The beauty and the crone

Normally, I see myself from the inside looking out. Until I happen on a mirror—I hardly recognize me from the outside looking in. If it wasn’t for the slow evolution of my appearance over time, I’d wonder: who is that older woman with the surprised look on her face?

I came across a video this morning of four sisters aging 40 years in four minutes: Nicholas Nixon’s evocative documentation of his wife and her siblings, morphing them from their 20’s to their 60’s. It’s captivating, an explicit reminder of my own history, aging together with my beautiful, complex mosaic of a family. 

Or my husband. Where a stranger would see blue eyes and fleeting white hair, slowing down, a little round but in decent shape for his 70+ years, I get to see other things too. The sweet boyish man who loves painting and traveling, tools and gadgets. Who hates waiting in line and being in crowds. Who likes making people laugh; and sometimes hides a little behind his droll humor. Who works on staying in shape. Who worked hard at raising three kids, and made a name in advertising. Who made me happy by falling in love with me (we’ve been aging together for 40 years too). 

Most people have a really hard time seeing beneath someone’s snowy hair and wrinkles and bulges. They don’t recognize the young soul still inside. That’s why people in our culture, especially women, have long been striving to fight the onset of aging and look younger. The beauty industrial complex bombards us with ways to do it.

But now it’s awe-inspiring to see so many women in their 50’s and 60’s embracing their grey hair (excuse me, “silver”) and crinkly skin, their well-earned laugh lines. Striving for self-love and acceptance at every age. Because as we know, women are more likely than men to feel marginalized as we age; there’s a double standard in aging, as in so many things.

All of that said, I confess there’s a struggle going on when I’m confronted with my reflection. The sagging skin, the sprouting moles, drooping chest, pouching stomach. I’m supposed to love these? I’m still working on really believing what I understand to be true: that I’ll feel liberated and empowered by accepting my outwardly-aging appearance. (Notice the future tense here?)

I come from a family with four sisters and a brother. I see my siblings a few times a year—they live a couple of states away, so from a distance it feels like I see freeze frames, like Nicholas Nixon’s video. They look subtly older each time, with laughing and hardship etching almost imperceptibly, and they’re lovable for it. They must feel the same way about me. So that’s what I try to focus on: I’m still the same evolving bundle of serious and fun, frustrations and new experiences, laughs, aches and pains, no matter what I see in the mirror. 

You know that optical illusion where you can either see the young beauty or the old crone? We all need to flip it to see the young beauty IN the old crone.

Photo credit: freeze frame from Nicholas Nixon, The Brown Sisters Morph: 40 Years in 4 Minutes
© 2019 Susan Cummings. All rights reserved.

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