A friend in her 60s who has kept her trademark long blonde hair joined me for breakfast looking twenty years younger in a hip maxi dress and shell jewellery after her daily two hour yoga session and swapped notes on her latest travels to exotic destinations. Later that day another friend in her 70s met me for lunch looking customarily chic with her signature jet-black chignon, red lips and nails and an amazing caftan she’d picked up on a recent trip to Mexico (bearing in mind Mexico is not a usual destination for Australians) all in defiance of the usual grey cloak of invisibility recommended for ‘the older woman’. Another friend still kayaks every day, and when we met was sporting terrific jewellery designed by her daughter and talking of heading off to work in Africa, while a medical friend who has recently survived breast cancer had a hip short hairdo and a spring in her step with a great new love interest she’d found via an online dating service.
These women are all well over the age regarded as ‘senior’ in our society and while there wasn’t a pastel blouse or elasticized waist in sight, neither was there to my expert eye any overt evidence of too-obvious tweaking suggesting an obsession with trying to ‘look young’.
What they did have however was a noticeable disregard for any type of ageist stereotyping in regards to their appearance and although one or two of them had possibly had some work done, none of it was at all obvious and their youthful appearance seemed to owe more to a lively, active engagement with the world around them and a continuing pursuit of careers or passions – or both. At breakfasts and lunches I was constantly amazed and impressed by these women, some of whom I’d known for decades, all fit and attractive-looking and in a couple of cases (interestingly the two older women) downright gorgeous.
Not once in conversation did any of these women define her appearance by her age or complain about looking old and most of them seemed to have exciting projects lined up for at least the next year.
As trite as it may seem, as a cosmetic medicine practitioner I still believe that much of our beauty comes from within. As much as I enjoy the pleasure of enhancing and improving upon Mother Nature for my clients, I have noticed over the years that the best outcomes both for me and my clients seem to be with women who feel inspired by life and are reasonably content within themselves. Of course as a doctor I realize that not everyone has a happy life and naturally even happy people suffer periods of difficulty and stress, however while it may be easy to hide a negative outlook or unhappy heart when we’re young, as we age the effects of emotions such as deep seated unhappiness, undealt-with grief, chronic stress or lingering resentment become increasingly easy to see etched on our faces. Although for some women this may go unheeded, for others it can have quite a negative feedback effect and they become increasingly focused on and unhappy with how they look. Sensing that something is not right they then blame their appearance and start seeking more and more cosmetic procedures in a bid to try and restore their confidence and self-esteem – usually not with good results. Sadly even though the underlying issues may be readily perceived by a cosmetic medicine/surgery practitioner they are rarely addressed by us, as dealing with, or even mentioning possible emotional issues falls outside the scope or expertise of most cosmetology visits.
While ‘being happy’ or stress-free is easier said than done especially in these troubled economic times, and numerous books have been written on these topics, with our advancing maturity should come a maturing of our relationship with ourselves and our world – hopefully resulting in a better relationship with our faces. Although we age differently these days to women of previous generations and much is now available to keep us looking and feeling younger than ever before, it is still almost impossible to imagine a truly attractive older woman who didn’t have an active mind, care for herself and others, involve herself in the world around her, maintain close and nurturing relationships with friends and family, keep as healthy a body as she could – and of course maintain a sense of humour and perspective.
Our core beings are ultimately reflected on our faces. Happiness and being at peace with oneself and one’s world are not the whole story, however in my opinion these are the real ‘beauty essentials’ which go toward creating and maintaining the genuine inner radiance which arranges our features, consciously or unconsciously, into those of a woman who is truly beautiful – at any age.
Dr Sheena Burnell is an Australian-trained medical doctor currently living and working in Shanghai. Although her primary qualification is in anaesthesiology, she has also received training in cosmetic medicine and has a particular interest in the use of injectables such as Botox and fillers as well as laser for facial rejuvenation. Dr Burnell also has interests in art, music, wine education and Chinese textiles, and writes regularly for several publications.