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.