Ageing Naturally – The Elephant in the Room with the Emperor’s New Clothes

I often contemplate what it means to be female and middle aged these days. I recently saw a documentary that featured an American actress of great skill and immense beauty, who had disappeared quietly from the acting scene in the mid ‘90s whilst at the height of her career. So there she suddenly was, looking every inch her natural 59 years, but totally in her skin, untouched by the modern plague of scalpels, fillers and injections. It was beautiful to see and inspiring that for a change, a woman had allowed herself the grace to age naturally.

It got me thinking about why it is we want to lie about our age, by lying about how we look and the self-mutilation some are prepared to sanction let alone fund, to maintain that lie. Well the obvious answer is because our society tends to judge on immediate appearance in a split second. Society last century turned its back on wisdom in favour of youth and so today’s prevailing consciousness carries an aim to beat the system and linger in youth, long past its sell-by date.

Why so? Is it possible that we have an inherent lack of self-confidence in our appearance or a need for recognition, approval and acceptance by this thing called society that we let judge us on the basis of how young or old we look? Perhaps, but a peek under the bonnet might also suggest that it starts with us not accepting who we truly are, our inner beauty, our natural essence and the unique value these bring to everyone we meet, regardless of our age and appearance.

I met up with an ex-colleague a while ago and I had that immediate knowing that something in her facial configuration had changed. I acted as though I hadn’t noticed, but I clocked it straight away – that new look, ‘the New Middle Aged’, where there’s something somehow glacial, stretched and other-worldly about the skin. It’s become the big elephant in the room, the unspoken, the false ‘you look really well’, when the truth is, everybody knows that work has been done. So surely that in itself is the big tell-tale sign that you’re ageing? More importantly, does it not give the game away about the fact that you’re not comfortable with yourself, you’re hiding your truth rather than embracing the incredibly powerful wisdom and knowingness that you’ve amassed along the way?

So is having cosmetic surgery really just the most ironic double-whammy own goal?

The cosmetic surgery industry was worth £750m in the UK in 2005, £2.3bn in 2010 and is forecast to reach £3.6bn by 2015 (BBC News Online, 3rd Feb 2014 / British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons).

There were 50,122 cosmetic procedures in 2013 – a rise of 17% on the previous year.

Everything from eyelid surgery, face and neck lifts, liposuction, tummy tucks, fat transfer operations, brow lifts, breast augmentation, breast reduction and nose jobs – a booming sector by any standards. Where these procedures are undertaken out of a need to keep looking young, it is at the true expense to society of the real value of what we bring with age – wisdom, reflection, experience, knowingness as well as support, counsel and a showing of the way. Instead, we seem to have turned our backs on this, preferring to adopt the current ‘beauty’ consciousness of attempting to put off an inexorable, unstoppable, inevitable and wonderful process, by looking to the outside world to tell us how we should appear; just how many wrinkles are acceptable, the optimal age to start the lifting process – the list goes on. This trend is no longer merely just for the realm of the woman, of course, it’s now fully accepted that men too are under body image pressure, suffering their own version of appearance expectations.

I’m reminded that life is full of fads and fashions and that back in Elizabethan times women wore lead and mercury-based make-up on their faces. The mercury corroded their flesh and many died of lead poisoning. All this in pursuit of the then must-have pale white complexion with red cheeks and lips that reflected nobility status. We scoff at that stupidity now from our lofty superiority centuries later but is it just possible in a few hundred years from now the lack of self-love in sanctioning our own facial and body ‘disfigurement’ in the name of vanity will be scorned by our descendants in much the same way?

Of course, everyone has an absolute right to free will and choice, but what’s behind our drive to want to change ourselves to try to retain our youth? What is so bad, horrific, and intolerable, about a few wisdom wrinkles and senior sags? What is so desperate within us that we are prepared to sanction a socially acceptable form of self-harm? Is it our fear of death and dying that makes us so fixated on holding on to the now? Or is it the need to fit in with a norm determined by a society that is hell bent on looking young, to be accepted and approved of by society’s standards? It’s worth us remembering that society is us, you and me, a collective of individual voices. So it means that we must be endorsing this trend, seeing it as an acceptable way, sanctioning it by our silence, if you will.

Because I don’t think I’m at all unique in not braving-up and asking my ex-colleague, ‘What on earth did you do to your face?’ or even the gentler version, ‘So, you’ve had some work done, then?’

Can you imagine saying that?

It would be just like the little child in the tale of ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ who, more confident in his sense of truth than any of the adult bystanders, couldn’t help but blurt out what he saw in truth – that the emperor passing on parade wasn’t wearing any clothes, although everyone was going along with the deception that he was. The relief of the crowd in the story when the truth is out and they don’t have to pretend anymore is palpable. We too have our own version of the Emperor’s new clothes in our current society; cowardly airbrushing the truth when the biggest elephant in the room is that someone isn’t accepting their true beauty. We all know it’s not natural to cut ourselves up in this way. If it were, we’d all have come out of the womb with a built-in toolkit Edward Scissorhands would be proud of.

How far will we let this go before we stop and let ourselves just be, to age with grace and enjoy the process?

There is much to be learnt from this phase of life that benefits all if we let it. When we accept ourselves for who we truly are and for where we are in our life cycle – women and men – we begin to understand and appreciate not only our unique inner beauty but also our true value to society, to humanity. Isn’t it time we started to truly love and respect ourselves based on that beauty rather than being hostage to an external, fabricated version?

by Cathy Hackett, UK


BBC News Online, ‘Plastic surgery ‘booming’ in the UK’, 3rd Feb 2014, James Gallagher

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623 thoughts on “Ageing Naturally – The Elephant in the Room with the Emperor’s New Clothes

  1. If we look outside for confirmation of acceptance the bar will constantly be moving and a solid sense of self worth and self-esteem will forever be out of our grasp.

  2. It is sad when you see young women with oversized lips, over done make-up and filled hips and buttocks, all thinking that this is what will make them more attractive. The media are our source of information as to what the next fad is and we go along with it, hoping it will make us feel better and more beautiful. The truth is it never does, It is through our own lack of appreciation and contentment within ourselves and a lack of acceptance that who we are is enough, that keeps us searching for something that already resides within,…… a natural radiant beauty that is and will always be there.

  3. I hate the fact that some doctors go through extensive training in a caring profession and end up mutilating faces and bodies.

  4. Life can be seen as one big jigsaw puzzle and each of us has our place, and it changes as we do, so if we cling to an old place (chasing youth say), we miss out on what is offered to us and others, and everything becomes off balance and skewed for we’re designed to work together and each of us has a part to play, being who we are where we are.

  5. When we put a higher price both financially and mentally on our outward appearance rather than how we feel inside it has a negative impact on our self-worth and is clear for all to see whether they comment on it or not. It’s like we are all colluding in this massive lie that chasing the fountain of youth is the eternal Holy Grail whereas if we only accept and appreciate our inner beauty and reflect that we are an inspiration to others of any age.

  6. I find there is nothing more beautiful than a woman who is at ease with herself and how old she is that she becomes age-less to emanate the living wisdom she is carrying inside and that she herself is visibly treasuring.

  7. The current trend to have cosmetic surgery certainly exposes where we are today and how far we are removing ourselves from embracing and claiming the beauty within, which ultimately has a knock on effect in the adoration and acceptance of our outward physical features, which we have been divinely blessed with since birth.

  8. Thank you Cathy, I loved reading this. The ageing process teaches us acceptance with its process, and there is so much joy when we know how to age with grace and wisdom, rather than focus on the physical changes. We can blossom and have a twinkle inside, no matter what is changing on the outside.

  9. It still feels pretty wild to me that someone would not only willingly volunteer to undergo what can be drastic surgery, but pay for it too, to attempt to avoid what is an inevitable and very natural process. Great point that this lack of acceptance doesn’t just hit us in the face when we get older. If we have any doubt about our true value and worth, and seek to measure and define ourselves by what we look like or what we do, we’re all part of it, contributing to it on a mass scale.

  10. When we let ourselves go and don’t back ourselves up we are at the mercy of the world and what anyone or anything is thinking of us. It’s like saying here is my self-worth do with what you like. And then we don’t consider what the other person is in, like if the person has a good or bad day, likes us or not… it all has an impact on it.

  11. It is interesting this concept of beauty, because I wonder how much of it we take on from our immediate surroundings? That is, how much of the beauty that we consider beautiful is actually an attempt to fit in to the community or society that we living in and are a part of?

  12. It is time for us to deeply love and respect ourselves based on our inner beauty and value, ‘When we accept ourselves for who we truly are and for where we are in our life cycle – women and men – we begin to understand and appreciate not only our unique inner beauty but also our true value to society, to humanity.’

  13. Changing our outer appearance will not change how we feel about ourselves. It is far better to change how we feel about ourselves and then see if we want cosmetic surgery or not.

  14. Accepting who we are, warts and all at each stage of our life is important, ‘it starts with us not accepting who we truly are, our inner beauty, our natural essence and the unique value these bring to everyone we meet, regardless of our age and appearance.’

  15. “How far will we let this go before we stop and let ourselves just be, to age with grace and enjoy the process?” Stopping worrying about the ageing process allows me to be who I naturally am – a woman in her late sixties who can focus on more important things than how I look. When you see some of the results of cosmetic surgery that have gone horribly wrong , that is also enough to make me never go near a cosmetic procedure. And those whose procedures have gone ok still look unnatural somehow. Give me a wise elder who is ageing gracefully any day.

  16. For many years I would be beside myself with worry about getting an outfit right for an occasion. I would have a picture in mind of what I wanted to look like, and quite often I could never get anything to wear that would match this picture. The occasion would always be fraught with anxiety, and there was no enjoyment or contentment with being myself. My observations have proven interesting of late because I do not stress about what to wear, I am more accepting of how I look and admire myself instead of criticising my imperfections. In fact, I have observed lately that I do not look for the imperfections now and do not worry when in a social situation. Now there is a feeling of being content with myself and how I look.

    1. Thank you for sharing Julie as I am sure many can relate and the stress we put ourselves through only adds to the ageing process! It’s those pesky pictures tripping us up again and it is only when we choose to let go of them that we can start to blossom into the beautiful women that we have been all along.

  17. I have found that the more I am able to let go of ‘how I think I should look and be’ because of my age, and just allow myself to be the true woman I am without shying away from that, my whole body, including my face changes as I ‘drop the mask’ and I just look a bit younger every time it happens!

  18. Theres so many pictures and perceptions and beliefs about youth, being elderly and aging. All on offer to follow or refject but whichever way we go with a picture it’s away from accepting ourselves as we are now. Regardless of our age acceptance is the most beautiful quality to have in a woman or man more than any look.

  19. Cosmetic surgery and the ability to change ourselves is massive in it’s impact on life, and it doesn’t just effect older people, I remember as a teenager I really wanted several procedures to change parts of myself. Looking back now I’m horrified that I would have considered having myself cut up to feel better about the way I felt about myself, and that these thoughts were simply the result of a deeper-rooted dislike and lack of respect for myself. Perhaps if before you’re allowed cosmetic surgery you have to undertake a compulsory self-love and self-care program for 6 months we’d see that changing ourselves outwardly is not necessary if we first take care of what is within.

  20. A great exposure on the force of the beauty and cosmetic surgery industries that are controlling peoples lives by playing upon fears of getting old and possibly very wrinkly.
    What ridiculous role models are the younger generation experiencing – it is quite common now for pre-teen and teenagers to be asking for plastic surgery, implants and breast removal.

  21. I totally agree Cathy but feel very much the desire to remain youthful and firm! Wrinkles don’t bother me but sagging necks definitely are taking some getting used too!

  22. “Isn’t it time we started to truly love and respect ourselves based on that beauty rather than being hostage to an external, fabricated version?? Yes and there is so much to appreciate. The true beauty of a woman is seen in the light of her eyes, it is a emanation that comes from a deep connection with herself and her body. This is truly beautiful to feel.

  23. “this thing called society” and society at large has to discover that true beauty comes from within and cannot be bought with plastic surgery to the outer surface.

    1. That’s true Mary, beauty cannot be brought, changed or altered or even improved and it’s instantly there when a women embraces her essence – no matter what age they are.

  24. A great article Cathy about the growing alarming situation of cosmetic surgery, it seems that the age for cosmetic surgery is getting younger, where once it was used to hide wrinkles now it is used to change young faces, where so much self loathing and lack of acceptance exist. As we claim our true inner beauty and allow this to shine out from our faces in our own individual uniqueness, we offer a reflection that has true grace and beauty being revealed at any age.

  25. It is inspiring to see more and more women who I know ageing gracefully and reflecting this to others and has certainly supported me to embrace my own ageing process and love my body more than I ever did in my youthful days.

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