I was listening to Oprah’s Soul Sunday podcast the other day and she had a conversation on aging well with Cybil Shephard. Oprah said that in all the years of talking to beautiful people, no one had admitted they were. They all downplayed it by saying things like “But my eyes are too close” or naming something else they didn’t like, until Cybil Shepherd was refreshing in her candor. She said she was the daughter of beautiful people, it was nothing she had earned, and her beauty had opened doors for her.
But then aging happened. And amidst the stories of finding out she wasn’t the person that turned heads anymore or fleeing the country for her fortieth birthday as if she could run from it, she said that at some point she realized she’d stopped looking in the mirror.
I can relate to that; there’s an art to looking in the mirror to see if I have food on my face without taking all of myself in. There’s an unfamiliarity of what I see when I do look in the mirror, as if the sag by my C-section scar and the cellulite on my arms don’t belong to the person I think of as me.
In the disconnect, I can’t figure out if I’m supposed to change my body, my mind, or my spirit to reconcile the disparity. Listening to that podcast, I finally had an a-ha moment—it doesn’t matter how many ab and arm workouts I do. Trying to match the image of my twenty-something self will always be a losing proposition. The only work that will be effective is updating how I see myself to be current. That doesn’t negate the need for me to work out to stay strong and healthy, but working out will never bring the self-acceptance that comes from making friends with who I am now.
Working out will never bring the self-acceptance that comes from making friends with who I am now.Tweet
My brother started shaving his head fifteen or twenty years ago when he was losing his hair. I have become so used to how he looks now that when I see a picture of him in his youth with a full head of brown hair, I have to look twice to confirm it’s him. I love how he looks now, and I’ve updated my mental image of him so that it’s the up-to-date version I see. I need to do the same work for myself.
Cybil Shepherd provided a clue about how to update our mental image when talking about aging well. She said, “Pick one thing you can love about your body.” It resonated with me, especially because I’d heard both VJ and Claudette say similar things in their Navigating the Change essays.
One of the quips that makes me laugh is, “Age doesn’t always bring wisdom; sometimes age comes alone.” It reminds me that what I like about getting older is that it brings perspective—perspective about what’s important and how to prioritize what’s important and what makes me happy. That is to say, I think that age in my case has come with some wisdom and it shows in the crinkles of my eyes.
So I’m loving my eye crinkles. They denote fifty-three years of laughing and loving life so much that I’ve etched it into my face. And once I see that, I see my C-section scar as the giver of life and my arm cellulite as the repository of great meals with friends. I wouldn’t trade any of those things for anything.