Face It: Beauty, aging, identity, peace

I've just fnished "Face It: What Women Really Feel As Their Looks Change" by Vivian Diller, Ph.D. and Jill Muir-Skukenick, Ph.D.  

The authors, both former models and psychotherpists, promise to lead women distressed about changing physical attributes out of their funk. They are not against surgical and non-surgical treatments, but prefer us to know what we're doing should we erase life's experience from our faces.

A picture is worth a thousand words: Helen Mirren, 66 next month:

Nicole Kidman, 44 next week and admittedly an easy target:

A few quotes from the book:

"We are buying–and buying into– an anxiety-producing cultural imperative to look younger than we truly are. And we are terribly uncomfortable as we succumb to the siege of internal and external pressures tugging at us from so many places."

"In adolescence, we are letting go of our youth and fearful of growing up. In midlife, we are letting go of the last vestiges of youth and fearful of growing old. 

In both, we sometimes find ourselves holding on too long, for fear of moving on. Yet the more we hold on, the less comfortable we feel in our own skins."

The authors explore the two main strategies the culture hands us:
1. Deny:
"Your looks shouldn't matter. If they do, don't let anyone know. Stay true to your real self; let your looks take their natural course as you age".

2. Defy: 
"Your looks should matter, and don't you ever forget that. Buy products, work out at the gym, and defy aging whatever the cost, any way you can. And be sure to make it look natural."

Their six-step process, which includes examination of our relationship to Mother, earliest experiences of beauty-tending, and the masks we adopt, take the reader beyond the realm of appearance, into deeper psychic territory of self-concept and identity.

The last chapter, "Say Goodbye to Say Hello" explores the attitude shift the previous sections work toward: mourning what's lost, and then "allowing a new definition of beauty".

Finally, the outer and inner signs of aging are honoured rather than despised, and the body and face therefore receive as much care as we choose, once we realize that the interventions won't bring back 20 or 30 again. (Diller and Muir-Skukenick do not condemn surgery or injections, but lead you to your own conclusions.)

"Face It" goes wider and deeper than physical appearance, addressing self-empathy and compassion not just for body issues, but for one's entire being and that of all females, regardless of age or appearance. The authors aim somewhat higher than self-help clichés and indict the culture of youth worship. 

The book would be stronger without examples of actors and media personalities, who face very different demands concerning appearance than most readers. You can skip through the long case studies at the end for a free anecdotectomy.

If the authors can deliver wholly on their stated objective, "Finding balance, satisfaction and pleasure  as your appearance changes with age", the book will outsell "Gone With the Wind".

As for me, I'm using Mirren's tactic: disciplined maintenance while letting the lines come– and wearing a pair of stunning earrings!


Susan B said…
This sounds like a worthwhile read. Great review, Duchesse!

I'm somewhere in the middle. At this stage of the game, I've ruled out injectables and surgery, but am focusing more on good nutrition, skincare, sleep, and keeping myself active both mentally and physically. Oh, and a good colorist. (Had I Mirren's grey, I'd go for it. Mine is more the dingy, cardboard colored variety.)
Anonymous said…
This is a book written by and for the "formerlies" women who were formerly attactive to random men and are coming to terms with losing this attribute. I was invisible in my 20's being too skinny with thick glasses, stringy hair etc. etc. so am quite used to being ignored.

Interestingly in my 40's I put on the inevitable 20 lbs but now ended up with an almost perfect figure. Because I had always dressed in many layers of clothing and never went out in the sun I had zero sun damange similar I guess to a Victorian age woman. All of a sudden I was "worthy" enough to be noticed.

That being said the most interesting thing is that once you are 45+ you are lumped in with the 90 year olds in this huge "elderly" demographic. When people find I am not 10 years younger based on my outward appearance I am discounted again. Only men 20+ years older would consider me acceptable.

This is not France, we are a youth oriented culture and there is nothing you can do about it. Even the most beautiful actress will not be cast in a romantic role because its just "icky" to think of old people that way. No amount of botox, facelifts, fillers will change that.

I find the whole process more interesting than anything else but I really find most women my age very depressed and negative because of it.
materfamilias said…
Thanks for the review -- sounds both interesting and convincing. For myself, I will continue to use a night cream, day cream with SPF, and eyecream, keep my hair well cut and coloured, run while the hips and knees hold up complemented by Pilates classes -- perhaps switching to yoga and/or swimming at some point. Otherwise, I'm not interested in experimenting with expensive products and makeup techniques to keep the inevitable at bay and/or disguise it.

The older women I find attractive, even compelling, are so not because they look young but because they are vibrantly invested in life -- their engagement is always evident. And these women are NOT invisible; they are NOT ignored. Try to book tea or lunch with them and you'll see what I mean -- their dayplanners are full. . .
I'll be checking back to follow this conversation; it's sure to be another lively one.
Duchesse said…
une femme: I'd say it's worthwile if one has some dismay and confusion accepting aging. I've gone in and out of how much I care, and am now just using hair colour and doing, as you, the more health-oriented things.

Anonymous: 45+ lumped with 90, where? If a woman chooses to "dress in many layers", she would not attract the kind of attention someone showing more would. In cultures that allow choice, women go through continual assessment based on many factors, about how much of their body they wish to reveal.

It is harder for women who possess notable beauty to see it change. One of my goddess friends says it's a relief to no longer have her beauty be the first thing people meet.

Yes, mainstream film skews toward youthful beauty. You might enjoy the German film "Cloud 9" which presents a very different view.

Review here:
MJ said…
I saw a (not very good) movie with Kevin Kline in it the other day, and with plastic surgery he has gone from being an attractive man to one who lacks character. If I had any doubts about whether to go the Helen Mirren route, that helped to quell them. But I haven't yet gotten to the point of letting myself go gray.
LPC said…
Ah, Duchesse. This topic is an entire blog post I am debating with myself whether to write or not. The passing of the Pretty Fairy from one's life, and the ways in which that's tough, the ways in which it's downright wonderful. Two main points I notice - if you take the Helen Mirren route, as I have done so far, it becomes your choice whether to get noticed or not. That's something I like. The other thing is that the part of visible aging that I don't like are those that are more like damage than aging. For example, my frown lines, and the age spots from sun, on my cheekbones. I don't mind the fine lines at all, they seem a natural result.
laurieann said…
Hello Duchesse:

I've been following your posts since your move to the new city and enjoying each and ever yone; just haven't been in a writing mood myself. I want to congratulate you on taking such a big step with your move.

So far I've been following the Helen Mirren approach with an emphasis on good health, good habits and deploying a lovely smile more often than not.

Something which has really helped me recently is having my colors done by someone trained in the somewhat newer 12-season color approach. It was a complete revelation to me as I had wrongly assumed I was opposite on the color spectrum of what I actually am.

The color analyst suggested I return to my natural hair color to complement my skin tone and new wardrobe color focus. I have and it has made a huge difference. I had much of my crowning glory chopped off and now have a new do ala Jamie Lee Curtis. My eyes and my smile now take center focus, I feel more playful and think I look younger and just more like myself!

That said. I can also relate to what LPC has to say about some skin imperfections standing out more than others. I too have old sun spots and acne scars that are far more distracting than any wrinkles at this point.

At my age, 50, being as some have said "the youth of old age,' I am sure I'll have different thoughts and feelings on aging as the years go by.
Susan Tiner said…
I welcome this post as I recently commented to Mater that it seems the women bloggers 50 and better, as you put it, don't talk about the sadness in facing these changes. And lately I've been particularly sensitive to my changes vs the apparently eternal youthfulness of my life partner. We're both 53 and he still looks quite youthful and lean.

I've decided to focus more on fitness. I know I'll appreciate the health benefits, but I don't appreciate the pressure to look youthful and lean.
ming said…
At 67 most people tell me I look 57or 60. I have good genes. My mother at 93 looks maybe 85. I have great grey/white hair - but because of an ongoing alopecia problem I am currently back in wigs.

But the biggest problem I am having now is that in years past I spent much time in the sun without sun screen. So in the past year I have had to have MOHs surgery on the top of my nose. Even with make-up the scar (size of a quarter) is noticable. So after being a little down about it - I have taken the approach that others have stated and just smile a lot.

And I act as an example. Let me tell you - my grandchildren don't go out of the house - here in Southern CA - without suncreen (nor do I).
Tiffany said…
I'm just heading into this territory. My mother is/was a very attractive woman who was terrified of ageing and has had plenty of intervention. I am always told how good she looks and it makes it even harder for me to chart my own route. I don't think I'd ever go the surgery route - I eat well, exercise, use sunscreen and retinol. Oh, and I have had laser work for sun spots (grew up in tropics with Irish skin). I've been tossing up the grey/not grey and - like other commenters - while I'd happily go grey if mine looked like Mirren's, I've now decided to keep dyeing, at least for the time being ... Thanks for the thoughtful post.
Duchesse said…
materfamilias: Am absolutely certain you will be lovely and vibrant as long as you live, it's just *in* you. I know many older women like those you describe, some still colour their hair and all take care in their dress, but the defining feature is the twinkle in the eye.

MJ: Mirren seems to alternate between white-blonde and grey, wonder if that's to rest it from the aggressive things done to her fine hair for film roles? Male actors look even worse than women with a pulled face.

LPC: Face It contains a distressing list of all the things that cause the first "aha moment" when you realize you are no longer in a relatively changeless period (spots, varicose veins tc.) But what was laudable is their willingness to address the erosion of one identity and the forging of a new, positive one.

laurieann: Good to hear from you! IS there a name or brand for that colour system? Did you change your clothes?

Love your wide smile and playful eyes approach! Many women feel long hair makes them look younger but with so many women, shorter emphasizes those eyes. (No 'answer' of course, it's just what suits each of us.)

Susan Tiner: This is the first book that I have read that not only invites mourning for losses, but asserts that this is essential.

I read recently that Goldie Hawn said she did not want to be called "grandma" or any of its variants and refused to let her grandchildren do it. Now, that's denial.

Nicks and scars and spots, part of the evidence of living a body accumulates, and it is wise to protect children against damage.
Duchesse said…
Tiffany: Given your mother's actions you might find this book very interesting as there's a lot in it about what we absorb (consciously and not) from our mother's attitudes about appearance.
Susan said…
Such an interesting post today. I'm 59 and look like 59 which seems to be ok with me. Either I don't see very well (which could be a good thing) or don't notice the signs of aging--other than a slowing metabolism which makes it difficult to be svelte.

I've made the decision to let my hair go white (and I"m fortunate that it is white, not gray). BUT, I'm highlighting the non white hair to keep from having the Cruella DeVille look.

I'm a firm believer in exercise for health reasons and plan to join Weight Watchers for vanity reasons.

I can't see myself having injections or surgery. It's just not me. I haven't mourned a loss of beauty/youth yet, but maybe that is in my future.
AN said…
Duchesse: I think my fear of injections is sufficient deterrent against Botox:) Seriously though, at 36 (but looking younger thanks to a good skin regimen in my teens/20s), I can still come to work without foundation and hold up before harsh office lights.

But going forward, the only intervention I've promised myself is to zap the spider veins on my thighs IF I lose enough weight to flaunt them in shorts...(probably never). Praying to be a silver fox in old age like Ms Mirren.

"Young = younger than I am, Old = older than I am" is my mantra. Keeps it all in perspective!
Susan said…
An, Seriously---who needs to look younger than 36? I guess everything is relative.
Lillian said…
I'm not sure just where I fit in. I'm 62 on the outside but still 25 inside. Although I'm gaining years I'm still a rocker chick. My wardrobe is mostly black with color added by my shoes, handbag, and nail polish. I just had purple chunks put in to my silver hair. I wear tons of necklaces and bracelets at the same time. All of my women friends are ages 30 to 38. My grandson thinks that I'm the coolest grandmother at his school. So do his friends. And men - I am still occasionally approached by men in their late 40's - early 50's.

I think it's just my attitude. I'm not growing old gracefully. Right now - I'm not growing old!

I've had people ask me how I stay young-looking (I can easily pass for 10-15 years younger). I tell them it's all the sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll!
Frugal Scholar said…
I've probably said this before. Mr. FS has remarked many times that as we age, we all tend to the mean. So the beauties become more average, but so do the non-beauties.

Some women of my acquaintance lament the loss of attention. I am lucky to be in a profession where people have to pay attention to me.
Unknown said…
I am of the Helen Mirren school of thought on this one. I work hard at the yoga, nutrition and skin care and leave the rest to nature. An eminent plastic surgeon once said to me "choose your parents wisely and stay out of the sun". The first you can't do much about the second is good advice. I do find there is an inner peace that comes with the passing of time.
materfamilias said…
Ah, so interesting what Frugal Scholar says -- rocks me back on my heels a bit to think. Perhaps that's why I haven't (so far) minded the aging terribly much nor have I felt especially invisible. Standing regularly at the lectern, I get as much attention as(more than, in fact) I want.
william said…
Duchesse, I am sixty this year and so grateful for my health. I am probably 15 pounds overweight. I am also grateful for very good skin that comes from my mother, and her mother, and her mother. My straight, limp, ultra-fine hair is graying and I have discovered a way that works for me: it has lots of blonde streaks leftover from highlighting, and I simply add a few taupe-brown low-lights every six months or so, and pull it back off my face in a low ponytail with a dark grosgrain ribbon, and go with the "I am starting to go gray" look (note this color ruse is actually quite artificial). High cheekbones help with this look. My makeup is minimal: moisturizer, light brown eyeshadow on brows and eyelids, powder, and pinkish-nude lipstick-- and always pretty earrings. My goal is not to look makeup-y but just a little more lively and defined. I remember my Mother, who was quite beautiful and who had a profound character, saying, "I just try to look neat," in her sixties and seventies. So far, the thought of surgery is horrifying to me. The main things that help me are getting enough sleep and exercise.
All best wishes,
Duchesse said…
materfamilias: I've been pondering Mr Fs's notion too. The great beauties I've known look a little more 'the norm' now but I'm not sure if merely presentable men and women get glossier. I have noticed how some men can let themselves go, with horrible haircuts and decrepit teeth, and I am not talking about those who are financially challenged.

Francie@william: You sound so causally, naturally "bien dans sa peau". I admire the subtlety... and envy your boon from your mother and her ancestors.

Chicatanyage: What a delightful piece of advice! And what would we do without Dame Helen Mirren to fly the flag?
materfamilias said…
Ah, I wasn't clear enough and gave the wrong impression -- while I'm intrigued by Mr. FS' theory, I was actually responding more to Frugal Scholar herself, and her emphasis on the visibility she and I gain at the front of a classroom -- and the role that might play in my not minding the aging as much. Not convinced it's the entire reason, but it is intriguing to think about.

As for Mr. FS's idea, while there is certainly some truth to it, I'm with you in having enough friends who are still far above any mean, even in their 50s and 60s. There's a certain beauty that is even more luminous in late middle age well into the 70s. I try simply to marvel rather than envy -- as I try to do with beautiful young women as well. Modest success, but I try . . .
Interesting book by the sounds of it and interesting discussion here.

I don't think I'll go down the surgery route and think that all those fillers look terrible on everyone I've seen with them.

I will continue to dye my hair (I'm 80% grey) as my kids insist on it (grey is for grandmas they tell me).

Interestingly, passing through LAX last month when having my passport perused by a immigration official (the photo is almost 10 years old) he said "the photo doesn't do you justice". Very flattering. I think that many people become more attractive as they age in many ways. Some people peak early, but many grow in confidence and this improves appearance in my book.
Mardel said…
I wouldn't do the surgery thing, although I've had my share of surgeries over the years, perhaps that is why, surgery for looks seems so frivolous. If anything I have cut back, I am growing my hair longer, and I think I like it, and I've stopped using a multitude of creams and found one I like morning and night. I can't see that I look any worse for it, but I am grateful that I have good skin.... but melanoma in my 20's put the fear of god in me in that regard.

When I was in my 20's a photo was taken of me visiting my great-uncle, then in his 90s. Looking at the two of us, I still see that we have the same face. Had you taken away the external clues and averaged the faces, we would have been identical. At 27 I was appalled; now not so much, I know where I am going.
Anonymous said…
If by disciplined maintenance you mean plastic surgery, Helen Mirren qualifies.
Duchesse said…
jlfttro: If she has done so (interviews I can find online where she is quoted, rather than those inferences made by "experts" quote her as saying she is "considering" it), it is subtle and she has plenty of wrinkles.

if my chin slides into my neck so that the two are truly indistinguishable, I'm getting a necklift! But I don't want that blank Kidman face and taut eyes.

See my post today (July 27 2011); none of these women have had any surgery.

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