‘Tis the season to sparkle . . . a time for holiday dresses and jewelry and make-up. In years past it also brought a sense of heightened insecurity, as I searched for the perfect holiday look—a task that seemed to get harder every twelve months.
Seven years ago, I wrote a blog that I never published about the sense of dread I felt as I faced another event that was sure to dredge up old insecurities: my 40th high school reunion. That spring, I toned my muscles at the local Curves and remembered wistfully the days when, at age seventeen, I had sometimes felt “beautiful.” I mourned the loss of that ability many of us had in our twenties to stay slim without trying. I missed my thirties—those years when my chin line had still been firm.
I recalled with humor one day in my mid-forties—the moment things got serious as I gazed at the middle-aged woman looking back at me in the mirror. That’s when I could no longer ignore the changing shape of my body and the loosening skin on my face.
As a feminist, I knew this view of myself was unhealthy, and exactly what I had fought so hard to dispel. My obsession with age was madness, but I felt powerless to stop it.
And then one day my friend Ruth Yamamoto said something I have returned to again and again.
I had told her about the difficulty I was having with the aging process, and how it truly bothered women of my generation when we began looking older. Ruthie said she had never felt that way herself, but she thought it made sense “with everyone telling you how you’re supposed to look and that you’re supposed to look young.”
Then she repeated a saying, translated from Japanese, that reminded me of a message I had heard in different ways since I was a child.
“My father used to say, ‘If you’re good in your heart, your face will show it,’” offered my friend. For some reason, I felt better immediately.
Ruthie died several years ago but I’ve never forgotten that saying. And finally, it seems to have worked: This year I will pass up the slinky black dress I wore in 2013. I won’t even try to walk on the ice in high-heeled dress boots. By January 2, I may even be a few pounds heavier. But on December 29, when I play with my four grandchildren at our Christmas celebration, my face will reflect only joy as I look at their beautiful faces, marveling at the ways they can move. And I will know that if I had never reached this age, I would never know these children.
Then, I’ll have another cookie.