Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

Face It: 6 Steps to Help a Women Deal with Aging

woman face.jpgMark Twain once wrote, “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”


I like that. But get real. In a culture preoccupied with youth and beauty, where there has been a 114 percent increase in the number of cosmetic surgeries performed since 1997?

How do women escape the judgment conferred on them every time she opens a magazine, gets online, or turns on the tube? How does she silence the menacing messages she sends herself when a new gray hair is found, or her crow’s feet grow an inch longer?


Very deliberately and carefully say Vivian Diller, Ph.D and Jill Muir-Sukenick, Ph.D, both professional models turned psychologists, in their new book, “Face It: What Women Really Feel as Their Looks Change.” The authors propose a six-step process to deal with this kind of anxiety that is prevalent but not often discussed among middle-aged women.

Step one: Confront our changing looks. 

Diller and Muir-Sukenick call them “uh oh” moments: when you notice your first wrinkles, smile lines, graying and thinning hair, darkening circles below the eyes, varicose veins, brown spots on hands and face, loss of muscle tone, hanging skin on arms or neck, and hot flashes. I’ve experienced many “uh oh” moments recently, but the one that comes to mind is last summer, when a friend of mine said to me about another friend, “She’s our age … you know, late 40s.” I was, at that time, late 30s and stopped by the drug store to pick up some moisturizing cream, which I have used a total of two times.


Step two: Identify our masks.

Not the ones we are supposed to be wearing at night to stay wrinkled-free and pretty. Diller and Muir-Sukenick mean the ways we hide from or avoid our fears by layers of protection that, in reality, make us look ridiculous. Like, for example, deciding to wear our daughters’ clothes to work–in order to prove to ourselves that we, too, can wear a size six, and that our body looks like an 18-year-old’s. That kind of denial covers up the shame, embarrassment, and anxiety we feel as we age. But the problem with wearing masks? Say Diller and Muir-Sukenick: “Clinging to an illusion of physical youth often leads to reliance on the approval of others to validate that illusion. Women’s sense of beauty is then too dependent on external sources, rather than an internal experience.”


Step three: Listen to our inner dialogues. 

We give ourselves so many memos throughout the day that it is difficult to keep track. One day I did, and realize I had delivered over 5,000 nasty grams to myself in one 24-hour period. Just as a mask covers up our insecurity, our internal dialogue exposes it. It’s an ongoing conversation within us that we are, most of the time, oblivious to. But the rest of the body hears the dialog and registers the message: You’re old, fat, ugly, and useless. So we have to pay attention to these blabbers and catch them after they hurl a bunch of toxic stuff into our nervous system. One way that I like to turn out the toxic talk is by envisioning that I am having a conversation with a friend instead. I would never insult her that way. So I should honor the same manners with myself.


Step four: Go back in time. 

Here comes the part where you get to blame your mother. Not really. But it helpful to know where your self-image is coming from, because only then can we redesign it based on what we know about ourselves. Write Diller and Muir-Sukenick: “As adults, our psychological reservoirs are ours to fill….Instead of feeling a loss of control as we get older, we in fact have increased opportunities to fill our reservoir with responses that can now come from our own selves and from people we choose to have in our lives.”

Step five: Consider our adolescence. 

No! You might say. I buried those scars long ago. For Pete’s sake, leave them alone! At least that’s how I feel. Because I was an ugly 8th-grader with bad acne and a popular twin sister invited to all the parties. But I do think this is an important step, because, as the authors suggest, there are parallels between gray-hair anxiety and the awkwardness we went through as adolescents. In addition to my unpopular, acne-ridden self, I forgot that it was at this point that my dad left my mom, who was about 40 then, and married a woman who was 17 years his junior. No wonder why I’m a tad shaky about turning 40.


Step six: Get a face lift. 

Kidding! It’s actually to let go. To mourn the youthful part of ourselves that is embedded into our memories. Viewing the aging process this way is helpful for me–because instead panicking and coloring every gray hair, I can look at the silver dandruff as an invitation to a new wiser, mature, but just as fun self. 

Several of the women quoted by Diller and Muir-Sukenick said that they associated beauty with the time that they were most happiest–and that wasn’t necessarily their younger years. I can relate to that because I am much more gentle with myself now, know myself much better, and can be a friend to myself in ways that wouldn’t have made sense in my 20s. 


In her book, “Motherless Daughters,” Hope Edelman writes, “Loss is our legacy. Insight is our gift. Memory is our guide.” It’s a bout coming up with a new meaning of beauty, a new definition of “youthful,” one that, perhaps, doesn’t require a plastic surgeon, but just a lot of raw and candid self-exploration and acceptance.

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  • kelly

    I would very much like to join in a depression group but am basically computer illiterate- can some one walk me through it!

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  • Megan Zuniga

    It’s so unfair that only women get bothered with aging while men seem to not age at all. :( I for one believe in inner beauty. And I don’t mean this as you have to be nice all the time etc etc. (Although that could work too) I mean inner beauty as in feeling beautiful inside. If you’re happy, you will have this natural glow that will make people notice you like when you’re in love! So I agree, your steps are very helpful to get to the inner core of woman’s beauty. Just be happy! Accept we can never be perfect.
    PS…sharing an article for women, mothers, daughters out there. Enjoy!

  • http://why???? Edith Brown

    I am often amazed at the number of women who moan and complain about getting older. There is a down side to that you, ‘WHAT IF YOU DON’T GET OLDER’. I am 63 and am often times told I look 50. What do I do? Nothing cosmetic. I exercise and meditate a lot. I do Tai Chi every day for 30 years. I do Yoga and still one day I got osteoporosis, unavoidable, but guess what, I worked beyond it. If I had not been doing Tai Chi, Yoga, I would have been in a wheel chair. Smile, make the best of all you have. You can’t be young forever, no matter what anyone tells you. You will look younger many years if you ‘just let go’.

  • Karen

    Getting old is part of the process and I often refer to it as the sphere of my life where I am getting wise. Some days I’m okay with it and some not. I am 49 years old and just exploring ways to uplift and enjoy the solititude in my life. Sounds corny but that is the truth.

  • Dorothy

    Right on Ms. Brown.
    I am 83 and am constantly being told I look much younger. Why, I guess is that I go to a therapy pool at least twice a week to do mobility exercises for my very expensive Rheumatoid Arhritis. (have always been a pool “nut”)
    Secondly is that I like to laugh and smile a lot. Had my teeth capped several years ago (bought the dentist a Beemer in the process) and it did wonders for my smile. Happiness has been illusive many times for me, but I have developed a motto of it’s good to laugh instead of cry.

  • Sharon

    Every year for the past few decades I have bought myself a birthday present. This year on my 62nd birthday the gift I gave myself was to strip the hair color from my hair. I had thought about it for a long time and finally decided to do it on my birthday.
    It took me several weeks to get used to the “new” woman gazing back at me in the mirrors of my home but I must now confess I LOVE IT! It has been a totally liberating experience for me. I started graying in my late twenties and after dying my hair for 32 years I love it that I don’t have to touch up the roots every 3 weeks because my hair grows so fast! I was a beautiful brunette when I was younger but now I am a beautiful pearl! We are ALL born beautiful on the inside and I believe as we go through life that beauty should at some point start showing on the outside! God didn’t make any ugly women!

  • Sylvia McCollough

    I feel very sorry for women who write these articles about the “horrors” of aging…..its such bunk! I just had my 68th birthday and couldn’t be happier! Sure, would I like to have the energy I had at 21, of course. But, I don’t, so that’s it. I love the Mark Twain quote, “it doesn’t matter!” Who Cares! Just live life as it comes, enjoy the glorious natural beauty of this planet, and thank God every day we were born in America! As long as you have your health, we have everything! I still hike, ski, golf, ride, kayak, eat what I want, do what I want, and love working with kids! LIFE IS GREAT!
    Live IT!! And stop worrying about a few lines and wrinkles…who Cares! We all had our “day in the sun” now it’s their turn…but we all get to the same point in time, if we’re lucky, so what’s the Big Deal?!!

  • Judy

    What an inspiration! I am 66 years young, (try to)run around with my grandkids, who think I’m the neatest “old lady” ever! And I thank God every day for my good fortune and sense of humor……..

  • Crystal

    I am about to turn 40 and it has been freaking me out. Thank you for this article. It really has helped put some things into perspective and I feel much better now. I am actually a lot happier now than I was in my twenties anyway come to think of it. I appreciate the chance to live and get older even with the wrinkles and gray hair. Who really cares what the rest of the world thinks anyway? Keep the great articles coming. God Bless. Crystal

  • Elnora

    I am 57 and aging is sometimes a hard process for me. I finally have a grandson and enjoy him tremendously. It does not bother me to be seen as a grandmother, but each time I look at myself in the mirror I see an aging old woman and inside I still feel like I did at 25-30. I try to stay active and involved and that helps. But when you are alone with yourself, there is no escape, you have to face yourself. Those are the moments when I wonder what the heck happened!?!?

  • Lydia

    You missed an important element of dealing with being an adult: know other adults! I know an 83-year old woman who is in a bell choir, plays bridge twice weekly, tutors at a local school, and is planning her July 2010 wedding. She attends the symphony, the ballet and is active in her church. Her mind is agile, her body is upright and healthy, and her outlook is forward. That’s a role model for me, at 58.
    When the hype around me about aging women gets to be troublesome, I think of this friend, and realize that I’m in good company.

  • Sue

    April 28th 2010 18.40pm
    I am 79 years (old or young)and my mind still thinks I am in my 20s although my body says don’t be stupid,I still work as a volunteer at my local hospital and find it uplifting to bring a smile to the faces of patients. It reminds me that when I feel under the weather there is always some-one worse than me. So take care alland cheer up life is still worth living

  • Denis

    My wife used to say, when hearing people groan about getting older, “I wish that I could have that opportunity.” She died at the age of 42 from metastatic leiomyosarcoma.

  • Ruth

    You’re talking to mind games for one’s self. Just when does reality and honesty kick in? If you’re 40 the whole thing is just a concept for you. The bottom line is that unless you’re independently wealthy so you can pay someone to fix you you’re going to become very wrinkled as time goes by. Heaven forbid that you are heavy when you realize that you’re becoming wrinkled because the two together (over weight and wrinkles) will make you look older than you really are. And then if you try to lose weight because you think you might look younger if you’re thinner the skin becomes quite like hanging crepe paper and everything sags because the fat is no longer there to support the skin. Trying to firm much of anything at that point is useless based on my experience. I don’t think that hours of exercise everday, DHEA, steroids, firming creams, lotions, moisturizers, massage or anything else short of plastic surgery is going to help. And then if you choose to go plastic surgery you might end up looking like a mannequin. To me that’s even less appealing than being wrinkled. And, heaven help you if you’ve ever smoked.

  • Julie B.

    Thanks for bringing age to the forefront today! Aside from my recent depressive bouts, I have also been focusing a lot on my “transitioning” (as I call it) to being older. I am really trying to be more accepting of myself (and others) and redefine my own perceptions of happiness and beauty. I will be forty later this year, and appreciate your sharing..

  • SuzanneWA

    I find growing older to be very liberating. No,really. As a sickly adolescent, and a relapsing bipolar woman, I am now, at 62, my REAL self. Yes, I have crow’s feet, wrinkles, circles under my eyss, and am “scary skinny,” but inside, I don’t feel any older than my early 20s. This goes back to my aunt who, when turning 75, said, “I still feel 18 inside!” She had me looking at aging in a totally different way. I am still tall (no osteoporsis like my mother), and am a “bottle blond,” but I’m told by other people (mainly my closest friends), that I’ve never looked BETTER! And, by gosh, I believe them. I make it a practice to dress stylishly and age-appropriately, and hold my head up as high as I can (with cervical stenosis). Because of my “rocky” health matters in my 20s, I never DREAMED I would live past 50; but the Good Lord had other plans for me! Growing “older” is just another stage in life, and I embrace it joyfully. I don’t fear aging; I AM aged. But that’s no reason to FEEL it. Have a reason to get up in the morning, and thank the Lord for another day when you go to sleep. Life IS fleeting, and we should all make the best of it.

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  • Liz

    Thanks, Theresa, for writing about this! I’m 39 and having a really hard time with getting older, even though I tell myself beauty comes from the inside and older people hold much wisdom and experience. I spent 11 years of my “younger self” wearing sweatpants and parenting young children -being pretty much invisible to the public. Now I feel invisible again and it is so tiring to try to look younger, thinner, energetic…
    just to clarify, I am glad I got to stay home with my kids. I’m just struggling now with finding my life purpose besides raising a family and feeling confident about the person I am. I realize this is an inside issue.

  • MARY

    THAT IS SO GREAT TO HEAR ABOUT HOW OTHERS HANDLE AGING. I felt alone yesterday about it,but after reading all the positive blessings i have been given I can get out of my pity pot about it

  • Lorraine

    This is great to read – I am 47 and just gave birth to a healthy and sprouting forth baby boy – he is 5 months now – and boy what a surprise when the doctor told me that I was not going through menopause and was pregnant – my husband is 15 years my junior and we do not look different in age – I have a 14 and 15 year old – two girls – so it is true – it is how you feel and take care of yourself to some extent – and I do blame my mom for giving me good genes – I have no wrinkles yet – or crows feet – or signs of aging to an extreme – must be the oils I inherited. But this is exciting to read what others have to say and what I have to look forward to in my soon arriving 50s and then 60s. Life can be wonderful in the midst of the storms. Enjoy life and forget the numbers!

  • Cindee

    I can relate to Liz’s situation. I am a stay home mom of 3 boys and worry about the aging process. Weight gain, gray hair, feeling unproductive and not more successful at almost 36 yrs old. It seems like it always has to be an issue with women on how we look on the outside because everyone is so “visual” these days. I truly think we as women are cruel and judging each other way to often on outer appearance. This is why I have been “sick” with an Eating Disorder for 20 years. We as women need to begin to be proud of our knowledge that we have obtained through growing older. I would never want to back to being as unaware of what the real world is when I was in teens and early 20’s. Grey hair and weight gain are due to years of life and body changes that we need to accept. It is difficult, but a fact of life all of us much deal with. Would you rather be so focused on the look of the outer self than enjoying your life and being proud of the person you are on the inside? I don’t think any of us would. We are losing valuable time focusing on the wrong issues!

  • rosemary

    I have realized that I have been grieving my youth at the age of 56. When I turned 40 it was the best birthday, I felt a relief,a coming into my own of sorts. But this! This is very painful and sad. My head is full of memories of the past and I am very saddened by them. I remember the good times but not with joy but rather a deep loss. I want to feel the excitement of my first love and the joys of my young family and the hopes for the future. I feel I am in limbo, between the past and the future but really stuck in the past. What do I do now? I was the young mother, the young wife, who was so in love, the attractive slim woman, the one others were jealous of, the outgoing party girl. Where the hell did the time go? How unbelievably cruel!! This grief is all incompassing and paralyizing and the depressive illness does not help. I feel lost in a sea of youth, a sea of memories, a sea of grief.

  • Josie

    My advise to Rosemary is to find something you love to do, join a club of people with the same interests, join a community College and take a class about something interesting, learn something new! I’m 60 and I’m having the best time of my life, I love art and have been taking art classes, now I found that I love to make jewelry, I love to take a piece of metal and make something beautiful! I’m so busy doing things that I love that I don’t have time to think about anything else! I have my husband, 2 wonderful children, 3 wonderful grand-children and no time to have negative thoughts. I had to deal with depression my whole life, but spending time doing what I love to do helps a lot. The memories I have from the time growing up and when I was young are wonderful but having a full life, they are just wonderful ,memories!

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  • Terri

    All of the feel good advice and platitudes in the world don’t help when you look in the mirror and see the graying hair, sagging jowls and wrinkles. The fact is that we have lost something. Something special and wonderful. It is gone forever. I feel much the same as Rosemary. I am grieving. I miss being the young, pretty one. I don’t like the looks I have now at 49 and I know it will only get worse from here. That may make me shallow, but it is the fact. I do have a wonderful life that I enjoy. I have love, laughter and experiences that make me a better person. But I would love to have all of those things and still look the way I feel. What a shock it is to be feeling great and catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror or store window. I’m immediately struck by the feeling that I should stop laughing, get home and hide.

  • Peg

    Terri and Rosemary count your blessings. I too am feeling the effects of aging (58years) , however I count everyday as a blessing. My kids are grown and healthy and enjoying life, my health is good and I keep my mind active and try and experience something youthful everyday. Don’t grieve your life before it has passed. My body may say 58 but my mind is 28.

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