What happens when you look in the mirror? Do you see the person you expect to see, or is there an older woman looking back at you? Maybe she has wrinkles and looks less attractive than you thought she would look. Until recently you probably were accustomed to seeing an image of yourself that more or less aligned with what you had expected to see reflected back. And then you catch a candid glimpse one day, and what you see doesn’t match up with how you feel. The woman looking back at you conveys middle age or worse, certainly not the vibrant, healthy version of yourself that you actually (thankfully) feel most days. What happened?
I remember being a little girl and hearing my grandmother say that when she looked in the mirror she saw an old lady, but she still felt twenty-nine years old. I wondered how that could be. Sadly, I now know exactly what she was talking about. It makes me wonder how people perceive me. We are aware of ageism and how it adversely influences what people (especially younger people) think about us. The context matters of course. If you are applying for a job, you may be painfully concerned that you will come across as old. If you are meeting someone new at a party (where it shouldn’t make a difference that you are older than the person you are meeting) you may simply wonder how they perceive you. They are bringing their own bias and baggage, which you don’t have access to, yet they are making a judgement about you. Their first impression will be based solely on your appearance, but once you are in conversation together they will get a sense of you, including how you listen and respond to them. How you comport yourself and how you move your body will also give them knowledge about who you are. And all you can do is enjoy the connection and the moment, and not assume the worst. It doesn’t really matter what you look like to them, what matters is how you feel about the person you are. As Maya Angelou said, “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they’ll remember how you made them feel.”
It’s not just age that we see in the mirror. We also see our flaws. We are highly self-critical. Intellectually we may realize other people do not see these same flaws, or at least not judge them as severely as we do. Yet everyone sees a reflection of how they don’t live up to societal standards of beauty(unless we’re having a really good day!). We all make choices, both conscious and unconscious, about how much we let this affect our self-esteem. For some women, it’s killer. Not liking one’s body can directly affect how we like ourselves, forgetting that the person inside matters a great deal and that when someone gets to know us, they are attracted to the inside and not just the outside. Some women come to terms with what they see in the mirror -imperfections and all, and make peace with it. The same holds true for photographs of ourselves. I usually cringe when I see myself in photos because there is always something I don’t like, even when someone else remarks it’s such a good photo. I’m too busy wondering if I really look like that, because something is out of alignment. Looking back at photographs from the past can be a reminder of how we’ve aged/put on weight/have gray hair, etc. The comparison of how we look now to how we used to look can be painful (never mind that even when the photo was taken we didn’t love it), and
it reminds us that time is running out and we’re not getting any younger.
How To Come to Terms with the Outside
This is not hopeless. You do not have to hate what you see in the mirror or in photos. But you do have to learn how to let those high standards relax and not compare yourself to others (within reason, no one can turn that off completely). You have to come to terms
with what is reasonable for your age, your physique, your health, and most importantly, focus on what you do like about yourself. I’m sure you don’t look like Shrek –there is a feature you’ve always been proud of or been complimented on by others. Perhaps there is a change you have made to your appearance or would like to make, that addresses something you’re not happy with.
We all know, yet tend to either forget or overlook, that what’s on the inside really drives how
we feel about ourselves. I say I cringe when I see myself in photos, yet I actually feel better
about the way I look in my ‘60s than I did in my ‘30s. I am more in control of much of my life
and happier in my (older) skin than I was back then. In a survey of 1,000 men and women
aged 18 to 90, by Masson and Tetra Insights, it was discovered that older people (in their 60s, 70s and 80s) were more likely to report feeling calm, optimistic, cheerful and full of life.
If you like the person you’ve become in the years since you were younger
and you are living life in ways that are basically working for you and
feel good, then chances are excellent that it radiates outward. When people meet you and know you, what they experience is your contentment with who you are. This makes you so much more attractive than if you fit all the societal standards of beauty. So enjoy who are you now, who you’ve evolved into in this stage of your
life (or make some changes if you’re not quite satisfied). Feeling good about yourself is the best beauty solution ever!