – and we can never ever know what fate awaits us, or another. Life is fragile, and can turn on a dime. Second, envying someone else – including your younger self – is tantamount to abandoning and betraying your own uniquely evolving being. Every single one of us is the distinct expression of traits, experiences, thoughts, and feelings that only we have become and are right now, on this day, lucky enough to continue becoming.
Furthermore, even thinking about the question of crepey skin is a luxury. Through my work, I am aware every day of women worldwide whose life questions are far more essential and urgent than whether or not to soften the crow’s feet around their eyes.
So, when I wrestle with whether-to-do-what-to-do to “correct” my now sagging jawline, strong laugh lines, furrowed brow lines, I unfailingly return to the desire to cultivate that which is below the surface of my skin – to the unique and aspiring aspects of myself that want to be wiser, kinder, healthier, more whole. I take good care of my physical body – but that means accepting its imperfections, and respecting rather than resisting the adaptations it has to make with each passing year.
Sometimes when I am soaking in a bubble bath before bed (a frequent occurrence) I am literally awestruck by the simple fact that my beautiful strong legs have carried me to this point. Moments like this evoke feelings of tenderness and gratitude. All of my body’s scars are visible reminders of the stories of my life, indicators of what my life has been, and signals to what it can still be. And I want to realize my remaining potential without focusing on the wrong things.
Ultimately, I want to make peace with all of the aspects of myself that are in conflict, and there are many. The hard working perfectionist who wants to spend more time enjoying life (In order to give myself permission to read more this year, I had to set a goal tied to an ambitious number of books). The woman who loves fashion as a form of self-expression and who wants to give everything away to those who have less than me. And of course, the woman who misses the visage of my youth – who also wants to embrace every sign of a life well-lived now etched permanently into my skin.
I want to go out into the world feeling attractive for a woman my age because I have been given the great gift of being a woman my age. I want solidarity with other women more than I want to compete with them. I want to have experiences that are enriching rather than treatments that are ephemeral. I want to live authentically and more fully with every passing year I’m given the gift of breath.
For now, I can still recognize myself, and I try to focus on feeling healthy and strong. I acknowledge what a difference mascara can make, but I don’t wear it every day. I spend more money on quality skin care products and I use them religiously – but I don’t expect miracles.
By the way, like me, the woman who wrote The New York Times article had more questions than answers.
But maybe we will both be lucky enough to continue to live our way into the answers. And I know in my heart, life is miracle enough.