February 25, 2010

USA: Catch 55 - The Beauty Dilemma Facing Modern Women

. NEW YORK, NY / TheWomenOnTheWeb / Relationships / February 25, 2010 A Friend Stopped By A model-turned-psychotherapist on a universal midlife quandary. By Dr. Vivian Diller Marlene, a woman in her 50s, walked into my office with a problem that has become increasingly common these days. The picture of success, she’s a married mother of two, managing a healthy balance between her family and the demands of her work. But the only thing on her mind was the "work" she was thinking of doing on her face. After consulting with a cosmetic surgeon, she was having difficulty sleeping. Editor’s Note: Dr. Vivian Diller is the author, with Jill Muir-Sukenick, of Face It: What Women Really Feel As Their Looks Change. It took only a little bit of prompting to get Marlene to move from advice for insomnia to debating which part of her face she should lift. Soon, she was talking about her deeper concerns. "I’m worried about becoming invisible," she explained. Unless she did something radical, she went on, she was afraid she would lose everything; her power, her career, even her husband. "I’m embarrassed that I have angst about this issue at all — and, worse, that I’m contemplating such radical solutions to relieve it," Marlene confessed. I responded by welcoming her to the "beauty paradox" faced by millions of women who feel pulled in different directions as they try to come to terms with their aging appearance.
We are supposed to be true to ourselves, and now we're being told not to look our age. It's a Catch 22 -- or as we call it, Catch 55.
I understood Marlene’s discomfort, both personally and professionally. Because I was a model before becoming a psychotherapist, I knew all too well what it meant to anticipate being pushed aside by the next one in line. (And I learned all this at 22!) At the end of my modeling career, as I began graduate school, I learned how to balance my investment in youthful beauty with other, more sustainable aspects of myself. And, as I got older, making that shift many times more, I realized that most women face that transition at some point in their lives when their looks inevitably change. An entire generation — Marlene and myself included — is in the midst of a dilemma that needs to be resolved. Over time, I took Marlene through the six steps described in the book I wrote with another model-turned-therapist. This struggle, I explained, starts with surface concerns that are at the heart of a woman’s identity. After all, for millions of years, our value and self-worth relied largely on our ability to attract men, find a mate and procreate. Women aged — and looked their age — and that was that. It wasn’t until the dawn of full-fledged feminism that a wealth of other options became available. Our worth became less about being "Mrs. Someone" and more about making someone of ourselves. Beauty would no longer determine our future prospects. Now, things have shifted once more. We continue to live increasingly longer lives. We expect to be admired for our accomplishments and empowered by our years of experience. But we did not expect to feel anxious and depressed the moment those years showed up on our face. Today, smart, savvy women are perplexed. We are supposed to be true to ourselves, and now we’re being told not to look our age. It’s a Catch 22 — or as we call it, Catch 55. The message? If we are to enjoy our ever-expanding lives, we are to use every tool available to defy our age. The mixed messages are coming at us not only from magazines, movies and advertisements. They also come from our equally confounded contemporaries, who flaunt their feminism only to appear suddenly and mysteriously "rested." And from our loved ones, who give us a year’s supply of Botox as a gift on Valentine’s Day. Surely they know aging is the gift that keeps on giving. Surely we know that the younger we try to look, the less beautiful we feel. Are we back to square one?
We are supposed to be true to ourselves, and now we're being told not to look our age. It's a Catch 22 -- or as we call it, Catch 55.
I believe that women today have lost their equilibrium, and are eager to find a path that will steady them as they age. The first step is to be aware of the paradox in which we live, and think more carefully about how to deal with it. This is not to say that beauty does or does not matter. I’m not anti-surgery, anti-potions or peels or anything else that allows women to feel better about themselves. What I am against is thoughtless, pressured, anxious reactions to what is a natural process. The goal is for women, who have broken through in so many arenas, to make these decisions with a calm, clear head and realistic expectations. Getting older was never a walk in the park, but it is particularly frightful to a generation who planned to stay "forever young." Once an appealing notion, those words have become a mandatory mantra. We are strong, smart and vital women who have been given the gift of time. Let’s not waste it trying to stop the inevitable. [rc] © 2010 The Women on the Net Inc