Is Ageing A State Of Mind?
Updated: Aug 4
'You are only as old as you feel' is an adage that is as time-worn as the bags under my eyes. It is a phrase often intended as a pick-me-up or said in jest. But, deep down, how many of us really buy into the thought that the brain - not the body - dictates how we perceive ourselves?
Is age a factor at all? Or is the thought process solely guided by what we see in a mirror?
For me, ageing is some of those things - but not everything.
Other people's perceptions of how old I am - or, more importantly, how old I look - are probably the biggest influence. The bleakness of being the antique in a room stuffed full of pretty young things is painful. That tangible hurt is the culmination of a whole host of thoughts... I'm irrelevant, I'm past my best, I don't matter anymore. I'm old.
When you factor in that looking old is often associated with poor health, it gets worse - especially if, like me, you have faced serious illness and survived. That quest to get back to how you were can be coupled with an unbridled drive to look younger and healthier. It can become an obsession.
Obsessed By Youth
When does 'beauty', particularly when it comes to anti-ageing regimens and makeup, become an obsession? Is it when you devote more of your time to skincare routines or start spending more money on products? Is it both?
When I survey my massive collection of lotions and potions, I often wonder if there was a point in time when I reached a crossroads. Was it ever possible for me to have just stopped and accepted how I looked? Did I reach a moment where I contemplated growing old gracefully? I don't think I did. I seemed to rush head-first - literally - into a never-ending spiral of all-consuming routines.
I'm not just a skincare junkie. Makeup has taken over my life. I am at what I call the Vegetable Rack Stage - because I've got so many cosmetics that is what I've had to buy as an accessible storage solution. I am anticipating and dreading in equal measure the Hoarder House Stage.
One of the weirdest things about my obsession is that it spurred an unhealthy interest in eyeshadows. My collection of large palettes has surpassed 50. When I ponder my reasoning for this, it gets a bit scary. Actually, sad. Eyeshadow, particularly the shimmers and glitters that I so love, are the least flattering on mature skin. So, I've locked myself into collecting a product that I should have been using 30 years ago. I'm too late.
Yes, they are beyond pretty and there is a thriving community of fellow collectors out there - most notably in the United States. I have learned, through trial and error, not to mention tutorials, how to use eyeshadows effectively. I know how to limit the use of those gorgeous, seriously sparkly and magnificent metallic pigments, but there's always that uncontrollable urge to break the rules - and add 10 years to my appearance, rather than knock 20 off.
I associate eyeshadow, particularly when used creatively, with youth. That is what has hooked me. And, what really piqued that initial interest was having no hair. I am convinced. During chemotherapy, I wore wigs and a lot of makeup. Part of it was to make me feel better at an especially rough time but, mostly, it was about trying to make myself look younger to, in turn, appear healthier. If I looked in the mirror and didn't look ancient or ill then, clearly, I was getting better. I recognise the association.
Maturity Can't Be Compared To Youthfulness
Not in a meaningful way. Yes, it is great to be sensible, to be able to sense danger (that's the only reason why I haven't had Botox, for example) and to be able to, finally, think before I speak. But is that really any consolation for feeling irrelevant?
It's the silly things that highlight the drawbacks. Like knowing I'm never going to turn heads or be the prettiest girl in the room again. Like being ignored by a man in a situation that a younger woman would quickly attract help with. Like knowing my opportunities are limited.
I was sitting on the beach two days ago when my eyes were drawn to a young woman. She wore her makeup exactly how I wear mine but, of course, the contrast was stark. She looked naturally attractive despite the numerous faux products on her face. It made me feel uncomfortable. Ugly. For a brief moment, I loathed her. Yes, jealously is another 'gift' of ageing.
Later, I told my daughter I had seen this woman and found myself saying: "God, she looks rough." That observation was quickly slapped down when my daughter pointed out she was "a really nice person". Ah, I'd forgotten that there was an actual person behind the look. I only saw the gut-churning attractiveness of her youth.
Ageing Without Fear
When I boil down the drivers that make me feel old, I am left with a combination of factors:
Looking old (to myself and especially others)
Comparing myself to younger women
Illness or the fear of illness
So, yes, ageing is a state of mind but it is also dictated by genes, overall health, often a reflection of our actual age, the marketing messages we are exposed to and even our peers.
To me, beauty products are a coping mechanism. They help me kid myself into thinking I look younger, so I feel younger. If I get the odd compliment, particularly ones like "You look great" and "You never seem to age", it makes me feel better.
I am never going to grow old gracefully while I have the passion and energy to indulge myself in the fantasy world that is cosmetics.
You know what they say... There's no fool like an old fool.