Aging can change our focus and our choices—do we want health or beauty?
We’ve made it through the danger years, our teens, early twenties when experimentation was the order of the day. Everyone tried smoking—and many chose from the smorgasbord of not-so healthy drug, alcohol and sexual lifestyle choices. Living on the edge? Most likely. Thinking about our health? Most unlikely. Didn’t we all think we would live forever?
Beauty Was the Goal
But beauty—that mattered. In the early boomer years many tanned. No one talked about sun damage or skin cancer from UVA or UVB rays. We just slathered on the iodine and baby oil. Would we have stopped if we’d known the current research? Maybe not. I tanned and did spray tanning. Research changed that. Now I fervently wish research could undo my sun damage and prevent all skin cancers.
Focusing on beauty also meant
- Wearing shoes that were glamorous but hurt feet, made walking difficult, and caused permanent foot problems
- Dying or perming hair until the cuticle became dry and straw-like
- Buying clothing that was in style, but did nothing for body shape
- Eating anything or eating nothing—again, all about beauty concerns
Self-Discovery Drove Us
Some choices were driven by fashion, some by watching others, but most by just trying to discover who we were and how we wanted to present ourselves to the world. We blew with the winds of change—we just didn’t have a focus. We were immortal; health was not a particular concern.
Looking back boomers see the irony of some of our choices. Youth has its own beauty. The shoes, the clothing just enhanced what we already had. Jacque Lynn Foltyn PhD professor of sociology writes: “Any self-presentation is a performance; it is a way of communicating to others about who you are.”
Certainly definitions of beauty have always been various, they change with the times—Rubens painted overly rounded women with paper-white skin—the essence of beauty then. Beauty resides in the eye of the beholder.
What Do We See in the Mirror Today?
But for boomers, focusing on health is now the better choice. A healthy body radiates an inner glow, is active, pain-free, useful, thus communicating a beauty you can’t get out of a jar—happiness. As smarter, older body-owners, we learn as we go!
Carl Rogers the 20th century psychologist stated: “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself as I am, then I change.” We boomers don’t need mirrors anymore to know who we are. We’ve arrived. We can go from here. The focus becomes obvious—it’s time to focus on health.
Dr. Andrew Weil in a recent interview stated: “There’s a difference between acceptance of a natural and inevitable process and lying down and giving up. Acceptance of aging can be something that’s positive, joyful, enthusiastic. It isn’t rolling over and waiting for life to crush you.”
Research: “The End of History Illusion”
So ask yourself: “Will there be more change from this point on?” An honest answer is YES. Of course. But a recent Harvard University study found that many of us assume we’ll be exactly the same, if maybe a bit more wrinkled, in ten years. Researchers are calling this “the end of history illusion.”
Psychologist Daniel Gilbert, after surveying 19,000 people between 18 and 68, found that the majority could not imagine changing as much in the future as they already had in the past to make it to their current age. Gilbert writes: “All of us seem to have this sense that development is a process that has delivered us to this point and now we’re done…The end of history illusion helps to explain why people marry questionable partners or make financial-planning decisions they come to regret.”
Health and Wise Choices
Health or beauty? Answer: health and constant change—which means more than just a few more wrinkles. Certainly we boomers are benefitting from lifesaving research. Women now know that menopause doesn’t have to lead to a dowager hump or kyphosis of the spine, that frequent weight bearing exercise and taking calcium and vitamin D has meant avoiding the effects of osteoporosis. Change can certainly be positive—strengthening the body, achieving greater endurance. And don’t take the word risk out of your vocabulary. “You gain self-confidence when you take a risk,” writes Foltyn. “It may help you make other changes in your life.” A new home, a different kind of vacation? You have years of experience to help you make wise choices.
While Dr. Weil encourages being active and vigorous, he also warns that we should occasionally look into the mirror of reality and be good judges of what our bodies can handle. “Let go of things as you change. What is appropriate earlier in life may not be appropriate later in life.” If a person’s body is telling them to quit a sport, “…there is a very high risk for serious injury, which is going to prevent them from doing any kind of activity.”