Small changes, big wins
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On feeling beautiful at 40


When I was growing up in the 90s, and reading the teen magazines of the times, I had a narrow definition of beauty for women: very thin, trendy clothes, clear, wrinkle-free skin, and perfectly styled clothes. All of it was very visual and one dimensional. What I've found is that as I get older, and live more life, my understanding of beauty keeps expanding.

Now I see beauty in every woman, and see it in myself too. I see how each woman is beautiful in her own way and in how they are different from other women, not because of how they are conforming to one beauty standard. I see how women express themselves in their looks, and how their personalities shine through their actions.

As I've aged and watched my reflection in the mirror start to show signs of aging, I've thought about how I want to continue to see myself as beautiful no matter what my reflection looks like. I'm thankful to have strong self-confidence and have always had an internal determination to appreciate myself as beautiful in my natural state. I remember noticing early on, in high school even, that girls and women who always wore heavy makeup looked so different (and not usually for the better) when I saw them without makeup. I knew this was because I was used to seeing them with makeup and not that they weren't naturally beautiful. But I made a mental note and have always felt strongly that I never want my natural, bare face to look significantly "less than" my made up face.


Now that I'm 40 I notice more visible signs of aging in my appearance. One is my graying hair. Honestly it will still surprise me to see photos of myself and see how much gray hair I have. My grays are still the minority among my brown strands but each year they make themselves more noticeable. Many (most?) women I know color their hair to cover gray hair that appears. I feel two ways about this. On the one hand, I support everyone doing whatever they want to their appearance. On the other hand, I can't help but feel that the cultural norm of women coloring their hair is rooted in the harmful beauty standard for women of being young and free of gray hair. Would so many women be covering up their gray, and spending so much money  at the salon each year by the way, if we truly celebrated the beauty of aging women?

What gives me hope is seeing naturally graying hair becoming more common and celebrated. I can think of several friends who, over the past few years, have stopped coloring their hair and have grown out their naturally graying hair. When I chat with these friends they usually express a mixture of having some days when their gray hair surprises them in the mirror and makes them feel a bit older. But on many days they love the way their hair looks. All of them express being glad to be done with frequent trips to the salon and the expense of the upkeep.

I especially loved what one close friend said about growing our her naturally graying hair. She said that she didn't want to miss seeing her hair transition from brown to gray. This idea of witnessing and celebrating the phases that our bodies are going through, instead of masking them, struck me as so beautiful. I think it's also bold. In a culture that diminished the beauty of older women, our gray hair, worn confidently, is a protest against that harmful norm.


I find myself noticing naturally graying hair and how beautiful it looks on women. If I have an opportunity, I try to pay a compliment to women I see wearing their hair with gray. I tell them that seeing their hair inspires me to feel confident in mine. I feel a kinship with these women and hope that our coalition will grow over time. I hope that by the time Maeve is getting gray hair that she won't even think about dyeing it and instead will perhaps be excited to watch her hair change into its new beautiful color.

Wrinkles and slight changes in my face – perhaps looking a bit thinner in the face? – are another change I notice when I look in the mirror. Our area seems to have a fair amount of an image-conscious L.A. influence to it and aesthetic dermatology offices and med spas are rampant. Botox and any other anti-wrinkle treatment is available at the snap of your fingers. Again, I support people altering their appearance in whatever way they choose. But I can't help but feel troubled at how getting face injections let alone plastic surgery is made to seem commonplace.

At the same time, I can understand the impulse to delay signs of aging. Erasing the lines I'm starting to get around my mouth and holding on to what my face looked like in my 30s does sound appealing. But the cost does not. Both the cost of getting expensive shots. And the cost of choosing to say that "No, my face as it naturally appears is no longer beautiful to me." To many women I'm sure that the choice to get Botox does not feel so significant and truly I don't feel judgment towards them. For me personally I think that older women with wrinkles and healthy, radiant skin look so beautiful. So that's my skin goal for aging. Not the absence of wrinkles but to keep my skin healthy as it ages.


The beauty of being a woman is that we each get to decide what beautiful is to us. What feels right for me right now is to embrace my face, hair, and body as it ages, naturally. I try to take a curious and not critical posture when I see a change in my appearance. I also find that taking care of myself and feeling good in my body go a long way towards feeling benevolent towards myself. I truly love taking care of my skin with sunscreen and moisturizers, and I love exercising and at 40 feeling as strong as I ever have.

I love seeing other women who are confident and beautiful with gray hair and wrinkles at 50, 60, 70, 80 and beyond. I'm lucky to have women of all of these ages in my life who lead by example and make me feel confident as I notice more gray hair and wrinkles. I hope that I can be an example to women younger than me and certainly to my daughter.

I want to say to all women, "Just look at you. You are so, so beautiful. Let your beauty shine." And that's what I want to remember to say to myself, too.


Friends, how do you feel about the changes you are noticing as you age? What helps you feel beautiful in your own skin? I'd love to know.


P.S. If you like this topic then I think you would love to podcast Wiser Than Me with Julia Louis-Dreyfus where she interviews badass older women. I absolutely love it and it makes me excited to be a woman who is getting older.