Why is it so detrimental to avoid coming to terms with these changes?
We’ve noticed that in midlife there’s been an increase in eating disorders. There’s a rise in alcoholism. There’s drug abuse. I wouldn’t say they’re all related to our appearance, but I have no doubt that if your aging face is hard for you to accept, you might take that extra drink. You might go on an excessive diet. Sometimes we mask our feelings. I had one patient who was absolutely- determined to have a fourth child, even though she was in her fifties. Her husband didn’t want more children, but she was dead set on it. When I talked to her, it wasn’t really about wanting a child. She was beginning to see her body and face change, and she thought one way to retain her youth was to be pregnant. She had to work to redefine her sense of worth.
How do you navigate the process of mourning your youth and looks?
It’s not unlike what occurs when you lose a loved one. At first, there is a feeling of, Oh no, this isn’t happening.Then there is a gradual understanding that you can’t hold on to the past. There may be a deep sadness that life has turned a corner, but you have to let go. If I tried to be the ballet dancer I once was, or you cling to the idea of preserving the look you had in high school, it will only make us sad and anxious. When you truly accept that your life stage is changing, it doesn’t feel so sad in the end. You can have a big cry and then move on with your life.
How do you redefine beauty?
When you glance in the mirror, instead of worrying about appearing younger, think about looking good for your age. Don’t lead yourself down the path of “But I don’t look like I did when I was in my twenties” or “But my neck!” Think about whether there is anything you can do to look the best for your age—not for 20, not for 30, but for your age now. Changing that internal dialogue takes practice. You have to become aware of what you say to yourself when you are in a dressing room or looking in a mirror, and start shifting it. We have to be kinder to ourselves. You would never say to a friend, “You look old” or “You look fat.” The notion of perfection isn’t healthy for young kids, and it is definitely not healthy as you get older. There are certain aspects of your face and your body that don’t change that much,and you should concentrate on those. Your eyes, or for some women, it’s great legs. It’s up to you to take those features and wear them with pride.
Looking good versus looking young is a big shift.
Yes, but once you accept that you can’t turn back the clock, you can take positive steps. You might go to a dermatologist to have sun damage treated. Or have your teeth whitened. I play tennis, I look after my skin and wear makeup, but I don’t spend an obsessive amount of time on it. The best way I take care of myself, besides staying active, is by making sure I’m involved with something I feel passionate about.
Have you ever considered Botox?
Every woman in the world probably considers it. I feel strongly, though, that there is no turning things back and that ultimately it’s a short-term solution to a long-term issue. I do feel there are increasingly better procedures that are not so radical and are probably going to be what dyeing hair used to be. One example is the new light-based, nonablative laser therapies. These have fewer risks than cosmetic surgery, create more subtle, gradual changes in aging skin and appeal to women who want to look better rather than younger. But again, none of these procedures replace the necessary internal work that helps us age with grace.