Great to Good

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Tim Curry  supposedly said that the dreams of youth are the regrets of maturity.

I try not to have too many regrets, but sometimes it’s harder than others to stay juicy.

I recently turned 59. And something about realizing it was my last year before turning 60 made me reflective. The sixties are the decade of retirement and endings…I mean, I know in my head that’s not true, but that little negative voice popped up and said I’d better take stock of what I’ve done in life.

Or maybe it was the drivers’ license.

I live in South Carolina. In its wisdom, my state refused to make its drivers get the kind of license that the rest of the country uses because it’s hard to counterfeit, which I guess we need in this post-9/11 world. But South Carolina thumbed its nose at the Feds until it realized that meant we couldn’t travel without passports. So now we need to get new driver’s licenses.

It took forever and about 300 pieces of paper to prove I was who I said I was. The woman at the photo counter said I could take my glasses off. And I could smile. I had some witty quip. Don’t know what it was, but while I said it, my mouth fell open into a wide laugh, my eyes squinted, and my chin tucked, making about five extra chins. And, click! There’s your photo!

I look like a pasty pumpkin with raisin eyes.

Think I’m exaggerating? My husband looked at it and visibly shuddered.

Try living with THAT for 9 years when the thing expires!

So, of course, I obsessed and stared at the photo all the way home.

But what if it did? Photos don’t lie, right?

And if I’m wrong about the way I look, what else am I wrong about?

And then, I thought about the (very) long list of things I may never achieve:

  • Be a great dancer
  • Be a star athlete
  • Play the piano
  • Start a nonprofit
  • Run for office
  • Get my novel published

 

I am realizing that I will never be great. At anything. That being good – or even average — is going to have to be good enough.

Business books tell you how to go from good to great. I’m learning how to go from great to good.

But ultimately, I think I’d rather keep falling on my ass after the leap than sitting on my ass refusing to even try.

And that driver’s license? I got it retaken. And I did smile, but not the full-on chortle that brought out the extra chins. It’s not going to be on any magazine covers, but it’s not going to scare the children, either.

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Daydreaming youth

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Comfortable in Your Skin

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Quick, what’s the one thing you’d change about your body?

That was the question a young filmmaker from the Jubilee Project asked. The adults? They wanted better skin, smaller ears.

One woman asked plaintively, “Just one?”

The children? They wanted a shark’s mouth, a cheetah’s legs, a mermaid’s tail.

What if it didn’t have to be quick? Everything moves more slowly in the South; so with all that time to consider, what do Southern women want to change?

I talked with two of Charleston’s top makeover experts – the lead aesthetician at Cos Bar, and a makeup artist at Blue Mercury – about what it is that women my age want to change.

And the answer is that most of us want to change our skin: it’s dry, it’s lost elasticity, our neck is sagging, our décolleté is a mess.

“They want to take care of wrinkles, anti-aging, more firm. They don’t want a knife or needles. They want less invasive, but want more results,” says Jamie Biering of the Cos Bar.

Of course, not all women of a certain age have eschewed surgery.

“Some women come in to preserve plastic surgery” says Sara Nicole Massraf of Blue Mercury. “We sell them creams to make their injectables last, makeup to cover suture marks.”

She adds that mature women can get in a makeup rut and can be hard to convince to change routines.

But, according to Massraf, most Southern women don’t have to be convinced to have a routine, even if it is outdated.

“In the South, we’re the glamour culture, the pageant culture, the cheerleader culture. Our culture is slow and easy; we take the time to look good – like lipstick instead of just a dash of gloss – and we take the time for beauty sleep,” Massraf says. “The ladies of the South have the luxury of time to invest in themselves.”

I too want to look younger, firmer. But is it wrong that I also want a mermaid’s tail or cheetah’s legs?

mermaid tail

Are You Beautiful?

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So, are you beautiful, or are you merely pretty?

If you are like most women my age, your answer is, “Neither.”

Maybe I thought I was beautiful once, but I lost it somewhere along the path of maternal urgings to be modest, of Christian teachings that the meek were the ones who would inherit the earth, not the boastfully beautiful. Compliments were to be met with self-deprecating responses so I wouldn’t seem conceited.

I know my daughter thought she was extremely pretty when she was little. She would pose for herself in the mirror, beg her stepfather to take her photo. Until one day, she stared in the mirror and saw some flaw. Maybe it was a pimple; maybe it was some remnant baby fat. But it became all that she saw in her reflection. And with that transition, she joined women everywhere.

She joins a sorority of women who get a massage to deal with stress, and then find themselves worrying that the massage therapist is repulsed by the layer of fat over the muscles he’s kneading. Of women lured by the resurrection promise of a makeover, who apologize to the makeup artist for how they look. One makeup artist spoke at TED about how her clients invariably say they’re sorry for their nose, or their skin. The only ones who sit unapologetically in her chair have the kind of perspective that comes with facing down an adversary like death or cancer.

But somewhere before that showdown comes the in-between.

The aging that adds another insult to shaky self esteem. The sagging, drooping, where-the-hell-is-my-Spanx slide into un-pretty and un-young. Rare is the middle-aged woman who can stare her unmade-up face down in the mirror and say gravity be damned, she is beautiful anyway.

At best, they may say, as my friend Nikki Hardin writes, that they have a “patina,” a surface change that comes with age that’s usually considered of great value.

But the issue isn’t how we look. It’s how we see.

Another friend, author Laura Lippman, challenged her followers on Facebook to post self-portraits, un-retouched and unmade-up. She said that, after a while, the way she saw the pictures changed. It’s not that her friends were becoming more beautiful with each post, it’s that her eye had adjusted and the plain faces became plainly lovely.

This fits with a study that showed that people exposed to images of plus-sized models for only 60 seconds began to judge beauty based on those images and rated slightly larger models as ideally beautiful when asked, at least immediately after the experiment. The eye learned a different definition of beauty.

My daughter is still lovely at 24. I have no objectivity, I realize, but I am stunned at her sparkling eyes, and graceful movements. My mother, even in her deathbed at 72, left me breathless with her beauty.

As for me? I still see the flaws first when I look in the mirror, but I’m working on it. At least now, if someone compliments me, I can stop with a simple, “Thank you.”

So, I ask the question again. Are you beautiful? I hope you say yes.

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Marilyn Monroe at the mirror

Would You Want to Know?

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If you could see into the future, would you want to know? What if it’s bad news?

 A news story today reveals that researchers have come up with a blood test that can predict Alzheimer’s disease two years before symptoms start to show up. They haven’t figured out a way to prevent the disease, but this could give you a heads up while you still have all your proverbial marbles.

 My husband says he absolutely would want to know. Like the researcher interviewed in the story, he believes the advance information would help with planning. My own theory is that it will give the illusion of control: you can’t control the disease’s advance, but you can at least get your affairs in order with a known deadline.

 But I am not so sure I agree. Would I regard every name that slips from my grasp as another nail in my mental coffin? Would those moments when I can’t remember why I entered a room reduce me to tears rather than a wry writeoff as a “senior moment?”

 Most important, would knowing a grim future rob the present of joy?

 I’m not sure. Would you want to know?

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You Can’t Defy Age

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It started with itchy feet and hands. Then hives appeared on my arms and near my hairline.

 What could it be? Usually when I eat something I’m allergic to, the symptoms start on my stomach and work outward. This must have been something I touched. Did the dogs get into something new?

 And then I remembered: the store was out of my usual brand of body wash so I decided to try something new, something labeled, “Age-Defying.” Well, who wouldn’t want to defy age?

 And so I bought it, slathered it all over in the shower, and…itchy.

 I got to thinking about how the body wash hadn’t done what I wanted it to do, but then I started thinking bigger. I mean, really? Defy age? What does that even mean?

 We all want to at least look younger. That’s why makeup companies tell us that using their products will make us look “rested” and “glowing,” all euphemisms for youth. Apparently the key is to be plump of lip but not of hip. Once you’re past legal drinking age, having someone tell you that you look younger than your years is the ultimate compliment. And we all want to turn back the clock on our ticking mortality. That’s why we’re all so proud when we test younger than our chronology on those “real age” Internet tests.

 Much has been made lately of the messages we send our young women and the unrealistic images they are expected to idealize. Just as brutal are the endlessly chipper women who urge women to choose not to age. “I’m a victim of a slowing  metabolism? I don’t think so,” says one smug woman in an ad.

 It used to be that older women were depicted as dried up and irrelevant (“I’ve fallen and can’t get up!”). I don’t want to go back to that. But, really, can I get away from ads that make me feel inadequate if I don’t bound out of bed with the energy of my teen self? Where are the women who admit that while, sometimes they can change history, sometimes they just want a nap.

 I don’t want to defy age. I just want to broker a better deal.

 Because defying age is a great theory. But age will not be defied. Try it and you get itchy feet. Image