Monday, September 5, 2011

Celebrating Ourselves As Is

I was laughing in the locker room at the gym this morning with my neighbor Marcia as we examined our sweaty gym clothes, wilted hair and make-up free faces and talked about how good it felt to wear old, eccentric gym get-ups, to sweat and to not care if anyone saw us with bad hair and no makeup.

We're not into letting ourselves go, but, rather, we're embracing ourselves as is, in natural process of aging.  I stopped coloring my hair several years ago. Since retirement, I dress casually and rarely wear makeup. It feels wonderful! What a joy it is to stop worrying about how others see me.

We all come into our later years with different perspectives on physical aging. Some mourn lost beauty. Some work hard to hang onto their good looks. Some relax into gentle, white-haired older age. I'm among the latter.

It may be even more of a relief to me than most to relax and just enjoy being myself at this stage because during much of my working life, looks mattered a great deal. I spent so much of my youth, especially, struggling to meet impossible standards of beauty.

I think, with certain sadness, about what a negative view I had of myself physically when I was in my twenties. My dear friend Phyllis and I were wondering together the other day about why we didn't appreciate our own healthy good looks when we were young. For me, because of my occupational choices, it was particularly difficult.

When I was an actress, appearance was a huge part of getting work. Casting people were often seeking a certain look and if you didn't have that, no amount of acting talent could compensate. This was well before the stardom of unconventional looking and marvelous actresses like Linda Hunt or Kathy Bates. I would spend an hour on makeup, gluing on false eyelashes, fussing over my curly hair, wearing clothes that skimmed my muscular, large-boned yet normal weight body. I was called fat and heard, over and over, that I wasn't pretty.  I played young character roles, some hazardous to a good self-image.  In my last professional gig, in the West Coast premiere of the play "Dylan",  I was Elena Antoine, a socialite so disgusting, inside and out, that even cash-strapped, notorious womanizer Dylan Thomas has to think about her offer of $5,000 to go to bed with her (and while he is thinking, his wife Caitlin rushes in and starts beating her up and Elena flees in terror.)

                                             Scenes from My Tormented Twenties

                                                        Three Acting Pictures 


                              
                                                     
                      
                                                                                           

In my years at 'TEEN Magazine, I was constantly aware of the need to be attractive. Our photos were often featured in the magazine. Some of my co-workers were former models, as well as trained journalists, and they were -- and many still are -- gorgeous. I was well-regarded as a writer, but struggled to meet the staff image of young, slim and hip.

                                                 Two 'TEEN Publicity Photos


                                                    


                                                    
                                                    
And as a freelance writer and book author, I was aware that being telegenic was important.  This was years before the current realities of author "branding" and platforms. I started out O.K.  But stress, depression and grief due to devastating losses took a toll and I experienced an alarming weight gain as I reached my forties. My dramatically fluctuating weight was hazardous to my career and to my self-esteem.

As time went on, looks began to matter even more for authors. When I had quit acting, I rejoiced over the fact that looks didn't matter so much in writing, that I would never again hear "Do you have any film on you?" But as entertainment conglomerates began to take over publishing, looks -- and film on you -- began to matter a lot.

There was controversy over publishers' dictums to authors to spiff up their looks. The most tragic example was novelist Olivia Goldsmith, who wrote an angry op-ed piece about pressure from her publisher to get a chin-tuck. She wondered why Norman Mailer and John Updike had never been nagged about their jowls. But, no stranger to previous plastic surgeries, she finally agreed to have the chin tuck. The 54-year-old author of "The First Wives Club" went into a coma a few minutes after anesthesia was administered and died eight days later without ever regaining consciousness.

As we age, we all have a choice to embrace our changing bodies and evolving selves.  What do you celebrate most about being at this stage of life? Are you more comfortable or less? Are you more accepting of the person you have grown to be?

I love settling into my age. I look every day of my 66 years and I don't mind at all. I'm working hard to eat healthy meals, lose weight and work out -- in order to live longer in good health.  My looks are unremarkable here at Sun City Anthem. It's delightful. I happily go out in public with short-cropped hair and no make-up. I work out and sweat at the gym every day. I've never felt more comfortable in my own skin.

It's delicious to feel such comfort, to feel that no one is looking at me or evaluating my telegenic qualities. It feels good to stop trying to be beautiful and to enjoy my cosmetically imperfect, but perfectly healthy body.


                                                  Scenes from My Serene Sixties


                                  With my beloved sister-in-law Amp - May 2011                  
                                                  
                                         With kitten Sweet Pea - June 2010


    
It feels so good to be completely myself, to live with joy, not judgments.

It feels lovely to be at a point in life when the content of my character, the kindness within, my thoughts and opinions have come to mean so much more than appearance. What I had within, all those years ago, underneath the false eyelashes, makeup, wigs and fluctuating figure, always mattered most to me.

Now there is the freedom to celebrate what matters and discard what doesn't.

I'm done with makeup, high maintenance red nail polish,  false eyelashes, uncomfortable clothes and worries about what others think.

With God as my witness, I will never wear pantyhose again!

I am thrilled that I am unlikely to hear that I'm not pretty enough or thin enough or that I otherwise don't fit the image expected of me.

I fit who I am just fine. At last, thank goodness! At last.




15 comments:

  1. Yes, the pleasure of self-acceptance!
    You do look marvelously happy, K.

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  2. Can you see the standing ovation coming from here in Canada!

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  3. Dr. McCoy,
    I thoroughly agree. My, you were v pretty when you were younger!
    I have always lived for myself and never gave much thought to what others thought about me. I made up my own fashion statements.
    In the 70's I stopped trying to make my ultra curly hair straight and probably was the first white girl to let her hair go into an afro'. Remember those?
    When my 1st husband told me he wanted me to get a nose job because he hated my profile and oh, yeah BTW, get a boob job too....I found it was cheaper to divorce him than pay for the surgery. LOL! That ex used to demand I weigh myself before him and heaven forbid I weighed above 130 pounds! He even complained 3 days after I gave birth to our 1st child that I wasn't wearing makeup! Ugh.

    Today, I maintain a regime that I call 'presentable'. I like to look presentable. I try to keep my figure at a size 12 (and I've hit 16 a few times, plus 8 a few times also....but 12 is comfortable). Also, I always have on a pair of size 10-12 jeans that I get at Old Navy. Since my only fashion statement is a pair of jeans, I do like to wear the latest jean fashion. I've got one pair of skinnies and one pair of flair. I still, to this day, wear tee shirts. Short sleeve in the summer. Long sleeve in the winter. Slip on a pair of comfortable loafers, a sporty coat, a Kate Spade bag (my daughter worked there, so all of my 15 bags were free!) and I'm done.

    I do my own nails, my own pedicures and try to tweeze my eyebrows in a timely manner. As I said, I like to look presentable. I very rarely wear makeup and when I do it's just a hint of face color and mascara. I always, however, wear pale lip gloss. Good for the lips.

    I do, however, dye my snow white hair, blonde every six months. Can't help it. I've been white haired since I was 21. Inherited from my father. The shocking white hair sometimes even scares ME! LOL!

    I wear comfy Old Navy work-out clothes at home. Sometimes my yoga pants. I sew my own pj's, so I've got tons of flannels for sleep. Cute designs.

    I walk several times a week and swim at least twice a week. I do my yoga stretches daily. I do all of this for myself. It makes ME feel good. And one last little secret: I still wear my retainer to bed every single night. I like my smile and I adore white teeth. In fact, the first thing that drew me to husband #2, were his perfect, white teeth. And he never had braces.

    Go figure.

    And DH#2 loves me just the way I am. 30 years and counting.

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  4. Thanks so much for your comments, Rosaria, Better and Morrison! Oh, my, Morrison, I could sit and dish with you for hours! Your first husband sounds like a real winner! You made the right choice for sure! I didn't mention in the post that I used to argue with my mother, who thought I should have a cosmetic surgery on my nose and my father who used to weigh me when I was a teenager and criticize me for holding at 112 pounds when my mother weighed 108 in young adulthood. Of course, I was two inches taller than my mother. But I digress.... My freshman and sophomore year college roommate Cheryl and I once tried to straighten our hair with the stuff black people use. OMG! Not the smartest thing we ever did! In the late seventies and early eighties, I went for a modified white person's Afro like you did. It felt very free-ing! So glad you've found your own style and comfort level and acceptance from DH. I am happy, Rosaria and am especially glad to hear from you. And Better, thanks so much for the standing ovation!!

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  5. You are a beautiful woman and I love this post! It should be required reading for every woman. Here's to health and happy living!

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  6. Kathy, you touch all the bases here. There is much to ponder. Body image thoughts don't go away just because we age. That is for sure. I think you have reached a very healthy place on how you think about your own body image. I'm not sure I am there yet. I'm working on it. Aging is sending me plenty of curves (not just around my mid-section) to deal with when it comes to how I view myself. It is forcing me to deal with certain results of the aging process.

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  7. Kathy, Yep, me too! I'll put on a little makeup when I substitute or attend a function with the spouse, but most days it's sunscreen and chapstick. I love that I can rub my eyes and not look like a raccoon. I've still got pantyhose, but i can't remember the last time I wore them. I keep them around in case I have to attend a funeral in the winter. I enjoy the few opportunities I have to dress up, but most days I'm in cotton stretch pants and Tshirts. I'm still surprised when I see myself reflected in a window or mirror. I don't recognize that mature woman...but I love her!

    BTW, as a teen in the 1960's I religiously read Teen from cover to cover. In those days before the Internet and expanded TV channels, it was where I learned all about fashion, makeup and relationships with boys. Think of all the young lives you impacted!
    Jann aka #1Nana

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  8. I really appreciate your comments Shelly, Sally and Jann. Thanks so much for your kind words, Shelly. Sally, I think we all tussle with physical issues at this stage. While I feel more comfortable in my own skin, I'm dismayed by arthritis in my feet and knees that precludes getting back to the dancing I always dreamed of doing in retirement. So the tap dancing troupe here taps on without me. I'm learning to be fit in other ways. But I've had to let go of some passions that just aren't possible anymore. So you're far from alone in your adjustment process. Jann, it IS a surprise to catch a glimpse of oneself in a mirror. I look there and see my mother reflected back and I'm always amazed. We never resembled each other in earlier life! And I'm so glad you found 'TEEN helpful! I really loved working there (from 1968-1977). My specialty was relationships and other psychological/health articles plus Dear Jill and editing Dear Doctor. I spent hours a day reading reader mail and learned so much. Amazingly, I occasionally get an email via my website from a former 'TEEN reader saying my articles were helpful all those years ago -- and that means so much!

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  9. I've just visited your blog for the first time, having discovered it by reading your comments on other blogs.

    You share with us a wisdom that has emerged from your own experiences as a child and as an adult. As model and actress and writer. And you share this wisdom so cogently by using examples from your own life.

    I appreciate your encouraging all of us to discover who we are for ourselves. Not the ideal we once hoped for or that others envisioned for us, but the coming home to who we are at the very core of our being. Thank you.

    Peace.

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  10. Welcome, Dee! I appreciate your comments so much! I've just discovered and become a Follower on your blog as well. We have much in common: Kansas City roots (I still have relatives there), love of cats, Harry Potter, and exploring the stories of our lives and others. I really enjoyed reading your post today!

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  11. Ah yes, you were a pretty young thing but the later shots with your lovely white hair show a happy and radiant person that did not come through on the early shots.
    I still am sometimes startled at who peers back at me from my mirror but I am happy with her. She is comfortable in her skin and since I sometimes lie about my age saying I am 82 instead of my actual age of 72, people compliment me on how good I look. Shameless, I know.
    Arkansas Patti

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  12. Thanks so much, Patti! I have to confess I've been tempted to try lying about my age in the other direction, too. You know those t-shirts that say Sixty and Sensational? I've thought about getting one that says I'm 80 and sensational! At any age, when one is comfortable in one's own skin, that's all that matters. So glad you're feeling good about the person who see in the mirror!

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  13. As always, your posts resonate so well! Not long ago, my friend Carol and I were talking about some photos we'd taken at an Oscar party where we all dressed to the nines. We both thought we were fat, nothing special. We look at those pix now and think "Golly, we were really terrific looking -- and wouldn't we kill to look that way now!"

    As a theatre major I got all the character roles -- the women with big hips, I called them. Since they were usually good parts, it was OK -- but I really wanted to be the pretty skinny one! Well, now I have more hips than ever (and really, I DO wish they were less, but apparently not enough!). And I DO have my big uncontrollable hair, but it's what it is. And by and large, I'm pretty comfortable with me. Finally. Lose a few pounds -- healthier and that's good. But I don't have to just to know who I am. I already know her. And I'm glad to have her around!

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  14. A resounding Amen to every word, Kathy. Thank you SO much for telling it as it is and celebrating the importance of substance over style. I'm another no makeup, no hair-colouring, comfortable clothes person and at 65 I rejoice that I can be openly and wholeheartedly myself, without needing to impress others or conform to their expectations.

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  15. Dear Kathy, I have stumbled across your blog rather late, but I am going back and reading almost everything you have written. It is so liberating and wonderful to read it all! I'm 57 years of age, and for most of my adult life I've been obsessed with dieting. I range from a size 12 to 14 but often feel "fat" for no particular reason. As a teenager I was tall and of athletic build and friends and relatives told me I was getting fat just because I weighed more than they did. (They were all shorter). Dieting is the curse of modern western women. I am convinced it actually makes you fatter, destroys your natural eating habits, leads to unhealthy eating and removes one of life's greatest pleasures - preparing and sharing wonderful food. I've now made a resolve after reading your posts to accept who I am, at my current age, and to enjoy a freer attitude than ever before in my life. Thank you so much!
    Kathy.
    (great name, by the way!)

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