Recently I was tagged in a social media challenge to post five pictures in which I felt beautiful. Normally, I ignore such challenges, but this one got me thinking. Our society is obviously obsessed with beauty, not just any beauty, but the beauty of youth and thinness. Millions of dollars are spent annually on trying get thin, stay thin, look younger, and reversing the clock. Men are influenced by this as well, but I think it’s safe to say that it affects women in greater numbers. Many women feel low self-esteem when it comes to the idea of aging or with their body image, in general. However, many women report a gain in self-esteem and confidence as they age. Why? I mean, according to societal pressure, they should be worried about trying to reverse, or at least, stay the aging process. So, why do so many women feel better about themselves at 50 than they do at 25?
I am not a social psychologist, and I haven’t done any studies, so I can only speak for myself and what I’ve heard other women over 50 say about this topic. I’ve never been overly concerned with my looks. I grew up in a family of scholars, so I was much more conscious of excelling intellectually and took my appearance for granted. I was often complimented on my appearance, but what I wanted to be known for was my brains. I think this has helped me ignore the cultural pressure of being thin or worrying about wrinkles.
But as I aged, a curious thing happened. My few youthful insecurities (I’ve never really had a self-esteem problem) were disappearing. It seemed the older I got, the less I cared what anyone else thought about me, and the more I accepted and loved myself exactly as I am. From what I hear, this is common. Entering my early fifties has been wonderful. People aren’t joking when they say it’s the best time of your life. In your fifties, you are probably at the top of your career, secure in your skills and knowledge with a lot of experience under your belt, not worried anymore about advancing, and you are probably making more money than you ever have before.
Better yet, you start feeling good about yourself on a level that was previously unknown. You no longer worry about knowing enough, seeming smart enough, or even about competing with anyone. Your friendships are real—you’ve eliminated people from your life that aren’t. You don’t have the time or inclination to deal with drama or competition, so you just don’t. You wear what you want, do what you want, and most of the time, say what you want—and you get away with it!
And I’m not suggesting we don’t eat healthy foods and take care of our bodies as we age. I’m just saying we don’t do it to impress anyone. We do it to feel good and to allow us to do all the things we were too afraid to do when we were younger. That’s the only shame about getting older–now that I finally know what kind of life I want to live, I don’t have tons of time left to live it. But maybe that’s one of the things that makes me uninhibited and willing to do whatever I really want to do without caring what others think.
So, when confronted with iconic question of “What if you could go back in time and do it all over again?” I am repelled by the idea. I don’t want to do it again. I am enjoying now way too much to trade it for smooth skin and a firm body. That should be saved for the youth who need it until they grow into the confidence of loving who they are without it. Don’t worry; you’ll get there. Just give it twenty or thirty years. The best is still to come.—Christina Knowles