I am not, nor have I ever been, a classic beauty. Over the years the body parts subjected to my disdain, dissatisfaction and scorn have been many and varied. My nose, my freckles, my knees. My gummy smile, my fine hair, lack of boobs, saggy boobs, stretch marks, short waist, cellulite. I am harsh lines but without the cheekbones. More Modigliani than Monroe. I have had my fair share of admirers over the years, as most of us have, but suddenly, out of nowhere, at the ripe old age of nearly 43 (and oh, how it hurt to write that number), I’ve noticed a bit more notice.
I’m sure a lot of this is to do with the fact that I am sleeping eight and nine hours a night for the first time this century. It may be that my bangs have finally grown in after that disaster of a haircut. Perhaps the northern climes of Denmark suit my skin better than the sweaty southern shores of Cyprus. Who knows. But the point is, it’s weird.
And yet, at the same time, it’s really not.
Because I don’t think it is the way I look which attracts people. I think it’s to do with a sense of self-ease; with where I am, who I am, what I am. I don’t feel like I am consciously projecting a shimmery aura of self-awareness and acceptance or any other new-agey Kundalini/chakra opening/ naked yoga beauty. It’s just a comfortable settling in with myself. And this is something I’ve only been able to achieve as I age.
A Facebook friend recently posted an ode to women over 40 (which has been widely and falsely attributed to Andy Rooney). It doesn’t really matter who wrote it, the spirit of the piece is true enough. Sure there are chin hairs and hot flashes on the horizon, but there is also self-awareness. There may be laugh lines and crow’s-feet, crepe-y necks a creeping in, but there is confidence as well. And that all comes through, in the way you speak, in the opinions you hold, in the way you carry yourself and the life you lead. And those are the things that make you sparkle, that make you shine, that make people want to be near you.
I have always been an open book, with both my opinions and my emotions. I have never shied away from talking about myself or my experiences or sharing my stories with anyone and everyone. (Point in case: a somewhat narcissistic blog post, on a blog, which is essentially a narcissistic exercise—but I don’t want to meta-anaylyze myself. Not today). Infertility? BTDT, what’s your question? Depression? Practically an expert, what do you want to know? Sex, parenting, knitting? Go for it, though I draw the line at combining the three, those knitting needles are sharp. I am opinionated. I have strong political and social beliefs, but I like to think I respect that not everyone thinks the same way I do. Unless it is blatantly hateful, falling into one ‘ism’ or another, I will listen to what someone has to say. I may out-shout them or ask them to back it up with proof or just agree to disagree, but that is life. And I am starting to believe this openness, this willingness to share, not only the funny stories (remind me to tell you about the guy who jumped off the balcony in Falaraki), but also the painful ones, (multiple miscarriages), the embarrassing ones, (the falling down drunk ones), the cringe worthy ones, (well, maybe not those), this makes me attractive to people. I think it’s also why people often stop and ask me for directions. They have a sixth sense that I’m not going to rob them, molest them, or laugh in their face. And I may just tell them a witty story while I am telling them to turn left at the lights.
I’m not perfect, not by any stretch, but I know who I am, and that kind of self-knowledge is something that only comes with age and experience. As much as I thought I knew myself 25 years ago, or 15 years ago, I can look back now and do the condescending older person thing of smiling indulgently and nodding. “Uh-huh. Sure you do. Yup.” Knowledge and awareness don’t just accumulate over time, the benefits expand exponentially. The passions and intensities that burn bright through your youth soften, sure, but they soften into something sustainable. No one can maintain a sprint through life. The heart will not stand it.
When I was young, only 18 or so, I met a friend of a friend’s mom. At the time, I was confused about who I was, who I wanted to be, who I thought I was. I wanted to be an actress. I wanted to be famous. I wanted people to know my name. But I was not confident, not in myself, and certainly not in the way I looked. And she looked at me and said, “You need to grow into your beauty”. This woman had never met me before, I’ve never seen her again. I haven’t thought about her words again until recently. But I know now it’s not physical beauty she was referring to. She was referring to the place of calm, of acceptance, of awareness that comes with age.
I joke all the time about how much getting older sucks. And there’s a lot about it that does suck. Just when I’ve reached an age where I can afford nice things, I have to be careful what I wear. I have to watch what I eat, and drink. Out go the cheese doodles, in comes the quinoa. I am aware of my age, in a way I never was when I was in my 20s, when everything except the next beer seemed so far off it didn’t warrant worrying. But I wouldn’t trade in the satisfaction, the comfort, the feeling of home I’ve come to experience within myself. Not for anything. Not even for the plump, collagen rich skin of my 18-year-old self.
It’s a powerful thing to be ok with one’s self, muffin top, crow’s-feet, spider veins and all. Because these days when I look in the mirror, it’s not the freckles and the laugh lines that stare back at me, but a woman who is loved, not only by others, but by herself.
And that is the fairest of all.