AN ALERT & AN APOLOGY: This is, primarily, for the ladies. The text, I hope, applies to everyone, but I’m afraid the videos don’t. Most of them are based on white skin; I wish had sources for everyone. I’m really sorry. If you know of some good sources, please let me know immediately and I will include in my next post! Thank you.
Getting older is the oddest experience. As human beings, we advance by sort of intuitively following the scientific method. We ask questions, we posit hypotheses, we create experiments, we observe what happens during said experiments and we adjust them and/or our hypotheses until we see that we’re hitting on some sort of serviceable truth. As you age, you yourself are often the object of the experiment, and you have no choice but sit back and observe what Nature has in store…
Ten years ago, I had the great privilege of creating a book with an amazing writer and friend named Janet Champ. Entitled Ripe*, it’s about menopause and aging in a youth-obsessed society. It grew out of a freelance project we’d taken, but it rapidly evolved into an independent project. Pondering day-in-day-out with Janet the realities of the Hill as she liked to call it, I convinced myself that I was probably perimenopausal myself. I did feel a bit odd, and my cycle seemed a wee bit “off.” Turned out I was pregnant. Oh well. Hormones are tricky that way. But the point is this: I didn’t really know what it would feel like to be menopausal. I was all for bringing it out in the open; I just lacked any personal experience of it.
Part of our research was a survey we circulated amongst friends. One of my dearest life-long galpals, Anna, who used to follow this blog but died November 26 after a tough, sad fight with ovarian cancer, wrote in response to our questions that, no, she didn’t want to seem vain or superficial, but she just could NOT get used to the appearance of her outer self not syncing up with how she felt and envisioned herself in her mind’s eye. I now know what she meant.
I remember first noticing age in my face around 35 or 36. Leaning into the mirror I saw, with a slight shiver, something I’d never seen before. A line or shifting. I don’t remember now exactly what I saw, but I remember my reaction: that is indelible. But, for quite a few years these “surprises” still belonged to the category of “enhancements,” signs of maturation that makes you look seriously womanly. A force to be reckoned with, not to be trifled with. And I continued to not really care.
After both my children were born and bouncing gaily into the roundness of their pre-school and elementary years, the heavy stuff of life (a.k.a. the shit) began to happen—the death of a parent, serious and/or fatal illnesses in dear friends, mysterious diseases in my husband and child both of which turned out to be blessedly curable after long periods of uncertainty and fear. These events made their marks, leaving signs of age that really changed the way I looked. Changed my symmetry inside and out. Changed my general demeanor (though it has largely bounced back thanks to those twin human traits of resilience and forgetfulness). Most shockingly, I noticed that my eyes looked different. A bit sadder. A bit warier. A bit more prone to show fear. Tired.
It’s not a fetching look. But it happens. So there we are. We bounce back on the inside, regaining at least some semblance of our youthful joie de vivre, but then, uh oh, wait, who’s that person in the mirror who seems to lack it? She didn’t bounce back! She didn’t boomerang? How dare she not?
My response to this shift in reality was to ignore it. I figured that beauty on the inside would acrue to beauty on the outside. Serenity, good health, a sense of humor, blah blah blah would make me radiant despite all that ugly stuff. And besides, I wouldn’t really care. If I felt good and healthy, who cared how my face looked?
First of all, serenity, good health and a sense of humor don’t stop a clock. (It bears mentioning, too, that I’m not always as serene and good-humored as I’d like to think.) Second, I cared more than I thought I would care. Like my friend Anna, it began to bother me that the outside didn’t seem to belong to the inside. It began to bother me that what started out as a concerted effort to “rise above it” became an invisible slide into a sort of giving-up. And giving up doesn’t look very good. It looks about as good as a comfy old, grey, slouchy sweater. (And come to think of it, I own quite a few of those.)
Somewhere along the line I just didn’t care enough…I don’t know if it happened with the crazed multi-tasking life of the modern, working mother. But I want to care again. I don’t want to turn back the clock, or become the painted laughing stock of the neighborhood. I just want to care enough…about myself.
My skin, thanks to genetics, has fared pretty well. But I need to pay attention to it. I need to give it and all the other parts of me fresh veg and fruits. I need to exercise religiously to keep all parts of the engine in decent working order (mostly the mood). I need to hydrate hydrate hydrate. (And I don’t like to drink water!)
But I also want to look good. I want to look something like the way I feel. I want there to be “lightness” on the outside. A message that I care about myself. An accentuation of the positive. I want my children to feel encouraged by the way I look, knowing that their Mum has as much energy as they do, and that their own female futures don’t necessarily spell D-R-A-B. I want my husband to be greeted with a face that doesn’t look tired of it all. I don’t think I’m a candidate for plastic surgery. It is just not my thing. No surgery is. But I would like to at least have a vague idea about how to apply makeup to this face of mine. And to be honest, I’ve completely forgotten how. What used to work, doesn’t anymore.
I have, however, finally found someone who—I think—has a real clue about it all. Her name is Lisa Eldridge. She’s a serious British make-up artist, and she offers instructive advice about how to deal with everything from teenage acne to “The Menopause,” as she calls it. (I love that British “the” tacked on. It makes it sound like the name of an ocean liner. “Lovely lady…she’s taken off for an extended journey on The SS Menopause.”)
So here she is, scattered throughout this post, demonstrating how to make-up all sorts of faces. She’s respectful of all phases of a woman’s life. She’s knowledgable and she’s thorough. She’s often a bit more heavy-handed than I would be,and I could never afford to use each and every product she recommends, but there are some principles in there that can be applied with products we can all afford in a way that feels right to us.
In the days when I supervised lots of TV and photoshoots, I used to love watching the makeup artists. Their craft isn’t about tastelessly slathering on pastes and goos. It’s about approaching the subject with a respectful love and bring out the beauty that is theirs naturally. They dab and massage, mix colors carefully, observe and transform. In their free time, they used to make us up, and I never walked away from those appreciative eyes and those tenderly dabbing fingers without feeling more beautiful.
I guess that’s what’s at the heart of this. Learning to look at ourselves with loving, caring appreciative eyes. So much easier said than done. I’d love to hear how all of you have faced your own aging processes. What your beauty regimens consist of. How you protect your skin. If you were makeup. And if you do, what? Any tips? Secrets? Please let us know. We are all in this together. And if you’re anything like me, you find it easier to appreciate other women’s beauty than your own. So being some of the “other women” in my life, I’d love to hear from you.
*Isn’t that funny? You can get a used copy of RIPE from Amazon for 1 cent. (I guess that’s what they mean when they tell writers not to quit their day jobs.) I also have many new copies at home that I’d be happy to give you if you’ll pay for the postage from Italy. Let me know.