How To Age Gracefully

I recently had an email from a woman who is nearing 60 years old. She is in incredible shape (I should know, I saw the photos) & has great style but is caught in the trap of getting older & being unsure what to do about it. She has thought about getting cosmetic surgery, but after a run-in with the wife of a big-shot celebrity (think Michael Douglas’ family tree), was disturbed when she realised that if these people with more money than sense can end up with hideously botched work, what would happen to someone like her?

The other thing is that cosmetic surgery still isn’t completely safe. Novelist Olivia Goldsmith, writer of The First Wives Club died in 2004 during “minor plastic surgery”. Call me opinionated, but some things are worth dying for — & some are not. For me, cosmetic surgery falls quickly into the latter category. It is so unnecessary. You’re getting old: you know it & we know it too. No amount of cosmetic surgery is going to hide that fact.

Of course, this is no reason to buy orthopedic shoes (unless you need them!) or to start wearing a twin-set & pearls & never look back. You don’t have to cut your hair short or get a blue rinse. You should always stay true to yourself, regardless of age. Epictetus said, “Know, first, who you are; & then adorn yourself accordingly.” (I like this quote much better than “you’re only as old as you feel”, which is cheesy, or “you’re only as old as the women you feel”, which is just revolting!)

The only rule is that there are no rules. One thing I would encourage is that you age gracefully — however you define that. The most amazing women I have met are not people who have been under the knife. One of them is my mother. She is 60 this year, runs a successful business & dresses with amazing style. She is never going to be a senior citizen to my eye — she takes great care of herself. Another is an ex-boyfriend’s mother. She has long hair, midway down her back, & she has been grey since her mid-twenties. She regularly colours her hair with henna, & it is a vibrant, radical orange. She is happy & loving & it makes her seem much younger than she is.

Nobody likes wrinkles, but they are going to happen. It’s just a fact of life. You should be happy you have wrinkles — it means you’re not dead! However, here are some things that will aid you in aging gracefully, & remember, it is never too early, or too late, to start.

Take good care of your skin.
Remove your make-up every night. Moisturise. Read my skincare article if you need a refresher course. Use an eye cream & a neck cream, but don’t just go for the most expensive stuff, since often there is no evidence it is any better than the products you can buy in a supermarket. Do your research! Read Don’t Go To The Cosmetics Counter Without Me by Paula Bedoun (though I would advise you take it with a grain of salt since everything she writes is very angry-sounding & that makes me wary). Use Google to learn about products, read what other women are saying in online forums. A tip: You can pierce a Vitamin E capsule & apply the oil to the fine lines around your eyes & mouth for a quick, inexpensive treatment that works really well.

Normally I would put this under the “take good care of your skin” section, but it’s so important it deserves its own heart. Every time I see someone with sunburn or a woman with a wrinkly, leathery d├ęcolletage, I cringe (& hope they don’t see). Painful. Respect your body! Please!

Look at your family.
Examine your genetic background. Does your family have a history of heart disease or cancer? How are the older members of your family aging? Then do some research to find out how you can help prevent going down the same track.

Eat well.
Vegetables are good for you, & green leafy ones especially — they usually have the most nutrients & vitamins. (This is hilarious coming from me since I am about the pickiest eater in the world!) Eat fruit which is high in antioxidants like berries. If you can bribe someone to feed you strawberries, even better.

Keep your mind nimble.
I am convinced that a lot of people die soon after retiring just because they’re bored. Have fun & use your noggin! I read some research on living longer & it said that if you keep thinking, developing your intellect & stay socially engaged, you can increase your IQ even as you’re aging.

Quit smoking.
It’s stinky, expensive & it kills you. Not to mention it wreaks havoc on your skin.

Try non-invasive skin treatments if you really feel the need.
Cosmetic surgery is silly… you’re not fooling anyone. Women with the face of a 25 year old & the hands of an 80 year old are more terrifying & ghastly than any woman who has gone the natural route. Anyway, if you really must have something done, microdermabrasion gets good reviews. You could also try Botox, but please try not to get to the stage where you cannot express emotion with your face.

Plan for your future.
This is slightly grim, but should be mentioned. Work out how you are going to live once you retire. Statistics say that married women will probably spend somewhere in the region of 7 to 15 years as a widow (depending on the age difference between you & your husband). If you’re married & your husband controls the cash, learn as much about it as you can. Feeling in control of your future & having the knowledge you need to look after yourself will have a very positive effect on your feelings about getting older.

I’m sure I don’t need to explain why this is good for you. Your exercise routine will naturally change as you get older & you require different things from a workout. In your twenties, you should be exercising (to the point of breaking a sweat) three times a week for a minimum of 20 to 30 minutes. Try to do strength exercises twice a week. In your thirties & forties, you should be getting aerobic exercise daily, & women in particular also need to focus on strength training, or your bones will start to thin. You should be doing this about two or three times a week. Beyond this age, you should be careful about your exercise routine. If you can afford a personal trainer, it’s a very sound investment.

Be versatile & honest.
Accept that you are getting older. You may be getting grey hair, but it’s likely you’re the only person who is worried about it. No one is judging you because you’re getting older. Seriously. Most people will admire someone who is honest enough that they don’t need to cover up their age. Another thing about being versatile: be brave enough to examine your wardrobe & get rid of what is not working for you anymore. This, of course, is not age-specific, but I mention it because I used to work in a mall & every day, this 70 year old woman with varicose veins would limp past in extremely high heels. It hurt to look at her. You have to know when to give it up.

I called my mother on this subject for her advice. After all, I’m in my twenties, & don’t know a lot about aging. “What’s your advice on aging gracefully?”, I asked. “Work on your personality, not on your appearance,” she replied. I thought that was a little simplistic & easy for her to say — after all, she is a very good-looking woman & has excellent skin. (I grew up watching her go meticulously through her skincare regime every morning & night.) Then I thought a little more about it. The way you feel about life really is reflected in your face. If you’re sad or angry, you will contort your face accordingly. The more you do it, the more lined your face will become. We have all seen people with mouths that resemble a cat’s bum from years of pursing their lips in ire. (I am sitting here making strange faces to try to describe it to you.) If you’re happy & smile a lot, people will react much more strongly to the warmth you emit than the lines around your eyes. It’s funny, the older I get, the more pertinent all that cheesy, seemingly-useless advice of ore becomes.

I know everyone wants a quick fix, but unfortunately it doesn’t work that way. I can’t tell you what to wear, I can’t tell you what to do. Be true to yourself, look after yourself, love yourself & let yourself evolve. That is really the best advice I can give you. I hope it helps.

Extra For Experts:
If 60’s The New 40… a post about growing old gracefully from the inside out & a huge pile of comments, some very insightful.
Tightly Wound: The Wrinkle Manifesto. Hilarious!
“Having a face so tight that people could ice skate on it doesn’t increase your sex appeal. Because we all look at it and go, “Nice mid-life crisis, dude. Guess what? You’re still old. And now you’re still old and if you smile you run the risk of your face snapping off and landing on my tossed salad.””