To be perfectly honest, I am really terrified of aging and ‘losing my looks’. Even though I have never met the standard beauty ideal, I have always been considered pretty, and to some, even beautiful. And as much as I would like to think I am more than how I look, and preach to other women about the virtues of focusing on who you are on the inside as being the most important thing, I am grieving my youthful body, skin, hair, and face now that I am in my forties and have officially entered ‘midlife’.
I do not relish the fact that gravity will get me, as it does everyone, in the end. I am not joyfully “embracing” becoming a crone, a wise elder, or a mentor to those younger than me. Frankly, I am pissed right off. I frittered away my young years by falsely thinking I was ugly, fat, or deficient in numerous other ways. Now, when I look back at photos of me during those years, I realise how young, juicy, and gorgeous I actually was. And did I revel in it? Love every minute of it? Appreciate what I had? Nooooooo! Instead, I spent so much time criticizing what I did have and that makes me really sad. Now I truly understand what George Bernard Shaw meant when he proclaimed, “Youth is wasted on the young”.
I know I am not the only midlife woman who feels this way. As a women’s psychotherapist, I am constantly sitting in the presence of women at all stages of midlife (I understand that officially, we are sitting solidly in midlife as women when we are between the ages of forty and sixty). Most of them are highly competent, educated women who have had and raised wonderful children. They have held down multiple jobs, some even risking their lives in the line of duty (a number being in the military), some at the helm of huge organizations and corporations, and many have done it all while being single mothers.
What do all of these women have in common? These lovely, gorgeous, fabulous women, not unlike myself, are mostly, and in some cases, completely oblivious to their beauty, wisdom, intelligence, wit, and loving nature and instead, are completely obsessed with the fact that they are getting older and are freaking out about it. Instead of being proud of their all of their accomplishments in scholarly pursuits, work, love, parenting, etc., they are instead focusing on the crows feet around their eyes, the waistline that has somehow disappeared, and endless other outward physical manifestations reminding them that they have been on this earth for 40+ years.
To my horror, a multitude of these women subject themselves regularly to questionable, dangerous, and sometimes even life-threatening cosmetic procedures aimed at turning back the biological clock. I have seen women in their late 40’s having facelifts they didn’t need, collagen injections into the lips of 21 and 34-year-olds, and so much Botox I can’t even count how many times. Sometimes the only reason I know they have had these procedures is because their faces look odd to me- often expressionless due to Botox injections (I find it rather scary working with clients whose faces I can’t read emotionally-very tricky to help people deal with their feelings when you can’t read the emotions on their faces).
I’ve had clients who have undergone breast lifts, enhancements, reductions, etc. I even had a client who had four consecutive breast surgeries to enhance her breasts, fix the enhancement twice (both times the implants leaked), have them lifted at her husband’s urging, and then finally, to have the implants removed because they were causing so much discomfort and ill health.
And not all of these women have even entered midlife- some are in their twenties and thirties. I had a 22-year-old client tell me recently that she was starting cosmetic surgery now so that she would be able to “stay young for as long as possible”. She said that unlike her mother whom she had a very troubled relationship, she was never going to “look old”- the way she said it implied that growing older for a woman was the worst sin imaginable.
Another woman aged 45 has just spent a year’s salary on a plastic surgery for her face and body in order to renew her confidence and make sure that she is still eligible to men her age. She was unrecognizable when I saw her post-surgery and I found it quite surreal and unnerving.
Lately, I’ve heard of a new phenomenon which frightens me deeply- groups of women getting together for a “girl’s night” and paying someone to come to the party to administer Botox injections into their faces. Maybe it’s just me, but when I think of women bonding, I don’t automatically visualize group cosmetic surgical procedures. Whatever happened to sharing a potluck meal and watching a great chick flick?
I’m writing this book in order to understand why women in midlife are so insecure, why they are spending their entire savings on cosmetic surgery, herbs, organic foods, etc. to look “forever young”. I am hoping also to empower myself and many other women in midlife to take back our immense power, make peace with the bodies and faces we have now, learn how to focus on our accomplishments and whatever else brings us joy at this stage of our lives, and to learn to love and appreciate ourselves exactly as we are now- not when we lose that extra weight, erase wrinkles, or have a boob job, tummy tuck, or neck waddle removal (that’s my own personal one I’m working on at the moment).
If I’ve learned anything from turning forty, it’s that life really is short and that if you’re not happy with yourself when you’re young, expect the same when you get old. After all, you are still you whether you’re twenty, forty, or sixty. The outside form may morph and change, but the essence of who you are, what makes you uniquely and unequivocally you, never changes. That’s why we get an entire lifetime to work it all out- phew! Ain’t that a relief?
Every stage of life brings certain challenges, tests, and lessons. I like what a mentor therapist of mine said to me recently: “For the first 40 years of life, you’re just reacting to your family-of-origin. After that, you’re free to actually be the person you want to be and that is a daunting task”.
I find this a refreshing and invigorating perspective because what it says to me is that from forty on, we can really loosen up, free our minds, and focus on being the person we’ve always wanted to be and can stop running around trying to be whomever other people have always expected us to be.
For more about Esther Kane’s book visit: www.midwifeyourmidlife.com