How are you going to approach aging? I began thinking about this a few months ago when I noticed a woman lifting weights at my gym. She looked too perfect. There was something artificial about her. It took me a while to figure out what it was. It wasn’t her perfectly straight black bob and tanned face. It was her ultra-firm body. I don’t care how many weights she lifts, someone with those lines on her face should have a few more jiggles on her body.

I studied her some more as she jumped and lunged in the front row of my aerobics class, and I think I finally figured out the false note. She was wearing shapewear. To the gym. A heavy duty waist cincher, plus major support around her hips and upper thighs. She looked great, but too great.

I wondered if this was how I should approach aging–containing the effects of time to the point of looking unnatural.

My thinking on the subject continued when I went to visit our 88-year-old neighbor during her temporary stay in a nursing home for rehabilitation.  Amongst the various stages of dependence that I saw in the residents there, one image stayed with me–a woman’s deflated breasts hanging to her waist beneath her sweatshirt as she waited for the elevator.

I know that many elderly women give up on wearing a bra for health reasons or comfort. Tight bands give my mother heart palpitations, and they bother a spot on my sister’s rib cage. So far they haven’t given up on bras, though. They simply wear their bands too loose, resulting in a slight sag.  I understand that there are truly legitimate reasons for going braless. However, when I see a woman in a braless state, she looks unkempt and uncared for, like she’s given up. She looks the opposite of the woman at my gym.

I wondered where I would fall in the spectrum between the woman at the gym with too many foundations and the woman in the nursing home lacking even the most basic foundation. Were there any role models for me?

It seemed fortuitous that in the middle of contemplating this subject, I saw a tweet from Linda’s for free tickets to the Fab Over Fifty Beauty Bash. Once she assured me that I didn’t have to be over fifty, I happily accepted her offer. I confess that my main motivation was the goody bags, but I also hoped to gain insight into how to approach my fiftieth birthday in three years (I turn 47 on December 27).

My first stop at the event was the ladies’ room to make sure I looked presentable for an event about beauty. All the other women I saw simply looked very tired.

When I walked into the hall where the event was being held, this is what I saw.

Finally, I noticed a group of eccentrically dressed women and realized they were some of the women featured on Advanced Style.

My initial impression was that there was no one for me to emulate. None of the three choices appealed to me:

  1. look exhausted;
  2. get plastic surgery; or
  3. look crazy.

As I browsed the booths at the event, I felt like I was back in seventh grade reading Seventeen magazines, being told that with just one more product or procedure, I could finally be perfect. If anything, blogging has taught me there is no one more thing, but the messages we’re receiving about growing older tell me we might as well be back in middle school as far as the beauty industry is concerned. It’s the same message we heard then: You’re not enough. (For a great blog post on this subject, check out Erica’s Musings on Body Acceptance last October.)

Now, however, those of us who are older are being inundated with images of lithe former supermodels with just a touch of grey in their hair and asked to ignore the obvious influence of genetics in favor of whatever moisturizer or nutritional supplement is being sold. If our own genetics don’t allow us to age wrinklelessly, we’re encouraged to go back in time and recapture our youth surgically. The same youthful looks we believed weren’t good enough when we were young are now our ideal.

Feeling discouraged, I sat down with low expectations for the event’s finale, a fashion show featuring clothing by Tiana B. (they often have bust-friendly dresses) and Marla Wynne, a line I’d found uninspiring at their display booth earlier. As I watched the other audience members waiting for the show, I noticed women who weren’t models and hadn’t had cosmetic surgery but who were attractive and full of life. My mood began to lift. As the show got underway, my negative mood evaporated completely.

Some of the models had been featured on Advanced Style. Others were the designers’ friends and their daughters and mothers.

(The  gif file below is supposed to show two of the models in action–I hope it works!)

Incredibly, the boring clothes I’d looked at earlier in the day sprang to life with the models’ accessories and attitudes. They imprinted  their own personalities on the garments.

No one audience member or model epitomized who I want to be “when I grow up”, but collectively they gave me an idea of how I want to approach the transition from being middle-aged to elderly. It’s the same ideal that I’ve begun to pursue as I work through issues of appearance on this blog. I’ve stopped trying to look like the models I see in magazines, and I don’t want to return to some mythical ideal of me from my past. I don’t want to realize a cosmetic surgeon’s vision of what I could be, either.

I want to learn how to express who I am in my looks as I grow older.  I want to find other women who see through the lie that they are “not enough” and watch how they incorporate their age into who they are. I want to be the best version of me at any age. And I’m glad I came away from the event with at least this one  insight because the goody bags were crap.