It’s not Just our Looks that Fade with Time
I’m looking in the mirror and I don’t recognise the woman staring back at me. She looks tired. Her hair that once shone thick and strong is now lank and dry at the ends, streaks of varying shades of brown fading into one another, highlighting her monthly attempts at finding the right numbered dye. The bags beneath her eyes are more than the faint blue smudges of partying and late night movie watching, they are raised and creased and sagging, they no longer vanish with make up.
The skin on her upper eyes lids now fold over her lashes when she applies make up, she has to hold her eyes taught when putting on her eye shadow, only for them to crease back to form papery hoods over misty eyes. Her face, once smooth and glowing, is dull; there are creases on her brow and around her mouth. Tiny freckles are appearing on her hands and sharp stubbly hairs sprout overnight on her chin. This isn’t an octogenarian I am looking at; an old lady who no longer cares what she looks like or how people see her. This is me, a thirty seven year old that isn’t meant to look like this. Not yet. Not ever.
Beauty is only skin deep. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Beauty is shallow, it doesn’t matter, it’s vain and it’s what’s inside that counts. I know all that but I don’t care, because the beauty I once had is fading and it was – IS – still important to me. And knowing that each morning less and less of it remains is killing me. I’m scared.
What many people (men) don’t realise about women and their obsession with how they look is that it has never been a weapon to capture men, it has never been about sex. But it is a weapon, a very powerful one. It’s a weapon of control. Since time immeasurable, women, the ones who didn’t have the strength to fight with brawn or the opportunity to battle with brains, fought with The Power. Their beauty. Because it was the one thing they possessed over a man… the ability to get his attention. Think Cleopatra, Helen of Troy and Lady Godiva, men died for these women – fought for them and fought on behalf of them – for one simple reason. Their beauty.
You learn about The Power from a very young age. I watch my two daughters, not yet in double figures, and I can tell that they already know. They know when to smile, when to look and how to stand. They don’t understand about sex or attraction yet, because it isn’t relevant yet, they just know that they get what they want when they look their most beautiful and their most cutest. They know that an adorable girl is a force to be reckoned with, that looking beautiful is important. It’s instinctive, not learnt, it’s something I have always been at pains not to highlight or fixate on… but they figured it out themselves anyway.
I asked them once, during a Disney Princess movie binge, what was more important – Beauty or Cleverness. “Beauty,” they both chimed. I was shocked, angry even. Had I not instilled in them the importance of being smart, having an opinion, being heard? Was I (a working mother who often writes about the trials of being a woman and the importance of the post modern feminist movement) not a strong enough role model for them to see that a woman without a brain is no real woman in my eyes?
“But mummy,” my six year old cried. “You can be really clever and funny and great fun, but how is the Prince meant to know that until he notices you across the room? And how can he notice you unless you are pretty?”
And that is what it boils down to. Before you get the opportunity to show your worth, you have to get people’s attention. Where a man needs to be big and strong to be picked out of a crowd or get to the top, a woman simply has to be beautiful. To begin with. Then she can really wow them with everything else… Unattractive has always been overlooked. It may be an ugly thing to say, but it’s the sad truth.
But now, now I no longer have that ability to command a room. Yes my age demands more respect, and compared to the days of my youth I now actually have something of interest to say, but I have to have my audience ready and waiting before I speak. I no longer posses the ability to walk into a room and make the talking turn to a hush, to make men stop mid conversation to stare over their companion’s shoulder as I saunter past or to get my own way just because of the pleasing arrangement of features on my face.
These non-feminist emotions that every woman experiences (but is scared to admit) as she hurtles toward her Autumn years are never more so apparent than when she nears menopause. I spoke to a woman in her mid-sixties once who said to me, “I love getting older. I don’t have to fuss about my hair or what I wear anymore, because it no longer matters. I’m invisible now, nobody looks at me. I’m free.” But I spoke to another who said, “I used to walk into a room and heads would turn, but nobody looks at me now. I’m invisible. I hate it.”
So ask me if I’m worried about losing my beauty and I’ll say not really – not enough to resort to desperate measures like injecting poison into my face to freeze my expressions and attempt to freeze time. Neither do I fear no longer being desired, because I’m confident enough to know that I’m still very desirable in other ways. Attraction has very little to do with looks. No. What I fear is no longer being noticed – that the woman in my mind is no longer the woman in the mirror. And what I really fear is no longer having The Power… because that’s something I never want to lose.