Beauty: What's Age Got to Do With It?

The truth is, you can do only so much about the physical signs of aging. So if you’re fretting about your changing looks, sit down and listen to these three provocative experts, who say feeling happy with your looks is more closely linked to what’s inside your head than what’s on your face

by Emily Listfield
mannequin with flower as a head image
Photograph: Illustrated by Eddie Guy

Judith Sills, PhD

Her Message: ax “age appropriate” A clinical psychologist and the author of Getting Naked Again, Sills dishes on how to stay young (and sexy!) and why she never says age appropriate.

Some people believe that to age gracefully, we first need to “mourn” our lost youth. Are you one of them? No! My philosophy is, “Look back but don’t stare.” I make a distinction between youth and being young. Youth is a life era, from birth to thirty-something. Being young is an attitude. It is something you should work to develop and hang on to till they carry you out of the nursing home.

So what does it mean to “be young”? It’s not about maintaining your boobs at the same level they were. You can have the perkiest boobs in the world and be dead to life. Being young means having certain traits: curiosity, a sense of possibility, a willingness to take risks. That’s an attitude you can have at 30 and at 60. Granted, it gets harder as you go along, especially if your health gets hit. But you have some con-trol even over that. You are way more likely to maintain your energy if you exercise six days a week.

What role does sex play as we age? Sex is life juice. It’s like, “Hello, I’m awake. I’m alive. I batted my eyes, you batted your eyes, we held hands, we danced, we rubbed up against each other—who cares if I’m not 25? I’m still here; it still feels good.” It’s about a connection with another person. It’s about spark. Have as much sex as possible in any way possible.

What else can increase our self-esteem as we age, particularly when it comes to our looks? Cosmetics have always been an attitude enhancer. We don’t paint our faces just to attract the opposite sex. If you’re feeling schlumpy and depressed, a manicure, a haircut and a little lipstick can work like medicine. It’s easy to dismiss all that as superficial, but it has a deep impact on our sense of self and our willingness to connect with other people. It says, “OK, I’m going back out into the world now. I’m not in retreat.”

What about plastic surgery? If at 14 you were experimenting with glitter eyeshadow and at 50 you’re experimenting with Botox or a little nip and tuck, it’s all in the same category. Heavy makeup didn’t work at 14, and overdoing plastic surgery in a desperate effort to look 15 years younger doesn’t work at 40. But a light hand in all these things can put a smile on your face. That’s their purpose. For some women, just getting a massage works. It may be letting your hair go silver or finally becoming a redhead—whatever gives you the feeling that you’re fabulous.

Why do women judge one another so harshly about things like Botox? It’s like in middle school, when one girl wore a lot of makeup and we judged her and called her a slut. We are all trying to justify our own choices, and sometimes it feels as if we’re in a contest. But the more comfortable and confident you are with where you are in your life, the less you need to be upset about another woman’s choice.

Any advice for women who are freaked out by their first wrinkles? My advice is, stop thinking about yourself so much. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do what you can to look great. But once you’ve done that, stop looking at yourself and look out at the world. It’s where everything interesting and exciting is. Do something new. Challenge yourself. Don’t hide in a little pod of everybody at your age, everybody you’ve known forever.

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