BEAUTY & SKINCARE

BEAUTYCALYPSE Guide to Age-Independent Beauty #3

Ageing gracefully, what is that exactly? – Today’s episode lays out how to leave your fears behind and embrace living and ageing.

The Psychology of Ageing Gracefully

After addressing the amazing power of good posture for looking more fit and toned, after talking about the importance of healthy habits, it’s this reader email that was the impulse for us to look at the psychological side of ageing for BEAUTYCALYPSE Guide to Age-Independent Beauty #3:

“…My mirror image doesn’t reflect the youth within me anymore. I am thorn, painfully, between the option of plastic surgery and the ubiquitous ‘aging gracefully’. Am I graceful still if I don’t recognise myself in the mirror? Sometimes I’m okay, but sometimes I think, well, maybe just a little bit of surgery will be enough to feel better…” 

Joining me today to explore the abundance of the so called “graceful ageing” is my dear friend, clinical/ behavioural psychologist specialising, among other things, in psycholinguistics, Dr. Dr. Olesya Sharaya. She sees patients in a private practice and teaches at her Alma Mater, Moscow State University.
Nath:
– Sooo. Here we are today, talking about our favourite topic since we were kids: how we’re all gonna die.

Olesya laughs.

Nath:
– I’m serious though! We’re so vulnerable to ageing, to being labelled “old”, you can sell anything with the promise of an eternal youth. I’m not saying it’s a new phenomenon because it certainly isn’t, what I’m saying is – it’s being perpetuated and even promoted more than ever in this day and age.

Olesya:
– The root of this is the narcissist hunt for an ideal self, a total obsession with your own self. There are more interesting things out there in the world to be explored than the self-centred navel gazing, than the “all happens to ME for a reason”-belief. No, things just happen. You just happened. It’s good to remind yourself of this from time to time.
Things tend to derail when an individual perceives his or her self as Different, sometimes up to the level of “I’m Immortal”. Add our modern society’s ubiquitous infantilism, and the strongly promoted narcissism – and you can sell magic pills all you want.

Nath:
– It strikes me though that people who want “to live forever” or who obsess with looking young for as long as possible would often undergo a massive amount of surgery (and you always need to consider potential risks) rather than simply rely on keeping their bodies fit and healthy with consistent health and skincare routines and a healthy balanced diet. In my opinion nothing is easier and less risky than that!

Olesya:
– Interestingly, the desire to cut yourself to pieces in order to look good can come from a place of masochism, a place of no self-love – it’s almost like punishing your own body for its looking “wrong”. Ageing is life after all. To anyone with a healthy sense of self, the desire to be healthy, to be whole, wholesome is normal. There is self-acceptance in real yoga, for example, there is self-respect. In this frame and with this mindset, the very thought of cutting up a healthy body for no medical reason at all would appear weird indeed.

Nath:
– Don’t you think that there’s a lot of societal pressure? Particularly on women?

Olesya:
– Of course there is. It has always been there, society pressure, family pressure. But if you dig deeper, the fear of ageing is basically the fear of death. It’s a substitute fear.
It’s the deepest mirror you can look into, your own personal fear of death and its many strings that pull on you. If, rather than being distracted by superficial self-preoccupation and by slowly getting into dangerous self-alienation (we do this to protect ourselves from our own painful feelings by distancing ourselves from them), we face that mirror, if we look consciously at what our fears throw back at us, this is when we can see and decide what we truly want in life. This gives us strength, this makes us less fearful of the signs of aging. If your days are filled with purpose and meaning, you care less about mere outer appearance.
Remember: ageing means you’re alive. Some hundred years ago people would appreciate getting old as opposed to, you know, getting killed by an incurable illness.

Nath:
– That’s pretty accurate. I know that my great grandparents had – I think – some fourteen children together, and only five or six made it to their teenage years! This is fascinating and frightening at once. But apart from this brutal, let’s say, mediation on fear, what are some of your tips for people to stop agonising about wrinkles?

Olesya:
– A healthy daily hygiene surely is helpful: diet, exercise… But it’s also beneficial to start seeing ageing as a thing of grace, of status, as an opportunity to gain wisdom. In Asia for example, the elders are faced with respect. This is something that has been lost in most parts of the Western world, unfortunately – but wouldn’t it be great if you, too, aged to become a wise, kind, experienced person? Someone people seek advice from? Someone who is treated with respect?

Nath:
– Yes! I’ll be the nasty one here and say “It’s hard to respect an eternal hipster”. It’s easy to respect a craftsperson, a very literate or much-travelled elderly person, a wonderful parent or just generally a kind and enjoyable person though.

Olesya:
– There is certainly truth to that. Any healthy individual wants the benefits of age, after all our bodies are getting more fragile. So in exchange, our experience grows and becomes more abundant and more valuable, well – it does ideally.

Nath:
– More advice?

Olesya:
– We should also learn to differ between real and fake self-love and self-appreciation. For while it’s great to have the fitness, and it’s great to be able to protect your body and to preserve your health, it’s actually quite pathetic to try to look thirty when you’re seventy. There’s no dignity in that.

***

Olesya’s tips for facing ageing the healthy way:
1. You are not alone. Everything and everyone that lives, ages. The desire to live is universal, and not exclusive to you alone.
2. Have trust that your body has all the wisdom to handle all stages of life.
3. Help your body and mind to stay fit and healthy by adopting healthy habits and exercise (body and mind, don’t forget!).
4. Research suggests that people with a habit of prayer or meditation lead happier lives and worry less. Give it a go.
5. Find a healthy balance of self-love and outwards interests. Enjoy your life!