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Beauty in the mirror

Let’s put beauty in the eyes of the older.


Recently, while sitting at a bar with a 62-year-old male friend, he looked at the ebullient, smooth-skinned, 20-something bartender, then looked at me, and said: “Ah, to be young and beautiful again, right?”

“Been there, done that,” I said. “If she’s lucky, she’ll be 59 some day.”

While I don’t see myself as falling victim to the coveting of youth, and I’ve held on to my wrinkles (for now), I was never a Hollywood sexpot. And I’m not 81. Like Kim Novak.

That collective consciousness that judges women by how they look, was shoved, at Ms. Novak’s expense, in the faces of anyone who watched the Academy Awards last week, and was privy to the subsequent chatter, tweets, blogs, and mean-girl bashing about the pillowed lips, the skin-tight cheeks, and the raised eyebrows of Ms. Novak.

While I admit to having been taken aback at first by her looks, the irony and the hypocrisy of my reaction quickly took center stage. What happened to what we all know, and learned in kindergarten – don’t judge a book by its cover?

And don’t assume Ms. Novak sees herself as so many others did – the aging screen siren, who can’t face the truth, or much less a mirror, so she, out of desperation to stay young and beautiful, altered her face ineffably.

I applaud her, and I choose to believe she feels good about how she looks. She felt confident enough to face a Hollywood audience mostly half her age, and less.

Let’s add women who choose to take advantage of the latest dermatological advances to the list of the non-judged – to the list of those who know that aging gracefully is not about how others perceive you, or how much you choose to nip, tuck, pull, plump, lift, or allow to sag, but how you feel about yourself, and how you are allowed to take steps to maintain that credo in whatever way you choose.

A little pearl of prudence did roll out from under all this fray in the form of 31-year-old Lupita Nyong’o, and her speech at a Black Women in Hollywood luncheon days before the awards. It centered around her wish, when she was a young girl to “wake up lighter skinned,” and how it took “validation” from “a celebrated model …” to pull herself up and out of that … seduction of inadequacy.”

“…she was dark as night,” Ms. Nyong’o said. “I couldn’t believe that people were embracing a woman that looked so much like me as beautiful. Now I had a spring in my step because I felt more seen, more appreciated by the far-away gatekeepers of beauty.”

While Ms. Nyong’o’s words are a wretched, and disgraceful, reminder that even a by-any-standards-breathtakingly-beautiful (inside and out, it appears) young woman can fall victim to the societal “rules” of beauty, it also highlights her emergence away from that, and a grasping of the wisdom that, simply, beauty really does come from within.

This conversation is nothing new. But I’m hoping that the timing of Ms. Novak’s public thrashing, which came on the heels of Ms. Nyong’o’s personal confession, will at least nudge this next generation of women to kick that societal pendulum, which has been frozen closer to “you’re inadequate,” towards “everyone is beautiful.”

And I hope I’m lucky enough to be 80 someday.