Midlife Musings: The Beauty Equation

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I started this essay on the Beauty Equation yesterday, but then something happened and my thoughts were re-routed. I don't want to leave this topic unexplored, though, because I think it's powerful and resonant.

So much of a woman's worth in our youth and beauty obsessed culture is based on her physical appearance. We judge and are judged by how we look, what we wear, how we style our hair...and all of this is shallow, surface level judgement has real impact on our professional and personal lives. As a woman in this climate, if you opt out of the Beauty Equation, you are doing so with full knowledge that it will affect you personally and professionally. As we head into mid-life, it's hard not to chase that brass ring of youth and to want to feel beautiful and, ultimately, to feel relevant. 

I'm here! I'm not fading away! I've got so much more to bring to the party! Helloooooo!!!!!

As a woman over 50, I have to fight the pressure to stay pretty or fade away. It's ever present, especially as my physical appearance changes. It's deeply embedded in our culture.

Think of this, for a moment. Imagine if a woman over 70 became president and it turned out that she had an unprotected sexual encounter with a much younger male porn star. Imagine how that would be received by the press. Imagine this woman having had extramarital sex and then paying hush money to this much younger porn star. Then, imagine if it emerged that she'd also had a concurrent long term affair with a Playgirl playmate. 

Do they call them playmates? Is Playgirl even a thing anymore? 

As you can tell, my fascination with porn and sexy magazines lacks conviction. I'm not into 50 shades, unless we're talking paint chips, because those get my creative juices flowing even if they don't cause a tingle in my nether regions.

Fifty shades of chartreuse? Now you're talking!

But I digress, we were talking about a hypothetical female president in her 70s having sexual encounters with a porn star and a playmate and paying them both hush money to squash the stories. This would be scandalous and likely lead to her impeachment. Paging Shonda Rhimes!

The double standard is fascinating to me, but there is biology at play. A woman over 70 is no longer biologically capable of producing offspring, a man over 70 is. In fact, I think for many men, the fact that our current POTUS was able to cajole both of these women into having sex with him is impressive. He's not pretty, not by a long shot, but it doesn't matter. It's also important to note that men get a pass on the Beauty Equation if they're famous, rich, and powerful. Women, however, do not. 

So much of a woman's worth and success is driven by how we present ourselves to the world. There are expectations for a woman that are not equal to those of a man. Again, imagine this 70 something woman had a turban of dyed yellow hair, if you will, that wrapped around her head to conceal a large bald spot. Imagine she slathered on make-up that made her look a strange shade of orange. Imagine she was borderline morbidly obese and wore a huge bow to cover her waistline. Imagine she regularly posted obscenities, threats, and barely coherent rants on social media. She could not be elected.

I cannot tell you how many women have told me that they could never, ever have pink hair because it would affect them professionally. They're shocked when I explain that it's part of my branding. Still, I'm an outlier, and for most of my adult life hot pink hair would have been a barrier to entry. It's a conscious choice I made for myself and also to make a statement. It took losing everything and having nothing left to lose for me to finally take the plunge. If I had aged out of my career, I was going to create a new career that allowed me to be authentic and unfiltered. I am not interested in aging gracefully or following some outmoded set of rules about how women should present themselves after 50. I'll tell you this much, you cannot be invisible with hot pink hair. I can't honestly say I am entirely immune to the desire to look and feel pretty, but I'm finding that what I feel is beautiful is shifting. It is incredibly freeing. 

Beauty is skin deep. Let's go deeper. Let's shift the Zeitgeist, lift our gaze, change the conversation to what a woman does, thinks, says, and what she has to bring to the party. We, women, can stop shaming celebrities and each other publicly and privately. We can raise each other up, celebrate our achievements and potential. We are half of the population and the conversation. Think of what we could achieve if we stopped chasing the Beauty Equation and stopped demanding that other women do it too.

I love seeing women bloom in mid-life, and finally come into their own with a defiant, daring attitude. If the world wants to make us invisible, we will dial up the volume! Or not, because we should age in the manner we see fit and allow other women the breathing room to do the same. 

Being true to yourself, that's the solution to the Beauty Equation. 

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