When Do We Stop Caring About What We Look Like?

Ageing author and Leap leader Connie Michaelis discusses the perspective of what we see in the mirror — and what we try not to. For the Ageist

When my mother turned 90 she, my sisters and I had pictures taken of our hands and faces together. The portraits, taken without make up in the morning light, clearly show the ageing process, but in those pictures we were all beautiful. The passage of time is a celebration in so many ways – so why then do we seek to erase it on the face and body as women? And do we stop ‘caring what we look like’ if we aren’t trying to Etch A Sketch it through make up, hair dye, injectables or plastic surgery? 

I had the ‘normal’ angst about my body when I was young. I was too skinny and I didn’t have boobs like my friends — but I started my family early and all that changed, I was pregnant on and off for 12 years, and then preoccupied with raising my kids into my 40s. It was only by my 50s that I began to consider my appearance in terms of getting older. Botox wasn’t around then, so that wasn’t a choice, but at 52 I had liposuction on my hips. 

When I look back, I definitely followed in the footsteps of my sister who is two years older and has had quite a few procedures done. I was fascinated with her body — and the promise of being able to walk out after a few hours with a new shape. My sister wore some spectacular jeans after her liposuction and I bought the same pair and after the surgery was able to put them on. That felt amazing. The recovery hurt. 

Join Connie on Friday the 19th at 10:30am PT / 1:30pm ET for a conversation around the question “When do we stop caring about what we look like?”. Sign up on Leap here

I stopped there though. Part of it was financial; facelifts and tummy tucks don’t come cheap. The other factor was that I was nervous about the risk of having surgeries and what the finished product would look like. But that feeling of change was powerful. It’s easy to see how for many that ‘turning back the clock’ can be addictive — it’s the magic ‘medicine’ for not looking older in a youth-obsessed, death-phobic Western society. But for every person like my sister who is happy enough with her work, there are those for whom peace of mind doesn’t appear with the surgeon’s knife or syringe. My friend Marcie has a long history of dissatisfaction with her body. She’s also had all kinds of things done, but she still doesn’t like her body. Is it really about her body? Who knows. That is her battleground though. And she won’t wear a swimming costume. Ever. 

At 74, I’m happy with my body even though I still think I “need” to lose 15 pounds. I wrestle with that, but it’s cushioned by a certain apathy as well. Long-term happiness can only be attained by acceptance, self-love and gratitude. Growing older teaches you that.

Statistics say 90% of women hate their bodies but bodies aren’t just here to be ‘attractive’. Our bodies are here to move, to birth and nurse children, to love people and to house our spirit. Taking care of people through their bodies is a powerful part of connection, whether that’s a child, an ill spouse or elderly parent. And in the latter you’re preparing for your own body to be taken care of in turn and in the end facing down mortality.  

I worked in the retirement home business for 20 years and saw many people in fragile bodies, but the people inside were strong and alive. The realisation that our faces and bodies will deteriorate comes with the knowledge that we have to make good what’s inside of us. So I focus on growing older as growing whole. Finding your voice is a lot more important than finding your eyelids once they’ve drooped. I’d argue that one of our central journeys is to grow to love and truly accept ourselves as we grow older — and part of that is remembering that we’re the ones looking at ourselves. The observer looking at my body in the mirror now is the same spirit who was looking out of my eyes at it when I was a skinny ten-year-old.

Join Connie on Friday the 19th at 10:30am PT / 1:30pm ET for a conversation around the question “When do we stop caring about what we look like?”. Sign up on Leap here

As women in particular we need to be able to look in the mirror and say, ‘Honey, I love you’. I absolutely think that that’s where it starts. And then if you want to go ahead and have Botox or lipo then ‘your choice, your body’ but never from a position of lack or inadequacy.

Franciscan monk – and my spiritual mentor – Richard Rohr, calls ageing enlightenment at gunpoint. And that means accepting this ageing process and beginning to see where the important parts of your life are. In the end it really is an inside job. But does that mean I wouldn’t laser the spots on my cheek? No it doesn’t.

The bottom line is that every woman gets to decide. And that includes whether she puts a swimsuit on. If I don’t put one on though, that means I can’t get in the water. And that’s less, not more in my life. Don’t capture yourself inside yourself. 

When do we stop caring what we look like is the wrong question to ask. The question is when do we stop caring about looking like a past version of ourselves and chasing something that is not in the end game — and importantly, start moving toward something bigger instead.

Share this Post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *