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

Why do you dislike the term age appropriateSocial judgment is a premier way we have of confining women. Don’t be so sexual: It’s not age appropriate. Don’t be so enthusiastic. Don’t have such a high profile. Don’t be so competitive. Age appropriateis a way of saying that whether you’re 35 or 75, there are certain expectations of what your sex life should be like, what your clothes should be like and where you should be professionally. The expectation is that the older you get, the less curious you’ll be, the less comfortable you’ll be on your own, the less sex you’ll have, the more fearful you’ll be. The expectations are all negative. The phraseage appropriatenever envisions older people having fun.

How can we fight that attitude? The more invested you are in life, the less worried you are about what other people think. My attitude is, every passing year, get sexier, looser, have a better time, be out there more, dress for yourself more, speak for yourself more, flirt more, because who the hell cares anymore?

Jacque Lynn Foltyn, PhD

Her Message: silence your “self monitor” The author of Fashions: Exploring Fashion Through Cultureand a professor of sociology at National University in La Jolla, California, Foltyn is conducting a 30-year longitudinal study of women’s attitudes toward beauty. Here she talks about the psychological concept of self-monitoring and how it can affect our confidence.

What exactly is self-monitoring? It’s an internal surveillance system, a way of gathering information about the impressions we make on others and adjusting our behavior accordingly. Part of becoming a grownup is to self-monitor. You learn to control your bodily functions, but you also learn to control how you present yourself to the outside world, because our sense of self is shaped to a large degree by social interactions. Sociologists call it the looking-glass self. Receiving positive feedback from others can lead to good things like self-confidence, jobs, love and friendship. The downside is that you can become hostage to living each day as a beauty contest that needs to be won.

Are some women more prone to this than others? Yes. Some people, high self-monitors, beat themselves up if they get any negative feedback. They think they’re the center of attention even when they’re not. They depend on the positive reaction of others to create their sense of self-worth. They often had very critical parents whom they were constantly attempting to satisfy. Interestingly, it doesn’t matter how objectively beautiful you are. Some of the most beautiful women are the most self-monitoring and therefore the most insecure.

What about women on the other end of the spectrum? Low self-monitors don’t care as much what others think of them. They are more concerned about conveying who they truly are than with winning people over. They tend to be less appearance oriented even if they are great beauties. Their parents were supportive of their interests and fostered their talents.

Can you be a high self-monitor in some areas of your life but not others? Yes. And knowing that can help you shut off that inner voice. For instance, if you’re hyperaware of your appearance but confident in your career, reminding yourself of that helps. Self-monitoring is a behavior you can control. You can train yourself to turn more of your focus to the things you feel confident about.

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