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Henny Penny, my face is falling (among other things)

…and I want to stop caring about that!

We are two weeks away from heading back to sunny (well, actually quite rainy this coming week, according to weather.com) Southern California. I am excited to see my girls, and all our dear friends. However, as I sit here in my cabin by the propane heater with my contented poodles, watching snow flakes fall outside my window, I can’t help reflecting on the past three months here at the Clearing.

Here’s the thing. Moving to Vermont to live at the breathtaking, humbling Clearing, at 61-years-old, has given me plenty of time to ponder my belly-button (which isn’t as easy to spot these days), my increasingly salty, salt-and-pepper locks, the five-plus pounds I’ve gained eating all the yummy meals Eric and I cook each day for each other’s delight, as well as what a waste of time it is to be concerned with looks and aging. As an actress I admire mentions in a blog post on her website, women in our society are conditioned from a very young age to believe that our appearance “matters most of all.”  The majority of compliments we women give each other tend to have to do with our looks. It’s true. Even my own dad told me when I was in my early twenties that I should take advantage of my looks to get ahead in life. (Okay, he was biased and thought I was kind of cute.) But what message does that impart? Would anyone ever say that to a man? Unless he wants to be a Haynes underwear model, I am thinking, no. I am not saying we aren’t all influenced on some level by a person’s appearance, and yes, we should eat well, exercise and try to stay in good shape, but every one of us can take exactly zero credit for our genetic lottery.

Yesterday I read on CNN that everyone is obsessed with the fact that Carrie Fisher looks so much older in the latest Star Wars movie than she did in the first one, forty years ago. ???   She IS older! By forty years. Help me here. Read what Ms. Fisher had to say about being asked to loose weight for the film:

“They might as well say ‘get younger,’ because that’s how easy it is. We treat beauty like an accomplishment, and that is insane. Everyone in L.A. says, ‘Oh, you look good,’ and you listen for them to say you’ve lost weight. It’s never ‘How are you?’ or ‘You seem happy!’”

And this:

“‘Oh my God, she got so much older,’ Fisher said when asked how the princess-turned-general has changed in the latest Star Wars installment. ‘I tried to stop her, but apparently that includes death, so that didn’t seem like a good solution.'”

I have always admired Carrie Fisher for her intelligence, courage and wit. I think I can forgive her for not figuring out how to look 25 forever.

I am not saying I have let go of caring about my appearance—hardly. How I would love to be like my husband, who doesn’t give a rat’s rear-end what his hair looks like, if his pants are baggy, if he’s bow-legged, or if his eyebrow hairs are unruly.  And his confidence only makes him all the more attractive. Unfortunately, I have been deeply conditioned to feel that my appearance is of vital importance—if I’ve gained a couple of pounds or I am having a bad hair day, or whatever, it can actually take way from the enjoyment of my day, which is crazy. None of that should matter.  Oh, how I wish we would stop brainwashing our girls and women to believe young, gorgeous and skinny is the ideal. Being brainwashed myself, I spent many years comparing myself to girls and women who were “prettier” than I was, and feeling lesser-than because of it. I was pretty tough on myself when it came to my physical features. I hated my broad shoulders, I hated my head shape, I hated my square face, I hated my large ribcage, and on and on. It’s actually embarrassing to admit to being so insecure, so vain. But there you have it. Guilty as charged.

At 61 (and not getting any younger), I have to find a way to let all of that go. Sadly, since our society reveres youthful beauty, aging becomes a terrifying prospect for so many women. Terms like “old bag,” “all dried up,” “frumpy,” “dumpy,” are often used to describe older women. These are not sexy terms. Not only does this mindset make many women unable to enjoy their lives, but it makes them less attractive than if they would simply let it all go and allow themselves to age gracefully and normally.  Otherwise, the “fixes” become endless, and the result can be pretty scary. We’ve all seen the crazy Cat Lady.  (And I’m not talking about the lady next door with all the cats.)

We can’t stay young forever. We need to not only accept this, but our society needs to stop putting youth and physical perfection on such a high pedestal, and start appreciating the beauty of who we are, not what we look like. I know a lot of “pretty” people who are very unattractive. In fact, when I was a server at a nice restaurant in the 80s, I waited on a very gorgeous, fairly famous actress, who was one of the ugliest and rudest human beings I have ever encountered. She treated me like a lowly serf that she wanted to scrape off of her shoe. Even her husband (a well-known actor at the time) looked embarrassed. (They have since divorced. I’m not surprised.)

Cliche topic, maybe, but on it goes…

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Meanwhile, I (along with my square face, broad shoulders, giant rib cage and extra five pounds) will just enjoy some delicious Douwe Egberts coffee in my little cabin, work on my novel, maybe do a little tai chi, and look forward to a delicious meal with a yummy glass of wine this evening, with my dear, loving, funny, messy-haired, bow-legged, brilliant and baggy-pantsed husband.

15 thoughts on “Henny Penny, my face is falling (among other things)

  1. You are truly one of the most beautiful women I have ever known. In a couple of weeks it will be 43 years since that fateful meeting at Sears in Springfield Ma. I have always appreciated all your inner beauty, and that was and is what draws so many to you. the fact that you were and are beautiful to the eye is just icing on the cake.
    So glad you had such peace and joy in VT during this autumn/winter season.
    I agree with all your wise thoughts of what society says “should be”
    Stay the beautiful soul you’ve always been and enjoy you beautiful life!
    Love you…Marcia

    P.S I never noticed Eric’s messy hair or wild eyebrows…probably cuz I love his beautiful soul also..

  2. My friend Maureen Jaconetta commented, but for some reason it is not wanting to post. I copied this from the email I received:

    Ohhhhhhh Patti you totally captured what probably every woman “of a certain age” considers from time to time. As an “older woman” of 62, (and a lucky 11-year breast cancer survivor, you young whippersnapper), my personal mantra about lines and scars is they’re life tattoos, a bad hair day means that thankfully you still have plenty of hair to anguish over, and a few extra pounds means there’s just more of you to love. As a woman matures, I believe that the appearance issues that were worries in our 20s and 30s fade into obscurity as our true individual character traits come to the foreground. While we may not be model thin, we are role models and mentors to our daughters, daughters-in-law and “daughtas by anotha motha” we may know at work or as surrogate aunties. Your personal beauty is evident because your life has been enriched by love, motherhood, wonderful friendships and creativity – and it is all there in your open and honest face and shining eyes for the world to see. That type of inner beauty comes from a fulfilled, contented spirit, and can’t be found in a bottle or a jar…..and no 20 or 30 year old with all the artifice in the world can hope to even come close to that kind of beauty….that only comes from life experience, and a life well-lived! God bless you and Eric in this chapter of your life together…..

    Now where’d I put my mascara?????? ?

  3. Patti, I’m right there with you on having on own set of stuff when I look in the mirror that has loomed large for me since junior high. And, like you, I am trying to genuinely let it go and be grateful for good health, a mind that still works (setting aside the occasional memory glitches, which are infuriating, not being able to recall something you know that you know) , being in the relationship of a lifetime, and knowing — at this moment — all is well for my children, family, and close friends. We have so much that is wonderful — we ought to be able to let go of those self-criticisms that were always nothing but self-defeating.

  4. Yes, absolutely, Dawn. And I do know better, honestly, I do! So we have to fight the stupid conditioning from society we have been bombarded with since we were girls, along with our own personal growing-up experiences that may have contributed to our insecurities. One thing I know – I am happier now than I have ever been in my life, and very grateful to have made it to this age in one piece, to enjoy that happiness.

  5. Patti,
    This is so frustrating! I keep trying to leave a response and that stupid message to join this site keeps popping up on the screen, covers what I have typed, and makes me start all over (to the point of signing in to read the blog!)
    I have been trying to type: I’m not so focused on my physical looks. I find I focus on the physical limitations that have mysteriously crept up on me! I still want to run and skip and play, but my body won’t let me. When did that happen?! My mind says yes you can, but my parts aren’t so sure. I hate that about growing older.

  6. Connie, my aspiration is to let it all go, and I am getting much closer, living in the Vermont woods and becoming more and more clear on what really counts in life, looks being very low on that scale. I am more comfortable in my own skin than I have ever been before. As mentioned in the post, I just feel it is a shame our society places so much value on youthful beauty, and young women feel pressured to live up to ridiculous standards.

    And by the way, I can completely relate to the increasing physical limitations thing. It can be frustrating when just opening a jar is excruciatingly painful, or impossible, due to the arthritis in my hands, just a sone example. Things are wearing out over time. I guess all we can do is try to retard the progress of wear-and-tear and degeneration with nutrition and exercise, and practices like yoga or tai chi to maintain balance, strength and flexibility. And just enjoy each day.

  7. Hello, I took your class in Oceanside last fall. The picture here is nice but it is not how you look in person. You look great!, I never thought about age when I met you but I did think you looked great and also that you are a very sincere, encouraging, welcoming, and nice woman

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