I got an opportunity the other day to stop and deeply consider what the true beauty of an ageing woman is; and the opportunity came from a Facebook post. It was a photo of two seemingly very old women with their weather-beaten skin deeply etched with decades of lines and wrinkles, and with a distinct absence of teeth, but their faces were alive from their smiles and their laughter. The caption read something like: – “we were young and beautiful but now we are just beautiful”. Their joy-filled smiles certainly had me smiling as I looked carefully at what I was seeing and allowed these words to sink in.
In the past I may have looked at these women with critical eyes, asking where the beauty was, and I am sure others would have done the same. But this time all I could see was the absolute joy emanating from these glorious smiles, and I could feel a deep love of themselves and each other, such was the energy coming from them; their beauty was coming from the inside along with a tangible feeling of sisterhood.
So, I got to contemplate on what I had just been presented with, and some questions quickly arose – what is beauty for a woman and where does it come from, and who determines what beauty really is, especially for an older woman?
Looking back, as I was growing up I don’t know if I actually looked at older women and judged how they looked on the outside; whether I considered them beautiful or not. My mother was the exception though, because as far as I was concerned, she was the most beautiful woman in the world. And as she aged her beauty remained intact, her face almost wrinkle-less – alas I didn’t inherit this gene – and her hair remained in almost its original colour until she died at 91. It got me to wondering whether it was her actual physical features that spoke to me of her beauty or was it something within her that I knew so well which emanated this light? Was the beauty I saw, coming from the inside or was I being swayed by her outer appearance? Much to ponder on here.
There are many older women, who I know, who do not consider themselves to be beautiful, and may never have done so, but there is something about them that definitely glows from the inside out, something which I am slowly starting to understand is their true beauty. And it doesn’t matter whether women are young or old, have sags, wrinkles or greying hair, their inner beauty, the true beauty of a woman, supersedes all that.
Most women would agree that it is very hard to know what it is to be a woman in this world when everything around us is trying to convince us that we are not enough as we are; that we need to be this shape or that and that our beauty is on the outside and that yes, we can make ourselves more beautiful with this product or that one. So, it makes sense that many would not be able to find beauty in the photo of the two old women.
And of course, there are those childhoods hurts that came from comments like – ‘you’re ugly’, ‘you’re fat’, your nose is too big’, ‘your hair too curly’; the heart wrenching list of taunts is endless, taunts that often wound us deeply and impact on what comes next in our lives. In my case it was a doctor I saw, when a nasty knee injury wasn’t healing, who dealt me the biggest verbal blow. He looked at me, a rather chubby nine-year-old girl, and said the words that burrowed deeply into my young psyche – ‘well you won’t be winning any beauty contests will you, so we won’t worry about fixing the scarring’. You can imagine how self-worth shattering those words would be to any young and sensitive girl.
I wonder now as an adult, what his version of beauty was, but for many years his hurtful and very insensitive words stayed buried, deeply affecting the way I felt about myself; but no longer. By coming to understand, that as painful the words expressed by others can be, we have a choice as to whether we hold on to them, or not. In truth, they are someone else’s words that have no place in our bodies where they are often buried, until healed. It has taken a while, but by learning to deeply appreciate the wonderful woman I am and all that I bring to this world, and by making the choice to bring much more self-love and self-care into my life, I have slowly released them from my body and my life. Yes, I still remember them, but now they have no power to hurt me.
Over the years, I have come to see so clearly that we can invest in as many beauty ‘enhancements’ as we choose to, but if inside we are feeling hurt, down, angry, tired etc it’s going to show on the outside, and even felt by those around us. We can pretend we’re okay but it actually doesn’t work, as how we feel oozes out of us; that is an energetic truth. Even the most beautiful ‘super model’ can look decidedly ‘un-beautiful’ if she is unhappy on the inside – and don’t the tabloids absolutely love those sorts of photos? Take a look in the mirror next time you’re feeling joyful and see how that joy bubbles out of you and then take a look on a day when you’re feeling rather blue, angry or tired and what do you see? In fact, at that moment in time that chances are slim that you want to look at the reflection that is mirrored back to you. – I know the mirror-avoiding scenario only too well. But now I know that I was simply avoiding listening to what my body was trying to tell me – that something wasn’t quite right in my life.
The fact is, as we age how we look on the outside begins to change, so it makes sense that with the continual media bombardment and the memories of critical words from others, so many women live with a deep lack of self-worth. They simply feel that they don’t measure up to the pictures of what a woman is suppose to look like, with their inner critic reminding them of this, often. So, it makes sense to me when older women share, that as they age they begin to feel more and more invisible. Could this be because they are not readily accepted as a part of the illusion around beauty and youth which society has created?
How different would life be if we were raised from day one to know the true source of our beauty – that it comes from within and from this inner space flows everything we need to live as a fully claimed woman. The myriad of beauty products on offer are here to enhance, not create a perceived beauty, because that innate beauty was there from our first breath and will be to our last. And so, as we age, we will take that knowing with us and fuelled by our accumulated wisdom from our lived experiences, it has the potential to have us feeling more beautiful as the days of our lives unfold.
There is a saying that ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ but I have a feeling that eye is probably heavily influenced by society’s beliefs around ageing and its own life experiences.
So, I would like to re-write this saying in my own way and with the lived wisdom of an older woman.
“True beauty comes first and foremost from the innermost being of a woman, it shines from the inside out and therefore, it is always there for everyone to see, to feel and to appreciate, equally so”.
And if we are unable to see the true beauty of an ageing woman, then maybe we are being offered an opportunity to explore what it is in our lives that is blocking this most priceless and beautiful view.