What does it really mean to age gracefully, I asked myself as I applied moisturizer for the fifth time today. More specifically, what does it mean to age gracefully as a millennial, a.k.a., someone living (and having birthday after birthday) in an era characterized by a high-key obsession with skincare accompanied by a surplus of new and innovative in-office facial treatments? We are no longer faced with the simple choice of aging without intervention (other than a goopy jar of night cream) or going under the knife with some significant changes to our appearance.
Once upon a time, the phrase “aging gracefully” was a phrase applied to women who chose the former route—letting their natural wrinkles and grays show without making “desperate” (read: failed) attempts to appear younger. When I Googled “aging gracefully,” a crop of images appeared, all featuring older women who had several things in common—thinness, whiteness, white hair (but shoulder-length and styled), and killer cheekbones.
Not everyone ages this way, however. (And this image makes a good point.) Moreover, the phrase is complicated by people’s cruelty. Indeed, scrolling farther down the images results page, I found listicles of celebrities (female, of course) who had clearly aged naturally but “did not age gracefully” precisely because they didn’t look like the majestic, white-haired beauties above. Furthermore, a search for “aging gracefully” isn’t complete without articles that also cover those women who’d had botched or extreme plastic surgery. As it turns out, at least according to the grosser corners of the internet, aging gracefully is a hard game to win.
This search, while unpleasant, confirmed something I’ve been thinking lately—the traditional use of the phrase “aging gracefully” is all about what someone perceives/judges about someone else. Like so many other descriptors of physical attractiveness, this phrase is really about the standards and judgments of the beholder—not those of the person being described.
For myself, and anyone whose observing their own evolving faces, bodies, and hair color, I’d like to redefine aging gracefully and make it something for us—an ongoing and honest conversation we have with ourselves that informs our choices and allows us to live with a little more joy.
I’ll share an example of what this can look like. The problem: I often catch myself going down a beauty/skincare rabbit hole, searching for a miracle treatment to make me look like an impossible version of myself (it’s funny how even though I know there’s no topical product that will make me stop furrowing my brows, I keep looking!). The real talk: This is the kind of beauty quest that ultimately feels toxic. It has me focusing on something single and minor while leaving me with no solutions. I’m better served when I explore, try, and enjoy products, rituals, or services that effectively address my appearance and spirit more holistically—like a really good haircut, a gua sha session, or these fun illuminizers.
Here’s another idea—aging gracefully in our own way allows for interventions. We don’t have to sit around and hope that we will age into one of those 60+ models who can make even wrinkles look immaculate. So much has changed in the last decade, and we have more choices than ever. Now, we can get micro tweaks with more natural-looking results and getting serious about treating our skin with a host of cosmeceutical grade topicals.
Getting fillers, trying a hoard of serums, or highlighting our grays away—those are our choices to make. I propose, however, that we move toward the treatments and services that bring us joy and come from a place of self-love (regardless of how “major” or “unnecessary” they may seem to someone else—remember, we’re calling the shots!). If it were in my budget, I would totally try some laser action to smooth my skin. The difficult part is to keep steering toward the uplifting things and away from the choices we make out of fear, urgency, or self-loathing. And only we can know which choices cross the line.
Lastly, it may be helpful to reframe our thinking through these questions: If we think of “grace” in a more general sense, we may think of elegance and goodwill, so, as we age, how can we show ourselves goodwill? How can we occupy our bodies with elegance and composure?
We’re all going to age. Let’s show ourselves grace, and maybe, as we have these conversations with ourselves, we can turn aging gracefully into an inside job.
How do you define aging gracefully?
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Photo: Matheus Ferrero via Unsplash