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Elegant senior ladyWhen I was growing up, I often overheard my mother debating with her friends about whether certain movie stars were aging gracefully. These discussions were solely focused on if these famous women’s looks were holding up or not. Never once did these verbal dissections connect the aging gracefully phrase to a woman’s accomplishments, goals or happiness.

Now that I am in the middle-age woman zone, I look back and wonder if things have changed that much — or have they gotten worse?

Yes, of course, us women mentor each other in all kinds of wonderful ways and we respect famous women and our own female family, friends and neighbors who have worked hard to achieve their goals, and more importantly, are great examples of kind, thoughtful people.

Yet — and this is a big YET — the pressure for women to stay as young looking as possible seems to be even greater now than ever before. Back in my mother’s day, facelifts were merely the stuff of movie star lore (or the rare old lady in Beverly Hills who braved a nip and tuck). More importantly, the aging process for the average woman was not only expected, but OK. Getting a bit softer and wrinkly after a certain age was never considered to be some kind of social transgression. But now! Now, it seems as if women left and right of me are getting injected, lifted and “liposuctioned” as if it were their civic duties.

I realize that women in certain careers — especially ones in the entertainment industry — have always had a lot more pressure than the rest of us. I also understand that if a woman thinks that it’ll make her feel better about herself to invest in some “work,” it’s her prerogative. I say more power to her if that’s really what she wants. Hell, I wouldn’t mind snapping my fingers to magically erase some of my deeper worry lines and lift my sagging neck!

The question, though, is when do we stop buying into this cultural obsession that continually shames us into thinking how staying youthful looking should be a priority?

Whatever the emotional and physical effects these anti-aging procedures have on both the individual and for all of us collectively, this is what I want to say: Aging gracefully shouldn’t be about signing up to be a warrior in the battle to stay looking young. If we live a certain number of years, we will get old. (Except, of course, Jane Fonda, but the rest of us mortals definitely will!)

So what should aging gracefully really mean? In a word: wisdom. This is the kind of wisdom that tells us not to buy into the dysfunctional cultural system that tells us to look a certain way. And, yes, we still know it’s OK to keep healthy — and happy — by employing a sane exercise routine and a generally healthy (but still enjoyable) diet. If there’s some — or a lot of — saggy, bulgy, wrinkly parts we wish were as pert and firm as when we were in our 20s, our grace is being able to hone our humor and acceptance skills like never before. There are far more important things for us to contend with and concentrate on than to fuss so much about looking younger.

And what is important in the long run? Definitely not our looks. Rather it’s recognizing what we’ve learned so far from living a life of both triumph and regret and how we can share that deeper knowledge, empathy and love with others.

First Published on Noozhawk.com

Tracy Shawn is the author of the award winning novel, The Grace of Crows.  She blogs at tracyshawn.com.  You can find her on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @TracyShawn.

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