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On aging

I recently read Justine Bateman’s new book, Face (from the library, naturally).

It’s a collection of essays about aging, and the premise is that our faces are not something that needs to be fixed.

The book "Face" by Justine Bateman.

She runs in Hollywood circles and was an actress herself, so she is surrounded by people who are extremely likely to think an aging face and body are things that need to be fixed.

And that means her take on this is rather subversive and unexpected.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot about aging recently so of course, that made me want to sit down and write about it.

Aging acceptance is the cheapest route

Anti-aging is an enormous industry, and obviously, this industry depends on all of us thinking that we DO need to be fixed as we age. 

Kristen, smiling in a pink shirt.

from the early days of my blog, when my hair was all brown. and also my eyebrows were very skinny!

There are anti-aging options on the low end of the pricing spectrum (hair dye to cover grays) up to the high end (plastic surgery) with plenty in between.

And all of it is unnecessary if we could manage to believe that it is unnecessary*. 

I’m not sure a simple focus on frugality is enough to help me resist the urge to intervene in my aging process, though! 

*Obviously there are some people who work in jobs where, sadly, it is necessary to remain young-looking. Most of us aren’t actresses or models, however.

Why am I thinking about this in my 40s??

I’m only 43 right now and I don’t look particularly old for my age, so it might seem odd that I’m even pondering aging at this juncture.

Kristen showing her gray hairs, but with a smile.

note the gray up at the top there. also: forehead lines.

But I know that as I take more trips around the sun, aging is inevitable, and I think it’s better to ponder this ahead of time.

Plus, even though I am in my early 40s, there are plenty of anti-aging things marketed at me, such as Botox (people are getting preventative Botox even in their 20s!), and CoolSculpting.

Also hair dye. Definitely hair dye.

Aaaaand, more than once I have looked back at younger pictures of myself and felt a little sad. I mean, I liked having brown hair!

Kristen, looking discouraged.

So. Lots of reasons for me to consider how I think about aging!

I don’t think I have to believe that aging is visibly beautiful

A lot of age-positive materials focus on wishing that we could all believe that under-eye bags, wrinkles, and neck waddles are beautiful.

In a similar way, a lot of body-positive content tells me to think things like that stretch marks are beautiful.

Kristen 12 weeks pregnant with Zoe

I don’t know that I really can get with this idea, though. For example, I think my thigh skin did look objectively more beautiful before it was covered in stretch marks from my pregnancies.

A collage of two photos of Kristen while she was pregnant with Zoe.

(My thigh stretch marks really disprove the people who said, “Oh, you’re all belly!” while I was pregnant. Nope. I was pregnant in my thighs too, somehow.)

Stretch marks on Kristen's thighs.

Most of my thigh stretch marks are up too high to see in shorts. But they are there, promise.

I also think my stomach looked better before it was covered in stretch marks, even though they are all silver by now.

Kristen's belly stretch marks.

In a similar way, I am pretty sure that I will always prefer my young, no-under-eye-bags look to however my eyes look when I am 80. And trying to say otherwise feels sort of disingenuous to me.

However, I do not think this perspective is necessarily dooming me to a lifetime of sadness about my aging looks. 

Here’s why:

I don’t have to think aging is beautiful. I just need to realize how little it matters.

I am totally not saying I have this concept down pat (which is why I feel iffy about my gray hairs sometimes!)

Kristen in a black shirt with wavy hair, smiling.

But I do think there is freedom to be found in really pondering how little my appearance matters and how little value it actually adds.

What really matters? What makes people valuable?

Things like:

  • wisdom
  • kindness
  • humility
  • personality
  • creativity
  • a good work ethic
  • responsibility
  • life experience
  • skills

And if you take a quick mental inventory of the people in your life that you really value, you probably will notice (like me!) that those people’s appearance is not what makes them valuable.

I mean, who of us ever said or thought something like, “Oh, I can’t wait to hang out with Nicole because she’s so beautiful!”

Or, “I really like to visit with my aunt because her skin is so smooth!” 

I notice that if what’s inside a person is beautiful, then I find typically find their appearance to be endearing even if it’s not objectively beautiful.

And the opposite is true if someone’s got a pugnacious personality. 

So, two things are true:

  1. I look older than I used to, and this is going to be more true over time
  2. This “looking older than I used to” is of little significance

What I’m telling myself

Obviously, we live in a culture that tells us the exact opposite: that beauty is what makes people valuable. 

So, it is unsurprising to me that I have to regularly re-calibrate my thinking about beauty and aging. 

By default, I will tend to think the way the culture wants me to think, so I have to talk to myself! And here’s what I say:

  • I am valuable because God says I am valuable
  • Who I am inside is valuable, no matter what I look like
  • I can do valuable things like serving people no matter what I look like
  • I can bring a sunny smile and joyful attitude with me regardless of how many wrinkles my smile has
  • What I look like is the least interesting thing about me
  • The people who truly matter will not care how young or old I look 

What I’m trying to surround myself with

While I’m not particularly invested in trying to fall in love with under-eye bags, I do definitely want to help myself see aging as normal.

So, I’m purposely trying to consume some media that normalizes aging; gray hair accounts on Instagram, books like Justine Bateman’s, body acceptance social media accounts, and so on.

And I am purposely not consuming things that encourage me to see aging as something to fix.

For example, I avoid plastic surgery Instagram accounts because those have such a tendency to make people see flaws they never even saw as flaws before, such as a gummy smile, which is apparently a thing that can be “corrected”.

(I cannot roll my eyes hard enough at this idea, for the reasons I listed in this Instagram post.)

Kristen wearing a flowered shirt

I’m a lifetime member of the gummy smile club

I also don’t find it particularly helpful to follow celebrities who are held up as positive aging examples; they are usually held up as positive precisely because they do not show many outward signs of aging.

This just sets up a discouraging standard which will probably lead to personal disappointment when I do not age as well as Paulina Porizkova. 

To be determined…

I’m well aware that I’m writing this post from a relatively young place in life. So, I won’t truly know how this all works out until later.

(Will my, “Shrug and remember that looks don’t matter” philosophy keep helping me?)

I’ll need to write an update post in 10 years and 20 years to let you know how my aging acceptance progress is working out!

What do you think? I’d love to chat about beauty and aging with you all, so please share your thoughts in the comments.

P.S. I am not trying to tell YOU how you should handle aging. You all are smart people who can figure out what’s best for your particular situation and you do not need judgment from me about that. I’m just sharing how I’m trying to approach this myself.

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Kim

Friday 20th of August 2021

The only thing I'm really doing to 'fight' aging is to dye my hair. It's a small expense since I do it myself at home, only takes a few minutes and it seems to really brighten my face. Not only that, but it gives my hair so much body and makes my morning routine so much easier because of that! It's a treat for me and my hair. :) I usually grab the $3 permanent dye and do it 3-4 times a year. $12 a year is a bargain and I wear my hair long and get a trim about once a year. If I didn't see a real difference in texture of my hair, maybe I would forgo it, but I think I'll keep it up for now. ;)

Deborah

Thursday 29th of July 2021

I wish that I could find a hairdresser to help me go grey. My hairdresser is anti-grey! Last time she recommended I have some injections to keep me looking young.....

Kristen

Thursday 29th of July 2021

Oh no! You do not need that kind of negativity in your life. Geez!

Yvette

Wednesday 28th of July 2021

I love this post! I'm saving it. I turned 50 on Saturday and it freaks me out a little. I stopped coloring my hair about 6 years ago. The upkeep was just too much. I'm very grey. I think about coloring a lot but I'm not going to. I don't feel 50. I still feel like 30 and I'm grateful for that. I'd love to have some subtle plastic surgery on my face but I'm trying not to be that vain. Then there's menopause and all the fun stuff that goes with it. I'm trying to stay positive about aging but my self esteem is taking a hit. My husband always tells me the alternative is worse. He's right of course. That doesn't make it any easier.

Kristen

Wednesday 28th of July 2021

I think there are lots of us having the same feelings you are! Solidarity, friend. :) It helps to know that others out there struggle too, and we can encourage each other.

Coral Clarke

Monday 26th of July 2021

I am 73, and , objectively, was pleasant looking as a young woman rather than beautiful. This makes accepting my aging appearance easier, as I never felt that much of my value rested in my appearance anyway. I would like to retain my youthful appearance, if it didn’t cost me time and money, but just don’t mind enough to spend much of either on it. I wear simple clothes in colours that I think suit me, in classic styles that don’t date, and buy second hand, apart from underwear! Most of my friends are, accidentally, younger than me, of very different nationalities, ethnicities, religions and educational levels, so my life is kaleidoscopic, rather than the same year in an endless loop! Something that I think is often overlooked with regard to aging is that I have lived through the same years as my 15 year old granddaughter, plus a whole lot more! THIS is still my day, I’m still discovering , and experiencing, making mistakes, and also recognising patterns faster! Frankly, I regard my self as an excellent vintage , and see my age as having value ( as well as a few disadvantages!) and don’t feel apologetic or diminished. I think old age has many benefits we forget, the greatest of all being that 24 hours of every day belong totally to me!!

LDA

Sunday 25th of July 2021

At 60 years old, I have found that 1. Wrinkles don’t bother me as much because I realized that they prove that I’ve done a lot of living, loving & laughing. 2. Gray hair doesn’t bother me either, now that I let my colored portion grow out over the last 1 1/2 years. I actually love my gray color! 3. Maybe I can’t do everything I used to do, but I can still do a lot of things. 4. Hearing my granddaughter say, “I love you, Nonna”, makes me glad that I am old enough to have her in my life. 5. Every stage of life so far has brought continued blessings & joy. It’s a wonderful life, no matter what my age is.

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