Monday 5 December 2016

Breathing space: Coming of age

Obsession with looking younger can cancel out the advantages of getting older

Published 28/04/2015 | 02:30

Getting better with age: George Clooney
Getting better with age: George Clooney

Female readers will know all about the hair colouring treatment known as 'masking'. For the uninitiated, it's a stop-gap tint, applied to the hairline and parting, that's designed to cover grey roots in between more extensive appointments with the colourist.

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It costs less money, takes less time and is a life-saver for many women. I used to get a couple of weeks out of a masking treatment. These days I'm lucky to get three/four days. Is there a masking treatment that you can get in between masking treatments? Or maybe I need to invest in one of those mascara-style grey root touch-up wands, Clairol Nice'n Easy or a wide-brimmed hat.

Either way, I really don't know how much longer I can keep this up...

I envy men's grooming routines, which generally entail no more than a 15-minute visit to the barber shop every six weeks and some Nivea moisturiser if they're feeling fancy.

Can you imagine how much more time we women would have if we weren't colouring, tweezing, waxing, lasering, scrubbing, peeling, buffing, painting and smoothing?

Men don't go grey. They get the much more fetchingly phrased "salt-and-pepper hair" before becoming "silver foxes". They can relax into their maturity in a society that tells them they "get better with age". Just look at George Clooney! (But just don't mention male-pattern baldness and pot bellies.)

If men age better than women, it is not because of their sex chromosomes, rather it is because of the confidence that comes from believing that age is kinder to their sex, and the ease that comes from surrendering to ­the process.

Women, however, are terrified of the ageing process. We fight it tooth and nail with all manner of lotion and potions. The irony is that the fear of looking older blocks the flow of the only fountain of youth - happiness. Vitality comes from within and real, transcendent beauty is fundamentally a reflection of how we feel inside. Is it any coincidence that the people that look fantastic for their age are generally those with the greatest lust for life?

Dr Christiane Northrup explores this mind-body connection in Goddesses Never Age: The Secret Prescription for Radiance, Vitality, and Well-Being. "Your beliefs and thoughts are wired into your biology," she writes. "They become your cells, tissues, and organs. There's no supplement, no diet, no medicine, and no exercise regimen that can compare with the power of your thoughts and beliefs".

More to the point, when we agonise over wrinkles and grey hair, we relinquish the gifts that come with age: wisdom, intuition, heightened emotional intelligence and self-realisation. "When a woman rises up in glory, her energy is magnetic and her sense of possibility contagious", writes author Marianne Williamson. But can a woman rise up to her full glory when she is preoccupied with the ever-changing proportions of her face? If a woman is obsessed with looking 10 years younger, does she sacrifice the advantages of becoming older?

Many women over the age of 40 report that they are the victims of a social phenomenon known as Invisible Woman Syndrome. They claim that they are ignored by society when they no longer have the blush of youth.

And yet I can't help but notice that some older women demand to be noticed. Invisible? I know women in their 50s and 60s that compel people to stand up when they walk into a room. They command respect... because they know they deserve it.

Older women were revered for their power in many ancient societies. They were leaders, advisors, mystics, sages and healers. They considered the menopause a journey towards enlightenment. Hot flushes were power surges.

What we casually refer to today as "female intuition" was once celebrated as a milestone in a woman's life cycle.

Sometimes, I wonder if the witch-hunts of the Middle Ages were a means of oppressing women that had simply tapped into the innate power that comes with age.

Elsewhere, many Jungian researchers write about the "crone" Goddess archetype, arguing that it should be celebrated as the phase in a woman's life when she comes into her full power.

It's easy to spot the women that have this power. They are comfortable in their skin, they radiate a sense of knowing and they are clearly not to be messed with. Susan Sarandon, Vanessa Redgrave and Helen Mirren are the obvious examples.

Women are bestowed with the gifts of age when they don't fixate on turning back the clock and instead accept ageing as a natural part of the life cycle. They trade youthful beauty for magnificence.

They don't grieve the young women they once were, rather they look forward to the wise women that they will become. "As long as we keep comparing ourselves to a younger, better self (who may have been better only in hindsight), we short-change the possibilities for becoming an older, wiser one," reminds Lewis Richmond in Ageing as a Spiritual Practice: A Contemplative Guide to Growing Older and Wiser.

Grey hair and wrinkles are rarely welcomed, but they don't have to be feared. The trick is to focus on the positives and to be mindful of the gifts that the ageing process bestows. It's not easy, but we don't have to make it so hard. Weekly masking treatments help too...

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