Do Looks Matter?
When beauty queens turn gray.
Published: February 11, 2010
Women are often marginalized if their experience shows on their faces.
For years, the women’s movement focused on freeing more than half our population from the traps of sexism and discrimination. As a result, women today continue to crash higher glass ceilings and break new barriers at every turn. We are a proud generation, witnessed by the thunderous applause Hillary Clinton received as she acknowledged the “18 million cracks” her votes represented in the 2008 primary. But do we really think she ever stopped caring how she looked while doing all that crashing and breaking? Do any of us? No doubt even accomplished women feel stressed keeping pace with confident, resourceful younger women sneaking up from behind. The sooner we realize that our changing looks play a real yet complex role in how we feel about ourselves, the better we will be able to manage. It’s time we use our knowledge, experience, and fortitude to change the way we deal with our changing looks.
The good news is that we have created a society where, as successful women, we are mostly admired for our years of hard work. Look at the well-earned kudos handed to Condoleezza Rice, Chris Evert, Barbra Streisand, and Diane Sawyer, to name a few. These are not simply “beauty queens,” but queens on a much broader scale. The bad news is that women are often marginalized if their experience shows on their faces. Colleagues whisper, “She needs some work.” In the movie business, it’s “We need a young Glenn Close.”
How much have female stereotypes really changed if, during Hillary Clinton’s run for president, Rush Limbaugh can rhetorically ask his large listening audience, “Will Americans want to watch a woman get older before their eyes on a daily basis?” Have we really been liberated if more attention is paid to the contents of Sarah Palin’s wardrobe than the content of her speeches? We only have to look at the 2008 list of the Top 100 Successful Women in this country, compiled by Forbes, to be reminded of the struggles we still face. To our credit, we see multiracial, black and white, but how often do we find gray?
We propose a new movement that meshes feminism with—dare we say?—a bit of necessary narcissism. This fresh perspective does not call for being wedded to either of these philosophies, but it will require finding a healthy balance between them. It entails a change in attitude, perspective, and focus. It means caring for ourselves by allowing looks to matter but not so much that we forget to take care of our long-term, lifetime needs. In the end, our movement will lead you to a new kind of freedom that takes into account both our internal and external selves, naturally blending the two.
As a generation, we worked hard to change the culture in which we live. Now it’s time to find a more dignified, thoughtful approach to our changing looks—to detoxify the cultural messages custom-fitted to women’s anxieties and talk out loud about the subject, openly and honestly.
We need not confine this dilemma to the comforting couches of psychotherapists, although we welcome that as one option, nor should we dump it in the deft hands of plastic surgeons. The challenge is not about how not to look our age, nor is it about seeking miracles to help us flee the facts. Make no mistake, we are not antisurgery, antipotions or peels or anything else that allows us to feel better about ourselves. We are antithoughtless, pressured reactions to changing looks. We want women, who have broken through in so many arenas, to make decisions in this area with a similarly clear head and realistic expectations. Getting older was never a walk in the park, but it is particularly frightful to a generation of women who planned to stay “forever young.” Once an appealing notion, these words have become a mandatory mantra. The challenge: can we keep youthful optimism in our hearts and minds while letting our faces follow their natural course?
We are strong, smart, and vital women who have been given the gift of time. Let’s not waste another moment trying to stop the inevitable. Our clocks tick on no matter what we do—or don’t do—to our faces and bodies. Instead, let us size up where we are physically and emotionally. Let’s recognize the cultural confusion that makes it hard to move forward. Let’s go beneath the surface so we can look thoughtfully at our options for dealing more effectively with aging.
Excerpted from Face It by Vivian Diller, Ph.D. with Jill Muir-Sukenick, Ph.D. Copyright © 2010 (Hay House).
Vivian Diller, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist in private practice in New York City. Prior to becoming a therapist, Diller was a professional dancer with the Cincinnati Ballet Company and a model represented by Wilhelmina Models.