Beauty standards, ageing and confidence
I’ve spent more years than I care to imagine working out how to love my reflection. It might sound strange to anyone who doesn’t identify as a woman, or wasn’t raised as female, but the constant stream of messages we receive about how our appearance is the most important thing about us takes a certain type of strength to ignore. Young boys will get congratulated on being clever, strong or talented, while girls often only get told that they’re pretty. Check out anything shared online by a woman which has received negative comments, and you can bet the vast majority of them will be about her appearance rather than her words or actions. This slow and constant drip, drip, drip means that a lot of us spent our 20s and 30s hating at least one thing about the way we looked, only to get to our 40s and look back wondering what the fuck we were worried about. Why we cared so much about something that, in the grand scheme of things, is actually so unimportant.
The older I get, the fewer fucks I give about what I ‘should’ look like. Unlike many photos of feminine faces that I see on Instagram, I have spots on my chin, visible pores on my cheeks, peach fuzz all over my face, creases round my eyes when I smile, and creases on my neck from most angles. Although I do wear make up (to hide some things about my face and to emphasise others) and choose flattering lighting and angles for my selfies, I don’t use filters as I think that the result just doesn’t look like me. I’m also trying to share more of the ‘everyday’ selfies, like I would send to my friends, rather than just the ‘perfect’ ones but it’s challenging when the vast majority of images of beauty that we see every day tell us one thing; that flawless youthful skin is the only thing that’s desirable. They tell us that creases should be eradicated, the way our faces slowly start to droop once we hit 40 is something to be corrected, and skin that isn’t an even colour all over is, well… that’s what make up is for, right? Getting older is inevitable but whatever you do, for fuck’s sake don’t show it.
I’ve read lots of things recently that have been written by women in their early 20s about their appearance and am astonished that they’re already thinking in ways that it has taken me 30 years to get to. They’re turning away from unrealistic beauty ideals and are embracing their faces and bodies just how they are. Loving themselves with saggy boobs, scars, fat, hyperpigmentation, body hair… so many things that used to be seen as flaws that needed fixing, but that these women are saying are a valid and beautiful part of who they are. I look at them and wish that it hadn’t taken me three decades to gain the confidence that many of them have achieved in one. Is this because I’m slow, because the world has changed so much since I was a teenager, or perhaps because young people need/are expected to grow up so much quicker these days? Whatever the reason, I thought I’d better embrace my status as a 40+ blogger and add to the discussion with some of the information I have gleaned over the years that they might not yet be aware of.
Ageing doesn’t just happen in the ways that the beauty industry and the media tell you about. It’s not just grey hairs and wrinkles. You’ll slowly start to notice that your skin is losing a freshness and a glow that you probably didn’t realise you had. In your 30s, you might go from only needing under eye concealer in order to disguise a particularly nasty hangover to relying on the stuff to avoid friends and colleagues asking if you’re OK. As a teenager I thought I’d not have spots in my 40s… how wrong I was! I spent years fighting them by buying specialist products and changing my skincare routine, but if age teaches you anything its that women over 40 tend to be somewhat invisible so chances are that no one but you has even noticed that handful of rather small blemishes. If you’ve got a flat belly in your 20s but hate doing exercise, be prepared to say goodbye to it in your 30s (I guess I really should have worked out that would happen!). In your 40s your jawline might change, but hopefully by then you’ll be holding your head higher due to increased confidence so it might not be that obvious; you will however definitely notice that the smooth neck and décolletage you took for granted is starting to look a bit, well, crepey.
However, at the end of all this pondering, and the daily assessment of my own face and body that applying make up and getting dressed has provided, I realised that I’ve always loved my reflection. I just needed to listen to myself far more often than I listened to those other voices.
Self portrait image of Lori in 2005 (left) and 2019 (right).