What Do Your Eyes Behold?

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“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”  That may be true, and there is certainly no one definition of beauty.  But the perception of beauty varies widely depending on the individual beholder, and the eye of the beholder is influenced by the prevailing social ideas about beauty, often with negative consequences for those whose beauty is being assessed.

What is beautiful is a question that has been answered in vastly different ways throughout history.  According to an article on the history of beauty standards, in ancient Egypt the ideal woman was slender with narrow shoulders, a high waist and symmetrical face, while in ancient Greece  she should be plump and full-bodied with light skin.  During the Italian Renaissance, ample bosoms, rounded stomach and full hips were beautiful, and in Victorian England, a woman should be plump and full-figured, but with a cinched waist.  By the time of the Roaring Twenties in the last century, the standard of beauty included a flat chest, short bob haircut and a boyish figure.

From there, standards went through increasingly rapid change.  In the 1950’s, the glamor of Hollywood actresses called for an hourglass figure, large breasts, and a slim waist.  The 1960’s required a thin, willowy, adolescent figure, which gave way in the 1980’s to the supermodel standard of a tall, curvy, but athletic body with seriously toned arms.  Since then, standards have gone from waif-like/androgynous and extremely thin with translucent skin, to healthy skinny, flat stomach, large breasts and butt, with the all-important thigh gap!

So what does this review of beauty standards have to do with me at this stage of my life?  Notice that nowhere in the perceptions of beauty listed above are these:  liver spots, wrinkles, puffy feet, prominent blue veins, or stray hairs sprouting from places they aren’t supposed to be.

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In the past several years, as I take on most of these beauty signs of aging, I have tried to celebrate them.  The first time I realized I had the hands of an old lady, I experienced a moment of sadness, but then remembered my mother’s hands that touched me gently and looked just like mine as she grew older.

These signs are proof that I have lived to an old age, something that is not guaranteed. For today, it is enough for me to be thankful that I have reached this time of life and that true beauty is intangible and not dependent on the eye of any beholder.

 

People are like stained-glass windows.  They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.  Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

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©Martha Hurwitz, 1/30/20

Road Map

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Real Wrinkles

First, of course, there are the real ones.  Wrinkles on my face, wrinkles on my elbows, wrinkly skin on the backs of my hands, and wrinkles in numerous other bodily areas that I am too polite and lady-like to discuss in detail.  (You may discover this to be a blatant lie if you are kind enough to read further, so fair warning….)

dog-1721499_640.jpgPerhaps about 20 years ago, I naively thought that getting wrinkles on my face would mean crows feet around my eyes and maybe a few tiny lines here and there that would lend a certain dignity to my looks and convince people to treat me as a revered elder with  lots of sage advice to share.

I have always felt a great deal of pride (okay, a bit of snarky smugness) in not being overly concerned about looks, fashion, styles, driving an impressive automobile, or belonging to a prestigious country club.  So I was a bit surprised to find that looking into the mirror now requires me to engage in a pep talk to myself about how “wrinkles mean you laughed” and all that other touchy-feely, hippie philosophy that I used to subscribe to without reservation (or real-life experience).

But many wrinkles that aren’t physical arise during these golden years.

The Naming Wrinkle

What do I call myself?  What adjectives placed before “woman” characterize me now?  Old?  Sorry, don’t like that one.  Older? Not much of an improvement, and kind of vague.  Older than whom or what?  Senior?  That’s a little better, but sounds as if I’m about to graduate, and quite frankly, I’m not in a hurry to “graduate” from this time in my life because my next stop is probably the end of the line.  Elder? I do like the image gathered from cultures that hold older people in a more positive light, but it doesn’t really seem to fit here.  So this is still an unanswered question for me.  Maybe I’ll try Impatient older woman, left with only one nerve, upon which you are standing, so step lightly.  That would work most days!

The Time Wrinkle

phone-booth-295795_640Some days I do feel much like I stepped into a phone booth, made a short call, and then stepped out into a world where phone booths are seriously out of date.  Perhaps this phenomenon would be better described as a time warp.  Wikipedia defines time warp as “… an imaginary spatial distortion that allows time travel in fiction, or a hypothetical form of time dilation or contraction.”

The time distortions experienced during these years do seem to have some relationship to dilation, as any woman who has undergone a D&C can tell you.  (I warned you we might get back to bodily images!)  It may be temporary or, as one (male) doctor said to me once prior to doing the procedure:  “You may feel a little pinch!”  All I can say to that is “Pinch, my ass!”  These time warps and distortions are confusing, troubling, scary and they often hurt.  “Wasn’t it only yesterday ……?”  “Will  I live long enough to ……?”

The Communication Wrinkle

I am referring to the interesting phenomenon that happens with internal communication among the parts of the human body. One of the first posts I wrote about the physical changes of the older years explained how the different parts of my body no longer seemed to communicate effectively and now were like a dysfunctional family full of self-centered kids all clamoring for attention from a stressed out parent. It was a cute little fluff piece, written as I was getting my feet wet as a new writer.  Two years later, I can only say it is no longer cute and funny.

Take putting on socks, for example.  For those lucky enough to live in a nice warm climate, this may not seem like a big deal, but during a typical New England winter, let me assure you that several pairs of socks are often necessary (in the house).  Putting on socks is a simple task, is it not?  A toddler could do it.  True enough, but the toddler does not have to factor in a hip that refuses to assist the leg in lifting up the foot high enough so the hands can reach the toes.  Ignore this situation at your peril.  Straining to complete the task may eventually get socks onto your foot, but now your hip has alerted the muscles in your thigh that they are under attack and they better spasm up and man the barricades!  Staving off impending muscle cramps usually requires instantaneous change of position and to that I say, “Yeah, right, how does that work out for you?”

The Attitude Wrinkle

Although I am someone who generally sees the world from a positive perspective and tries hard to lighten the mood and laugh at difficulties and troubles, I find myself tempted frequently to slide into self-pity, irritation and sadness.  This time of life requires a great deal of fortitude and spiritual strength, even in the best of times.

In June of 2016, Huffington Post photographer Damon Dahlen took portraits of 14 women aged between 50 and 90 and in the accompanying article Shelley Emling said these women “roll their eyes at ageist (and sexist) standards of beauty. Rather than fight the inevitable effects of aging, they see the lines on their faces as a road map of their lives. They are the etchings of many years fully lived — and each and every one of them has been earned.”  To that I say “Amen!”

 

©Martha Hurwitz
3/16/2018