Beauty at Every Age
Let’s just start here: You Are Beautiful. Ask anyone who loves you and they will agree with me. But, can you feel it? That’s the question! What is beauty? I don’t have to tell you because you already know. Our brains are hard-wired, in fact, to know beauty when we see it. A study of inexperienced viewers of art found that they could all discern when sculptures were designed with ideal proportions. It would be a creepy world if we all had ideal proportions, but women and men alike still drive themselves to despair in pursuit of perfection. I could go on and on about movie stars we no longer recognize, but there is an important question to ask, instead, about their choices: What is the point of looking more perfect? The deeper purpose of every lotion and potion money can buy, every thigh-firming class, shopping network, and needle full of plumper is not necessarily to make a woman look like a classical sculpture, but to help her feel more beautiful.
If feeling beautiful is the ultimate goal of our myriad ablutions, let’s take that as a starting point. What does it mean to feel beautiful? Sure, a look in the mirror can give you confidence that your clothes match, there’s nothing in your teeth, and your eyebrows are facing the right direction. But what do you hear when you look in the mirror?
In her book On the Wings of Self-Esteem, Community Psychologist Dr. Louise Hart offers a step-by-stepprocess towards a deeper self-confidence that doesn’t require the right shade of lipstick, by first acknowledging the pain that drives the entire beauty industry. “We actually all start out as beautiful butterflies, but become convinced that we are lowly caterpillars. If our needs are not met, we don’t think we deserve care. If we can’t talk about feelings of sadness, shame, and worthlessness, we internalize them. If we are given messages by parents, peers, or society that we are not good enough, sooner or later it eats away at us.”
Hart struggled with her own self-esteem and beauty as a young adult. Her children opened her eyes to a new way to see herself. “People used to mistake photos of me as a child for my daughter. I was touched and confused…I had always thought I was ugly, but my daughter has always been beautiful in my eyes. Could it be, I wondered, that I was actually beautiful, but no one noticed it?”
Beauty and self-image are things we experience—and struggle with—at every age. Our yearning to be and feel beautiful has many positive benefits, especially when beauty trends towards the natural, which wisely recognizes that the basis— and the essence—of beauty is good health. Doctors rejoice when pursuit of beauty can translate to pursuit of good health.
Dr. Jan F. Baumgardner is an MD from Boulder, Colorado, who specializes in hard-to-solve medical problems. He agrees that health throughout life is supported by five daily habits built early in life: Exercise, wear sunscreen, drink water, take vitamins, and avoid toxins.
But on the subject of beauty, even the good doctor waxes philosophical that “a certain light flowing through mind and soul illuminates the body.” Where does that light come from? Beauty flows from a person who is fully engaged with an inner life.
At any age, we can build self-esteem into our core. And at every age, it is possible to recover confidence we have lost along the way.
In Our Teens
In her book, On the Wings of Self-Esteem, Hart reveals, “I used to compare my insides to everyone else’s outsides.” When peers are obsessed with looking exactly alike, teens can build a foundation of confidence by focusing on their insides. Ask a teenager: What do you believe? What are you interested in? What do you want to know about, do, see, solve, be? Young adults naturally have what all other adults spend billions to reclaim. Those who focus on learning what makes them laugh, do what makes them feel smart, find a way to move that makes them sweat and feel good, and push themselves to be strong, feel better, and more optimistic. Optimism is a very protective habit of thought that not only builds happiness but prevents frown lines from forming as we age.
In Our Twenties
As we sort through our possibilities, try different things, and get our feet under us, blows to our confidence can take us by surprise; but more frequently, our self-esteem can be eroded, drip by drip, with negative messages. “Brain studies show that negative thoughts stick like Velcro, while positive ones slide off like Teflon,” says Hart. Therefore, any beauty routine should include a generous slathering of positive messages. “Collect compliments,” says Hart. “Make time to tell yourself —over and over—the words you’re dying to hear.” Sometimes you have to hunt for positive things to say about yourself. When you find them, nurture them.
In Our Thirties
As we juggle all of life’s demands, it’s easy to lose track of who is in the center. Life may seem like a list of must-dos, sometimes, but pay attention to the five habits, and work in treats for yourself as well. Hart gives homework in her workshops for parents: “Make a list of twenty things you love to do. Do at least one every single day!” Nothing exudes confidence more than being in charge of your own happiness.
In Our Forties
A beautiful thing happens in our forties and beyond: We begin to see ourselves differently in the bigger picture, and it becomes easier to let go of perfectionism. “Perfectionists never feel ‘good enough,’” says Hart. “They take great pains…and give them to others!” Sort out your priorities and rejoice in being excellent (not perfect)…in the areas that matter.
In Our Fifties
Effects of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can snowball as we age, and, even if we look beautiful on the outside, can damage our relationships and our health. Hart, who includes chapters on shame, boundaries, and responsibility is thrilled by a current, ongoing study that measures these effects. Are ACEs affecting you? Find your score at acestudy.org.
In Our Sixties
Baumgardner jokes about women in their sixties who have teenage skin because they’ve “rubbed money on their faces every day for forty years,” but advocates a good relationship with a prevention-minded, proactive doctor who is “experienced enough to be a good detective but young enough to outlive you.” This decade is when you really notice the difference between people with good physical and mental habits and people with bad ones. Grandmothers look different now than they did 40 years ago.
In Our Seventies
In addition to maintaining the five daily habits, Hart, in her seventies, stays focused on her passions: teaching people about emotional health, spending time with her grandkids and friends, and traveling. Her grown daughter (once Hart’s inspiration for beauty) now looks at her mom and thinks, “Look how gorgeous and energetic she is! I want to grow up to be like her.” You can find Hart at upliftprograms.com.
In Our Eighties-Nineties-Hundreds
Good humor is a key to feeling beautiful at every age, though Baumgardner is serious about the funny rule of thumb he gives to patients who are recovering from disease. “If you want to live a long and healthy life, never eat, drink, or apply to your body anything you see advertised on television or in the national mainstream media.”
Can a person be beautiful at 100? When someone asked Jeanne Calment, the longest living human in history, about her wrinkles on her 120th birthday, she replied, “I’ve only got one wrinkle. And I’m sitting on it!”