Damned if You Do, Damned If You Don’t: In 2019, Let’s Be Done With With The Beauty Prejudice Already

 

 

Elizabeth I‘s make-up killed her. At least according to some historians. In her attempt to look youthful and blemish-free, the queen used a toxic white powder, Ceruse, containing high doses of lead. As you can imagine, lead isn’t something you want to put on your face every single day for years. No wonder the prosthetics and cosmetics to turn Margot Robbie into Queen Elizabeth I in the much-anticipated film, Mary Queen of Scots, gets so much attention. There’s an almost macabre fascination with it.  Margot looks freaky and that “look” actually ends up killing her.

But my fascination with her appearance is for a different reason. The queen went to great lengths to look like this (and suffer for it in multiple ways) for much of the same reasons we “kill” ourselves to look beautiful. According to Rebecca Onion‘s detailed story in Slate, The Real Story Behind Margot Robbie’s Wild Queen Elizabeth Makeup, Elizabeth was stuck. She was expected to look youthful and beautiful, as Onion explains: ‘People perceived a queen’s beauty as a sign of her divine right to rule.” In other words, she had to look good for her job. Sound familiar? Being the Queen, and a virgin at that, she became a worshipped, a cult-like figure that MUST remain youthful. Her appearance was one key aspect of that worship. “Living inside it all, Elizabeth clearly seemed to realize her presentation of a mask that didn’t slip was critical to her survival.” writes Onion.

At the same time, however, there was a strong anti-face-painting movement brewing. It’s questionable how much her subjects actually criticized her for it, but historians point to jokes made about her and published criticisms of the use of cosmetics in general stating that painted women are foolish, foul and abominable. Elizabeth just couldn’t win this game. Either she loses for looking old and ugly or she loses for masking her changing skin. And no question, she loses to her make-up’s poisonous effects.

Times have changed. Make-up won’t kill you (though some plastic surgery, like botched butt enhancements for example, can). Women can lead without having to be worshipped. And adorning ourselves with cosmetics is second nature. But we, women, aren’t fully immune from the high, and often complex, beauty expectations demanded of us in society. We have to look youthful, so as not to be deemed as frumpy and, thus, old-fashioned or not on the cutting edge of our fields.  And, at the same time, we can’t look too beautiful, so as not to appear too provocative or frivolous, and therefore, not smart or competent. Let’s be honest, how many of you — women and men — comment on what your female corporate or political leaders wear vs your male leaders wear? I remember these very discussions when my division was led by a woman.  I willingly took part in these conversations too! I’m not blameless. We didn’t want our female leaders to appear unstylish. Now that it’s being led by a man, not a word is raised. I’m not saying male leaders aren’t expected appear a certain way. It’s that it doesn’t become water cooler conversation, ever.

I love beauty. I love to play with make-up, wear fun outfits and get my hair blown out. I undoubtedly feel more confident and energized. And, yes, I want to be admired for it too. But why does it need to go beyond that? Why do women have to be caught between all of these tensions? Why can’t we look frumpy or dolled up without any of the negative associations? Why can’t we look beautiful without being accused of being flirty and flighty? My only hope is that as men invest in their beauty more (according to the American Association of Plastic Surgery, in 2017, nearly 100,000 men had filler injections, a 99 percent increase since 2000), we will level the playing field, and the conversations will turn from what women and men look like to whether they have something worthy to say and give to society.

 

Are We Hard-Wired to Be Attracted to the Beauty of Our Elders?

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Is it me or are we finally looking at our elder beauties in a new light?  Every where I look I feel like people are starting to pay attention to the beauty of the older women and men in our society in a different, progressive and admirable way.  Or perhaps it’s because my birthday is coming up that I look at aging with a fresh eye.  Whatever the reason, I feel like we are finally starting to see aging beauty for all the glamour, wisdom and experience it offers.

First, I was struck by the amazing comments I received in one of my recent Linkedin posts: Age and Decay: A Twist on What We Actually Crave.  The fact that we instinctively need to experience the aging process in others is what makes vinyl records, dilapidated buildings and older women so beautiful.  And then I came across a scientific study claiming that women don’t want beauty companies to offer them “anti-aging” products, but rather products that make them look and feel awesome as they are now. (Science Daily)  Finally, when I came across this story in Los Angeles Racked: “Fashion and Beauty Secerets form L.A’s Most Stylish Older Women,” I knew I must be on to something.  The article shares images of gorgeous older women, strutting their stuff, donning eclectic outfits, and displaying amazing hair and make-up (see pics above & below).  And what’s even cooler about them?  They are all active members of society — working in film, non-for-profits or even modeling!

But why try to stay beautiful?  For younger people it promises a mate and eventual propagation of the species.  But who needs it as we age?

But maybe there’s another way to think about people’s beauty.  Beauty — both inner and outer (frankly, I can’t separate the two) forces us to take notice.  It mesmerizes us.  It stops us in our tracks and draws like a magnet.  Nature has hard-wired us to react this way.  For the youth it may have one reason for it’s existence, but for others, another.  By admiring and being attracted to an older person’s beauty we can’t help but learn their stories, adopt some of their joie de vivre and hopefully take on their desire to keep building in this world vs let it all go and wait for the end to come.  When we see it in the best possible light, beauty’s allure can help us learn something, build for a better future, and see the opportunities before us.  We need the beauty of youth AND the beauty of old age.

Nature has made us beautiful creatures at EVERY stage so that we all strive to build a better world — whether that means more babies, more equality, better forms of entertainment, more happiness — and the list goes on.  Let’s hope I can adopt some of this lesson for myself as the big day rolls around :).



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Older Women Can Totally Be Hot!

MSNBC that despite an aging beauty/fashion magazine readership, the models featured are so much younger.  Case in point, 1/5 of all Vogue readers are over the age of 50 but the magazine has only featured one model over the age of 40 (Halle Berry) in the past year.  And physicians are pointing to this fact as one of the reasons so many older women suffer from poor body image and have reconstructive surgery to appear youthful.reported

In an earlier post (“Why Does Everyone Accept Aging Better Than Americans?“), I pointed out research that shows how the numbers of older women suffering from eating disorders has increased over the years.  While other research indicates that the biggest cause of the eating disorders is family members, the media plays a role too.

Personally I would LOVE to see more images of beautiful older women.  I am inspired by them.  Superficially speaking, they give me hope that I too can look awesome no matter how old I get.  It’s really too bad magazines don’t feature more older beauties.

But knowing the sheer force of female Boomers, I can’t believe that they won’t demand the pubs to expand their variety of gorgeous women.

And I’m looking forward to it!

Weekend Observations: Looking Awesome in Your 60’s

My parents stayed with us this weekend.  Malfunctioning air-conditioner aside, we had a fantastic time.

As is our routine on Saturday, we all trekked off the synagogue.  While I opted to wear something simple and relatively sweat proof given the temps, my mother wore a form fitting but still season appropriate dress.

Why would you care about our outfits?  Because at 66 years old, my mom looked pretty damn good in that dress.  (Oh yeah, she also happens to be a professor of chemistry; not too shabby, eh?)

After years of me pushing her to wear styles that embrace her great figure, she finally gave in to my nagging.  I hope I look as good as she does at 66, especially because she has never needed to use any fillers or go under the knife.  (Though she gets a killer dye job every 6 weeks on the dot!)

I have definitely had moments of terror that I was losing my physical appeal as I age.  And I just read an article citing how women feel old and ignored by the opposite sex at age 29 (while men feel that way at 58), so I know I’m not alone.  (Personally I don’t buy it; plenty of 29 year olds feel like they’ve barely reached their prime!)  But it kinda makes sense, right?  As human beings, we are biologically inclined to be attracted by youth.  And it’s only fair that young people get their chance to bask in the glory of youth.  All the rest of us did, so why not them?

But as I look at my mom, I’m put at ease.  She doesn’t fight her age; she embraces her beauty with gusto.  If we want to bury ourselves in sorrow and let ourselves go because we are getting older, then we have no one to blame but ourselves for being ignored.

But if we rise to the challenge and say, “Maybe I don’t look 20, but I can look damn good at 45 or 56 or 72,” then go for it!

I certainly will.

More to Love: Additions to the Reading List

Weekend Observations: Happy Birthday!

It’s my birthday!
I don’t tend to make a big deal out of my birthday.  OK, that’s putting it mildly.  I actually shun it!  But I’m celebrating this year because my b-day marks another big day: the birthday of our blog!
Yes, Beautyskew is one year old.
Thank you all for being fans and readers.  I love your comments and tips.  A big shout out goes to Amber Hopkins, my devoted and brilliant colleague who does so much behind the scenes to make the blog what it is.
Now that I have gotten my feet wet, I can’t wait to build the blog into something even more exciting.  Suggestions are welcome!
You may be saying, enough of the blog talk.  Why are you avoiding your own birthday?
I’m not avoiding it per se.  My husband and middle son, Boaz, are in Texas all weekend for the National Chess Championship so, for starters, there’s no point in having a big shindig.  Plus, I’ve always hated having parties on my behalf … oh, yeah, I’m also a lazy hostess.
But, really, I think I’m a bit reluctant to celebrate.  Surprisingly, it’s not because I fear looking older.  I think older women, if they take care of themselves, are gorgeous — a mixture of hotness, wisdom, and confidence.  And I know, many of you, including my husband (thankfully), agree with this.
This reluctance stems from a nagging voice in my head that continually asks: “Is this all there is?”  There’s no question I am so grateful to be married to a wonderful man,  to having 3 healthy, amazing children, to be living in the best city in the world (sorry to those suburbanites out there), and to being healthy.  And yet, I still feel I haven’t totally fulfilled my potential.
Sure, I have years ahead of me.  But let’s face it, the world isn’t as forgiving to women the older they get.  Interestingly, I got some great advice from someone totally tapped in to the marketing and advertising world.  She said, believe it or not, “agism isn’t the problem as along as you keep on looking good.”  Of course we have to build our skills and talents as we age as well, but looking the part matters a ton.
With that advice, I’m going to look forward to another amazing year, searching for the next adventure, and all the while looking and feeling as beautiful as I can.
Hmmm, I think I figured out my birthday present … some fancy new make-up!

Have You Had That "Oh Shit" Moment Yet?

I have.  It happened when I turned 36.
What am I referring to?  It’s that moment that Vivian Diller and Jill Muir-Sukenick describe in their new book, Face It, as the time a woman realizes something ain’t right with the world.  After digging in deeper, she realizes she’s been struck by the fact that she’s aging and her looks will never be the same again.
When my 36 year birthday came around I was kinda depressed and seeking approval from guys I barely knew or cared about.  After kvetching to my friend Melanie, I realized what was going on.  My early 30’s were over and I feared this birthday marked the beginning of the end of my abilities to attract male attention. While I’m no beauty queen and expend 99% of my energy on work and raising a family, I still rely on my looks a bit.  I’ve always appreciated the leg up it can give me.
“What happens when it goes?,” I panicked.  “Will I be attractive to people?” “Will my husband still find me hot?”
After sharing my fears with my friend, Melanie, I felt better.  Maybe not totally at ease, but better.
The authors, both former models turned PhDs in psychology, see this experience as steps 1 and 2 of their process to come to terms with and embrace one’s aging beauty.  While the book is primarily geared to Baby Boomers, thy say these moments can strike at any age.
What I found really interesting about the book, which taps into years of Diller and Muir-Sukenick’s personal and professional experience, was less its application to me and more its revelation that ALL women (and probably all men for that matter) go through this fear of losing their looks. You’d think only the 60 year-old women with the overly-plumped lips or excessively toned biceps, hell-bent on looking like 30 year-olds, are the ones living in fear.
Not so.
Even those women who never took beauty seriously or thought they were never beautiful to begin with, and thus wouldn’t seem to fear aging’s effect on their appearance, also experienced those ”oh shit ” moments.  After deep probing, these types realized that they DID care about their increasingly sagging bodies and wrinkled faces and wanted to come to terms with their feelings.
What this tells me is that beauty matters to us all, no matter who we are.  Face It helps us reconcile our feelings about our own changing beauty and teaches us to embrace it.
Now that I’ve had my “oh shit” moment, does it mean I’m immune when I turn the big 4-0?  I guess I can always crack open Face It again!

Have You Had That “Oh Shit” Moment Yet?

I have.  It happened when I turned 36.

What am I referring to?  It’s that moment that Vivian Diller and Jill Muir-Sukenick describe in their new book, Face It, as the time a woman realizes something ain’t right with the world.  After digging in deeper, she realizes she’s been struck by the fact that she’s aging and her looks will never be the same again.

When my 36 year birthday came around I was kinda depressed and seeking approval from guys I barely knew or cared about.  After kvetching to my friend Melanie, I realized what was going on.  My early 30’s were over and I feared this birthday marked the beginning of the end of my abilities to attract male attention. While I’m no beauty queen and expend 99% of my energy on work and raising a family, I still rely on my looks a bit.  I’ve always appreciated the leg up it can give me.

“What happens when it goes?,” I panicked.  “Will I be attractive to people?” “Will my husband still find me hot?”

After sharing my fears with my friend, Melanie, I felt better.  Maybe not totally at ease, but better.

The authors, both former models turned PhDs in psychology, see this experience as steps 1 and 2 of their process to come to terms with and embrace one’s aging beauty.  While the book is primarily geared to Baby Boomers, thy say these moments can strike at any age.

What I found really interesting about the book, which taps into years of Diller and Muir-Sukenick’s personal and professional experience, was less its application to me and more its revelation that ALL women (and probably all men for that matter) go through this fear of losing their looks. You’d think only the 60 year-old women with the overly-plumped lips or excessively toned biceps, hell-bent on looking like 30 year-olds, are the ones living in fear.

Not so.

Even those women who never took beauty seriously or thought they were never beautiful to begin with, and thus wouldn’t seem to fear aging’s effect on their appearance, also experienced those ”oh shit ” moments.  After deep probing, these types realized that they DID care about their increasingly sagging bodies and wrinkled faces and wanted to come to terms with their feelings.

What this tells me is that beauty matters to us all, no matter who we are.  Face It helps us reconcile our feelings about our own changing beauty and teaches us to embrace it.

Now that I’ve had my “oh shit” moment, does it mean I’m immune when I turn the big 4-0?  I guess I can always crack open Face It again!

Weekend Observations: Turning into A Witch

I took my 4-year-old daughter, Laila, to her first movie: Disney’s Tangled.  I’m happy to report she behaved splendidly.

In this animated version of the story, the main character, a young beautiful teenage girl, Rapunzel, is holed up in her wicked mom’s tower. Why?  Her hair has magical powers that, when glowing, can maintain her mother’s youthful beauty.

Her mother is actually a witch who kidnapped her as a baby princess due to her hair’s power.  And during the movie the mother tries her hardest to keep Rapunzel away from the outside world lest she discovers her true identity.

The movie plays with deeper themes, like mother-daughter relationships and the loss of youth and beauty.  As a mother of a young daughter, I was repelled by the mother’s manipulative behavior and her captivity of Rapunzel.  Of course I will want my daughter to spread her wings.

But I kinda understood her feelings of insecurity about her diminishing beauty, especially in contrast to her daughter’s blossoming looks. While Laila is very young yet, I wonder how I’ll feel as she grows into the beauty I know she’ll be.  I’m sure I’ll appreciate all the wonderful qualities that she’ll undoubtedly exhibit – humor, intellect, empathy, and, yes, beauty.  Will I mourn the gradual loss of my own looks?  Could I even feel a sense of jealousy?  Or will I have found a way to embrace how I look?

Dr. Vivian Diller, PhD, in her post, Narrowing the Generational Gap: What Baby Boomers and Millenials Have in Common, picks up on the jealousy and feelings of inadequacy Boomer women feel when confronted with the youthful looks and health of Millenials.  In the end, she advises the two generations talk to and learn from one another.  Boomers can teach Millenials how to maintain and care for their health and looks for the future and Millenials can reassure Boomers that they don’t need to appear youthful to be beautiful.

I’m going to heed Diller’s counsel and speak to my mom about her feelings regarding her own looks and what she felt when my sister and I started growing into young adults.  I’m positive I’ll not only get more insight into my mother but will get some great advice to boot.

Watch out mommy, you may make it into a post!

Weekend Observations: Perhaps It’s the Fear of Growing Old That’s the Issue, Not Growing Old

My husband and I stayed up last night to watch “Chloe“, a movie.with Julianne Moore and Liam Neeson.  The movie was pretty bad, with a big cheesiness quotient, but the premise was interesting.  In a nutshell, a beautiful late-40ish doctor (Moore) suspects her handsome and flirtatious husband (Neeson) is having an affair.  Her fear leads to a series of disastrous events and is, in the end, unfounded.

No, I haven’t changed the theme of the blog to moviereviews.com. There’s a point here.  Despite the obvious moral of the story, the one that stood out for me was about women’s unwarranted fear that as they age they become undesirable.

I’m not naive.  I know men are usually attracted to younger women.  I felt this acutely just last week.  I was at a huge retreat with hundreds of clients, and I was, while not among the oldest, certainly not among the youngest set of women.  The upshot was that I felt I had to work that much harder to appear hip and, frankly, hot.

Then I began to wonder whether those we’re trying to attract — our husbands, potential mates, whomever — can sense and are repelled by our nervousness about growing old.  And what a shame that would be because our fear may be more paranoia than reality!  Case in point, Zsa Zsa Gabor’s husband still think she’s so gorgeous at age 92 that he wants to plastinate her body before she dies! (Zsa Zsa Gabor’s husband wants to plastinate wife’s body) And as the Julianne Moore character learned, her husband may have been a flirt and work obsessed, but he never cheated on nor lost his attraction to her.

We’re all human, and I don’t believe that we’ll ever truly let go of our fear of aging.  And I, for one, am not going to give up trying to keep myself looking as beautiful as possible (well, at least as much as my lazy ass will allow).  But maybe if we let go of the worry a bit, we’ll not only be happier but MORE attractive as well.