WEST HOLLYWOOD — I’m at the gym, fruitlessly trying to keep up with an endless loop of ab crunches. I steal a look at the clock; has it only been 12 minutes since class began? Oral surgery goes faster than this.
Most of the other dozen or so women here are young enough to be my daughters, beautiful and toned enough to be on TV. But this is West Hollywood — they probably are on TV when they aren’t perfecting the Body Beautiful. The woman to my right looks like she might also be in her late 50s, but who can tell? In Los Angeles, it’s a misdemeanor to look older than 35.
It almost seems that there are more cosmetic dermatology centers here than there are Starbucks. We may be the nipping, tucking, liposuctioning, chemical-peeling and Botoxing capital of the world, but the imperative to defy looking one’s age is a national obsession. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, Americans spent a staggering $16 billion on cosmetic plastic surgery and minimally invasive procedures in 2016. Looking around in this town, I sure believe it.
With so many people investing in physical sculpting, chiseling, and derma-filling, it can be disorienting to meet people whose age is a complete mystery. From a distance of 50 feet, a woman might look 30, but up close, that face is so taut it’s almost waxy. And the hands? Could be 60!
I’m vain, too, so it’s a good thing I can’t afford all this cosmetic rejuvenation. I am trying to accept my aging self with some grace.
My faith helps a lot. Following Jewish tradition, every morning when I wake up, the first words I speak are those of thanks to God for restoring my soul to me for another day. During morning prayers, I thank God for my ability to stand, to see, to think, and other essential functions I would otherwise take for granted. These prayers have added resonance now in late middle age, when diamonds may still be a girl’s best friend, but a handy tube of joint relief cream is a close second.
And yet, after declaring my thankfulness, I look in the mirror and wonder, when will the magic of my age-defying, super-revitalizing, advanced-repairing, cell-regenerating face cream made with revolutionary biotechnology kick in? Then I remind myself that every one of those models in the magazine ads have been airbrushed.
These mixed messages about aging can drive me crazy. On one hand, 50 is supposedly the new 30. People start second careers and second families in their 40s or later. Life expectancy in the U.S. is now close to 80, and the population of nonagenarians has tripled in the last three decades. But for all the cheerleading about how great the second half of life is, we dare not look like we are getting older.
Having lived my whole adult life within a faith community, I have observed that most of the women I know who look the youngest “after a certain age” are the women whose focus in life has been primarily spiritual. Their beauty is wholesome, reflecting an intangible but distinct spiritual centeredness. It reflects kindness, faith and confidence. It is lovely and often luminous.
I still splurge on the occasional pricey jar of “regenerating” anti-oxidant face creams, and welcome compliments that I look younger than my years. But I know that aging gracefully and beautifully doesn’t have to cost a sinewy arm and a muscular leg. The best beauty “secret” we have is what’s in our hearts, not what we’ve injected into our faces.