The beauty of age

Women are so afraid of age. Is it because we want to look and feel youthful and vital forever, or is it because we’re succumbing to a Westernized ideal of what beauty is? Western culture praises youth, and looks upon the elderly with disdain.

We women always try so hard to please everyone, and we’re our own worst critics. We start to lose that youthful glow, and we’ll spend any amount of money on moisturizers and lotions to try to get it back. But I think we’re losing something valuable in the process.

It struck me as I was watching one of those cultural-show trailers on PBS. An elderly woman smiled at the camera for a fraction of a second, and the lines and colors in her face reminded me of a beautiful antique vase I saw in Mexico.

"Wow," I thought, "she’s gorgeous!" This woman was a living work of art, and it wasn’t accomplished with anti-aging creams and sunscreen. Why hadn’t I ever noticed before how beautiful elderly people can be?

Possibly because I live in America, where women are lost in an endless, futile struggle to seem as if they’re indefinitely twenty-years-old. The ones who can afford it go to plastic surgeons and have the wrinkles stretched out of their skin until they look like drum heads with eyes. The ones who can’t will resort to any slogan-smeared anti-aging product they can find, trusting the unknown chemicals to keep them looking young.

What I think we’re losing is the opportunity to develop a beautiful antique patina that is hard-won with exposure to the elements, hardships, danger, laughter, and the ability to accept life for what it is. There is no way to stay young forever, and though we might be able to prolong youth by never going outside and spending thousands in cosmetics, our skin will never gain the lustrous glow of a life richly lived.

We’ve all heard the poets liken youthful women to blossoming flowers. But we all know the petals will fade, wrinkle, and eventually fall. Once the petals are gone, the admiring faces turn away and look for a new, fresh flower.

In doing so, they miss the growth and ripening of the fruit the rose was meant to produce. The rose hip grows rich and full, its skin growing lustrous and bright. Only those who know its value can really appreciate it. The fruit can never be a rose: It wasn’t meant to be a rose. But it is still beautiful, like the face of an elderly woman who has seen hard times and can still laugh.

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