If you’ve read my column for the few years I’ve been writing it, you’d know how much I love fashion magazines. I would read them constantly, if I had the time. In fact, I have been reading them constantly before I started writing this article, on my 9-hour flight from Europe. Lufthansa has a brand new screen with 20+ movies, and instead I spend this time reading magazines.
I love everything about them; I’m desperate to be a part of that world.
And as I’ve sat reading fashion magazines for the past 6 hours straight, I’ve become hyperaware of the single flaw I can find within these magazines.
These American fashion magazines; representations of our own culture and society, seem to strongly press against age, as if it is the fast approaching rainstorm on a night out in white Manolo heels; it ruins the highly worshipped and appreciated beauty.
Every model throughout the pages strictly falls in a tight age range, barely seen over the age of 30. However, the lowest limit gets lower and lower each year. Thirty years ago, designers used to send models down the runaway that were 20-23 years old on average. Today, the average model is more like 15-17. And trust me, it’s not because our society has become more “mature” or less “superficial”. These older women are not choosing a different career.
This mentality promotes an idea that women have an expiration date. “How To Look Ten Years Younger” is a popular headline, models have their own strict expiration date until they’re no longer “usable”, and if, by the chance, that an actress, singer, or designer above 40 is featured in the magazine, they are usually covered and visually conservative, unlike their bathing suit clad younger counterparts in the same magazine.
But this is not the fault of the magazine industry. Magazines are a result of what people want to see, what the society really thinks. This is the reason I could spend 6 hours entranced in Vogue, Elle, or Glamour. People are mistaken by fashion magazines. They do not tell women how they should be, they tell women how society thinks they are. These pages do more than show expensive handbags and give healthy cocktail recipes. They reflect what our society is, an everyday anthropology study.
And in our society, anti-aging is everywhere; on night cream jars, in spa treatments, even certain foods are now being pulled off shelves faster than they can be restocked because they have anti-aging benefits.
I do understand this need for vibrancy and youth. We fear death, and death comes after aging. So I understand where the negative denotation associated with aging comes from.
But in many cultures, aging is seen as a good thing. It means you are wise, respected, well established. Parisian woman are famous for growing out their gray roots and taking a laissez faire approach to aging. In India, the older you get, the more respected and important you are. I think it’s interesting that in the U.S., the older you get, the less important you become.
I believe this is because our country still has this high school mentality where a difference from the beauty standard is not just different, but it’s ugly. In high school, the pretty and cool girls were the ones who didn’t have a flaw or at least looked “standard”. The rest of the girls were gawky and underdeveloped, or had funky bangs, or baby fat left on their face.
We grow up and more and more we begin to realize that being different is better. The kids who were band nerds or theater geeks are famous movie stars and singers; the nerds become CEOs and politicians. The kids who put all their energy into popularity and fitting in grow up and find themselves in jobs that value the standard instead of different. Needless to say, these aren’t jobs we’re taught to aim for. But for some reason, this evolving standard and change of value still doesn’t apply to beauty.
We’re stuck in a rut that no matter what living we do or maturing we do, we’re still in a society that tells us to be thinner, younger, lighter, darker, have a small nose, big eyes, straight teeth. We’re told to fit to the standard, not to value the uniqueness in ourselves.
Truly, I love how I look. Not because I think I’m the most beautiful girl in the room, or even beautiful at all much of the time. I love how I look because I look like me. That sounds like a quote straight out of a self-confidence book for preteens, but I do value my uniqueness, even in the midst of pressure to look “perfect”.
My eyes squint from smiling too much. My cheeks are constantly flushed with embarrassment or leftover sunburn from being out in the sun. My permanent under eye bags reflect the hours I’ve worked and the nights where something else was more important than sleep. My face looks basically the same since I was a baby, and my hair is thin since I didn’t grow any until I was two.
When I look in the mirror, I see these things. Sometimes, I am unhappy with them and insecure, because we all are in this world, at least once in a while. But for the most part, I see my childhood in my face, instead of chubby cheeks. I see the times I’ve laughed and smiled in the small crinkles near my eyes, instead of seeing lines to smooth down. I see my mother’s eyes in my eyes, and my fathers Italian roots in my coloring. Sometimes I do look in the mirror and see bad things that I pick apart. But usually, I’ll be able to glance back in the mirror after picking apart the image, and see me. Instead of an uglier version that I’m too harsh on, I see me and I see my life.
However, I don’t believe this is as much from my own self-confidence as it is from who I come from.
The most beautiful woman in the world is my mother. Of course it’s not surprising that I’d say that, because she’s my mother. But everyone else seems to see it too. She’s always been beautiful, but every time I see her, I swear she is more beautiful every time, every day.
The ironic part is that she’s never really fought age. She sees importance in age. She lost her father when he had yet to be a grandfather, and her best friend before her children even reached high school. She knows she’s lucky to be alive, and so she welcomes the aging her loved ones never got.
She left her hair natural amid her usual highlights, not trying to add in long extensions or dark hair dye in order to appear younger. She never tried Botox or plastic surgery, and she’d never even think of wearing shorts too short or a trend too trendy.
And she is so beautiful.
Her laugh lines reflect her life of loving and laughter and her body accurately shows her dedication for being healthy and spending all of her time with her kids instead of dropping them off at day care on her way to Pilates.
Her body does not reflect a life’s dedication to trendy spin classes or brutal liquid diets. Many of the women I’m surrounded by are as skinny and toned as can be, with botoxed faces and trendy leggings and Ugg boots. My mother has never been that kind of woman.
And yet, friends’ mothers or teachers (many of them these skinny and toned women with plastic faces) have asked me since I was young what her secret is. What must she be doing in order to look so good? My answer is the same every time; I honestly don’t know. She does yoga, but only on occasion, on a video tape in her bedroom, and she is passionate and dedicated to cooking healthy, unprocessed foods for our family, but she can devour more from an All-You-Can-Eat Buffet than anyone I’ve ever met.
When I was younger, I used to watch her get ready to go on dates with my father. She’d always walk out of her bathroom smelling like the same perfume and give me a kiss on the head before the babysitter arrived.
No matter how tired I was that night, I’d fight to keep my eyes open with everything I had until I heard the door open downstairs and my mom’s heels click across the floor. I couldn’t wait for the time when she’d finally come home, and I could run downstairs and bury my head in her soft skin and blow-dried hair. That’s when she was always the most beautiful; taking off her heels in the kitchen with slightly smudged makeup. I missed her so much.
In all of the years I’ve had to watch the effortless beauty that magically increases each year, I’ve started to pick up pieces to “her secret”.
She’s always been beautiful, but it’s changed over the years. I think somehow it’s become more powerful, more apart of who she is than how she looks. Age has helped her. My mother greets age like an old friend, instead of dreading it’s arrival. She has not wished for younger years because she knows how lucky she is to be in this year, to have this life, this wisdom, this experience, this family.
She is strong in the way that she has carried babies and chased children for 23 years. She is beautiful in the way that she smiles every day and laughs no matter how bad our jokes are. I will never stop getting asked what my mom’s secret is, because her beauty does not have an expiration date, unlike most.
People will chase beauty, all over the world. They will search for years and never find it, or lose it as soon as they do. But my mother has the secret, and she doesn’t even know it.
When I grow up, my experience and my change will be the visual story I tell. Even if Botox becomes foolproof and Liposuction is popularly used and accepted, I wouldn’t want to not look like me. I appreciate my looks because it’s me and there’s no exception for extra wrinkles or extra sag.
I wouldn’t want to go back 10 years if I have the choice.
One day, I hope my husband measures his success in the laugh lines on my face, like my dad sees in my mom. I hope my children will look at me and see the same children-holding arms that I see in my mother.
And the best part is, you’d never find beauty like that in a magazine.