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Aging gracefully -- is it just a pleasant, if redundant, phrase used by TV and magazine advertisers to get women to buy their products? Or is it an aphorism we use to describe how we'd like to see ourselves -- especially as menopause makes us feel anything but graceful?
Below is a summary of the responses I received from hundreds of interviews I held while researching my book, "Face It: What Women Really Feel as Their Looks Change." I spoke to women between the ages of 25-75 from all walks of life-- everyday women for whom beauty played only a small role in their lives, as well as those whose looks were a large part of their identity (i.e. models, actors and public figures). I asked them all the same question: "What is the one piece of advice you would give about how to look and feel your best as you age?"
Here's the advice that came up most often from the women who felt they were aging gracefully:
1) MAINTAIN A FLEXIBLE SELF IMAGE: Women who were able to let go of their rigid ideas of beauty felt attractive at any age. Those that tried to hold on to their youthful self-image feel tense -- and tension, as we know, is not an attractive feature. There's nothing graceful about a midlife woman trying to look like her teenage daughter. Sensuality, on the other hand is a quality that can be ageless. It's all about flexibility, openness and letting go. It's about how to feel feminine and sexy by making adjustments every step of the way. We learn to enjoy walking, even if we may have jogged in the past. We try yoga, even if we still like spin class. Flexibility is needed in order to feel beautiful as we age.
2) KEEP YOUR RADIANT SMILE: A woman's smile is reported as the single most important physical feature that leads to being viewed as attractive at any age. It conveys their inner beauty and lets others see what they feel. And when they don't feel great, putting on a smile more often leads to feeling better. Think of a baby's smile. Does anything bring more pleasure to the eyes of others than that spontaneous, toothless grin? Women I spoke to who have aged with finesse, talked about using their smiles to bring what they feel inside to their exterior. A generous smile is the best facelift you can give yourself. Besides, it's free and natural!
3) FOCUS ON WHAT YOU HAVE, NOT ON WHAT YOU DON'T: The sum is not always greater than its parts. This sounds counterintuitive, but when it comes to aging gracefully, it is important to keep this in mind. Women who focus on features they like, rather than criticizing what they lack, are more likely to feel attractive. It is well known in the fashion industry that some models are branded for their great legs or long necks. Sometimes only their hands or feet are considered marketable material. They use these assets to feel beautiful. Take a look at yourself and choose one feature that you like and embellish it. Delicate wrists? Wear an eye-catching watch. Thick hair? An elegant headband or jeweled clip can draw attention where you want it. Try it. You might be surprised that keeping focused on one positive quality makes everything else about you feel more attractive.
4) KEEP YOUR CONFIDENCE: The most frequent comment I heard from the women I interviewed was that beauty was about confidence. This was true across all ages and continents. Women whose looks played a dominant role in their lives (e.g., models, actresses and women in media) associated feeling attractive with times when they felt most self-assured. Actresses told me that they increased their chances of booking work when they could carry off an air of confidence no matter what they looked like. They said that their success wasn't about being the most beautiful, but about how poised they appeared. So it seems for most women at any age. Standing tall and holding your head up high with self-confidence were the most common words of advice women gave on this subject. Fortunately, these are qualities that all women can achieve.
Aging gracefully requires understanding how to let go, mourn our losses, and move on to make room for new possibilities. It's going through life's stages with a positive state of mind that moves from the inside to the out and back again. Use these tips and you might find that aging with grace is not just a soothing phrase, but a real possibility for us all.
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