I have become fascinated recently by a disturbing trend on social media. I keep running across pictures of female friends who have radically altered their appearance in their photographs with filters. These friends, most of whom are in their 20’s and 30’s, are relatively young and almost universally attractive without having to alter a thing. And yet, they still feel compelled to try and “improve” their image.
In these pictures, the women have eliminated all lines and wrinkles from their pictures. The whites of their eyes and teeth are almost fluorescent they’re so white. These ladies look back at the camera with dewy eyed, unnatural looking faces. They look almost like Barbie dolls with features that are incapable of movement. When I see these pictures, I am immediately struck with a strong sense of something being wrong with them. I then find myself dissecting their features to see what has been changed.
I do not want to criticize these women. They are trying to look closer to what society expects of all women. God knows, when I was getting ready for my 40th high school reunion last summer I kept applying layer after layer of makeup to my face in a futile attempt to look closer to what I looked like at 18. I failed miserably. I looked exactly like what I am: a 58-year-old woman who has lived a full life with all of the attendant ups and downs that are the price we pay to live.
On New Year’s Eve I had lunch with a number of girlfriends from high school. Some looked better than others, but all in all, we are still an attractive group. Our generation has aged better than the generations before us. Gone are the days of orthopedic shoes and the house dresses that were the uniform for women over 50.
But, we are all almost 60. There were some common complaints discussed during the meal; our waists are not as tiny as they once were, our natural hair color is not as vibrant as it once was, we all have more lines and wrinkles than we like, and our interest in “partying” is almost non-existent.
Gravity plays an evil trick on aging bodies. Skin sags, joints ache, and the brain can’t retrieve words as easily as it used to. There is a part of me that would love to go back in time and retrieve the hot(ter) body and taut skin of my younger days. It would be nice to see how I would treat myself if I could go back in time and have a “do over.” I would like to think I’d eat healthier, run more, and focus more on the spiritual side of life instead of the material side. However, I have known for a long time that there is absolutely no way I would go back in time if I could not go back carrying what little wisdom I’ve achieved with me.
My friends from high school assure me that I never cared much what people thought of me, but I know that at 58 I care even less. I am more comfortable in my sagging skin and ache-y body than I ever was when I was young. My brain might not retrieve certain words as quickly as I’d like, but my heart understands so much more than I ever dreamed it would when I was young.
I have to admit, there is a part of me that is tempted to play with photographic filters to present a more attractive appearance as defined by our current society. At the same time, it feels ludicrous to me to try to fool anyone into thinking I’m anything but what I am: an aging mother or three and grandmother of five. My wrinkles and grey hairs are as much a part of me now as my blue eyes and fair skin.
Looking at the altered features of the women in these pictures, I have found myself wondering what future generations will think of these obviously altered images. Will they look at them and wonder why this generation felt obliged to change their appearances? Or better yet, in the future will they have accepted that, much like Kintsugi, the Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with gold, that there is beauty in the aged and worn? Or, maybe, will they perhaps have found ways to not age at all in the future? Or will these images look normal and natural to them because these alterations, both photographic and medically, have become the norm?
Whatever the future holds, only time will tell. For now, I feel bad that our current assessment of attractiveness is so limited that beautiful young women feel the need to radically alter their appearance for the approval of others. If anyone were to ask me, my advice to these younger women would be, “Lean into who you are and what you’ve been through. Live as healthy a life as you can, and hold your head high.”
Beauty is, indeed, in the eye of the beholder. How about we all be a little kinder when we behold ourselves?