When Age Finds Beauty

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If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then why did I spend so many years listening to media messages about beauty instead of beholding my own beauty?  The dominant beauty message is designed to sell products – i.e. clothes, creams, and cosmetics – and it defines beauty as young, full lipped, but seldom full hipped.

I’ve found that as one ages, that message can become louder if you let it. Social media pushes all kinds of products to me – tummy tucks, Botox, hair color, wrinkle creams. Enough! I’m done listening. These days I hear something else.

I hear women taking ownership of beauty and shutting down the media. Actress Jamie Lee Curtis fought dominant image messages in 2002 by posing on the cover of More magazine in a sports bra and boy shorts, no airbrushing, no retouching. She was 43 with graying hair, a little extra tummy and ‘flabby thighs.’ She may have been the first, but many more women have followed her. At 60, she’s an AARP child still promoting beauty – real human beauty – not the Hollywood kind. Beauty that speaks beyond hair color, skin tone, and body shape or weight. The beauty of the soul of a human.

For years, I made the best of what I had with stylish clothes, carefully applied make-up, and a decent hair cut (years of hair color). Still, my thick thighs, stocky legs, and heavy ankles perplexed me. Finding a pair of jeans to fit both my waist and my thighs was a continual challenge. I was ecstatic when jeans legs loosened in the mid-1980s and thrilled when trouser jeans hit the market. Boyfriend and relaxed are two of my favorite words.

Though my jean styles changed, my legs remained the same. Those peasant legs came down from my great-grandmother to my grandmother to my mom and to me. The ‘Miller legs’ we call them in my family. As in, ‘That poor child got the Miller legs.’

These are the legs of farm people. Legs designed for fieldwork – sturdy and dependable. Attractive, not so much, but oh, the places these legs have taken me.

They’ve carried me up and down mountains in West Virginia, Utah, and Colorado. Tramped through corn, soybean, and hay fields in Ohio. Pounded pavements in Paris, Florence, Madrid, Beijing, Shanghai and points closer to home – New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, and our own Charlotte and Raleigh. These legs, the small feet with their misshapen toes, dipped joyously into the Grand Canal in Venice, stood steady in sinking sands estuaries in Costa Rica, and frolicked in both the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans. They held firm in yoga’s Tadasana, mountain pose and Virabhadrasana, warrior pose. As the years have passed, they do sway a bit in Vrksasana, tree pose, like an oak tree when the wind rises.

Did you know that the average 80-year-old woman has walked over 110,000 miles in her lifetime? To put that in perspective, the Earth is 24,901 miles in circumference. You may walk around the world more than four times in your life!

Thank your feet, your ugly toes, and your legs of all shapes and sizes.

Film star Betty Grable insured her legs for a million dollars. Celebrities often insure their body parts – buttocks are popular – think Jennifer Lopez, Kim Kardashian. But most of us aren’t celebrities. We’re regular folks with regular bodies. Bodies that work hard for us every day. Bodies we sometimes don’t think twice about, until they don’t work. Or until they fail us completely.

A few weeks ago, I had a bit of arrhythmia. Last time it happened, I was hospitalized for a week. A cardioversion – the doctor stops your heart and starts it again – set me right.  This time the irregular heartbeat stopped on its own. I felt lucky. No worries.

That’s how most of us treat our bodies, with no worry, until your heart skips a beat, the newspaper print appears to have shrunk, and friends’ voices sound softer. Luckily, most of those are minor irritants and easily fixed.  

But that’s not true for many Americans. Heart disease, cancer, depression, constant pain, anxiety – plague several of my friends. Yet they face each day as it comes. They celebrate good days and make it through bad ones. They are too busy living life to waste time worried about media images. They are beautiful.

I’m claiming my beauty. I’m thankful for my gorgeous thighs, solid ankles, and small feet with misshapen toes that still dance to BB King. I love my silver hair that glows in the moonlight. I smile thinking of the laughing out loud that added lines at the corner of my eyes.

Mostly, I’m thankful for the nearly 80,000-mile-long path on which those sturdy, peasant legs have carried me. I’m slipping into my flip flops ready for the next 30,000 miles.  

Kate M. Carey lives and writes in Lexington, NC while counting the days until she can retire to the beach.

 




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