Dubai: "The maturing of a woman who has continued to grow is a beautiful thing to behold." In her seminal work, The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women, celebrated American author and activist Naomi Wolf gives us these lines that work as indelible graffiti on a woman's mind.
And as with anything indelible which is also disturbingly true, it can be defaced beyond legibility if a woman struggling under the enormity of facing up to this truth chooses to do so.
Or she can refer to it as a guiding lesson in life to enjoy the true liberation of mind, body and spirit it symbolises.
Wolf brings a poetic touch to the organic inevitability of ageing by upholding the fundamental laws of aesthetics which work best when the continuum of growth is not interfered with.
The crucial thing to understand here is the true essence of the term ‘growth'. It is more about a natural seamless progression of the self than the cultivated ‘I' as a response to one's deepest fears of our own selves.
For example, describing the effect of time on a woman's face, Wolf says, "The skin loosens on her face and throat, giving her features a setting of sensual dignity... She has looked around in her life and it shows… The darkening under her eyes, the weight of her lids, their minute cross-hatching, reveal that what she has been part of has left in her its complexity and richness. She is darker, stronger, looser, tougher…"
For most women today, anti-ageing in its essence is not so much a refusal to atrophy with time but a punishing routine of denying their true self the freedom to grow and live in a natural state of grace. In these days of image-obsessed living, not many people will agree that ageing is an evolutionary necessity that teaches us to respect the logic of life in its purest form. The mindless pursuit of anti-age often has us crash into stark realities without warning, leading to emotionally crippling results. It's a fate that escapes those who see ageing as a privileged rite of passage.
Chris Orapello, an American artist, painter and illustrator, who seeks the coupling of form and function in various degrees in everything he does, says of the aesthetics of growing old: "There is a beauty in things from the past due to their allure and timelessness, and people are much the same. In people I often see the past in the present.
"For example, I have known much older women who had a beauty to them, even though they were more than double my age. I find that there is an appreciation which I have developed over time that results in my acceptance for how people appear now in their old age because of who they were and may have appeared years before."
As opposed to the freedom that comes from the acceptance of one's advancing age, the tyranny of yearning to stay eternally young can be unbearable.
Think of two women, both in their 50s: one, unconcerned about her weight gain, her more pliant face and the final adieu of flawlessness faces the mirror with a smile on her face and enjoys an uncluttered routine of stepping out of home.
The other woman, terrified by her sight in the mirror, slaves away for hours to conceal, correct and control her image before being able to face the world.
Being young, says Orapello, is a state of mind "and there is nothing more beautiful than an honest laugh and a smile born in sincerity. After all, is age an imperfection and lacking in beauty or is it simply a changed beauty, one not often appreciated, valued, or noticed as time goes on? Culturally speaking, at least in American culture, youth and beauty… are often viewed as being synonymous with each other, which is also a misrepresentation."
What he finds truly dangerous, however, is the obsession with beauty, ‘fandom', and idolisation.
"[This obsession] has the potential to be more destructive especially if one isn't happy with who one is, because whether they like it or not that's who they'll ever be. I think finding a sense of personal beauty and personal acceptance is directly linked to knowledge and realisation of one's unique self."
This quest for one's true self however needs a moment of time in space every day to embark on. The diurnality of one's compressed fears of how others see us leaves us with little time for this quest. And the giant source of input of these fears to which we are all plugged into every day is — popular culture. How can we distance ourselves from it?
"It's a Catch-22," says Orapello.
"I think media and popular culture promote the obsession for looking young because people allow them to. The only reason youth and beauty is used so much by the media to sell merchandise is because it works. If it stopped working, they would stop using it because they want to sell their products and make money."
The onus to get out of this crush then is individualistic. Inner knowing is the permanent pill to cure the rising panic of a daily, arduous outer knowledge hunt.
As Orapello puts it, "We tend to think that we only have to learn who we are once in life. Not true. As we age, we change and we need to rediscover who we are from time to time. Relationships change us. Friendships change us. Jobs change us. Tragedies change us. The world is a big place and there is always something to experience and learn, and by doing this we can help who we are and how we feel about who we are as well."