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Health & Lifestyle

Aging Like a Pioneer Woman

Don't let middle-age malaise set in. Call in the cavalry. Get serious about looking and feeling better

By Elizabeth Newdom

On a trip to New York City with my husband and young son last spring, I was struck by the number of beautiful young women everywhere. Women with long yellow hair, women with long brown hair, women with long black hair. There was so much long hair, I began to see these women as members of a herd.

I longed to grab onto one of their manes and ride off into the sunset of twinkling street lamps.

Maybe this species of wild beasts would take me to her leader and return me with my own glorious locks — and perhaps a decade or two younger. That’d be nice, I thought.

I was 44, and I’d had a tough year psychologically. I no longer possessed that laissez-faire attitude I had toward my looks in my twenties and thirties. To be honest, though, being attractive was fairly effortless back then. One pair of tall black boots and I breezed through two entire decades, looking like I’d stepped out of a Times Square billboard (or maybe a J. Crew catalog, but you get the gist).

Once I reached my forties, I kept traveling back down the alleyways of memory, galloping after my former selves. The one I chased the hardest was 26-year-old me, caught up in the moment, exploring coffee shops and reading pub flyers, oblivious to men’s awareness of her. She was attempting red lipstick for the first time and feigning enough confidence to sport a leather jacket the color of western saddles in the sun.

I missed this elusive breed who favored diners and cigarettes, who could eat 2,000 calories in one sitting, day after day, and never have to loosen her belt, her tight jeans staying perfectly snug in all the right places. She was adventurous, too, taking off across country on her trail of freedom, creating a new life on a foreign coast.

She had grit, and man, she was beautiful. Without even trying.

But I was wearing out my running shoes in pursuit of her, working too hard to catch the clopping horse hooves echoing in the distance.

And then, something happened, a turning point.

The summer after that New York trip, I stopped gracefully accepting the tightness of my old “Life is Good” tees and the middle-age malaise that was setting in — and decided to call in the cavalry. I got serious about feeling and looking better.

And so can you.

It’s simple. Just take a long, hard look in the mirror, have one last cry in the shower, and start forging a new path. Here’s how:

  1. Stop comparing yourself to those young women at work. To those young women in coffee shops, at the mall, on TV, etc. They may have smoother skin and more inches between their thighs than you, but that’s beside the point. Wait, where was I?
  2. Stop wearing the clothes that make you feel old. Trash at least some of those you outgrew 15 years ago or that are hopelessly out of style. If you have even a tiny bit of extra cash (say, from that recent tax refund), invest in yourself. Buy one new thing — something that makes you feel Good. Young. Alive. Maybe it’s just a bright scarf or a new shade of lipstick.
  3. Stop feeling like you’re going to ruin your purist image if you dye those gray hairs. Come on. I swore I’d never sell out like that but after seeing what a few blond highlights can do, I wondered why I was holding myself to some silly standard of purity. For whom are you trying to be a purist anyway?
  4. Stop eating food that you can’t digest anymore and that is just plain bad for you. You’re grown now and this is important. For one month, cut out something you don’t think you can do without, like sugar, bread, or cheese. See how your body responds. Then cut out one more thing. You might be surprised to learn what life without dairy, sugar, or gluten feels — and looks — like.
  5. Stop buying into excuses that you can’t exercise, that you are too tired, busy, or old. Even if you don’t magically shed the muffin top from a quick jog around the block a couple times a week, you will feel better. And feeling better means feeling younger.
  6. Most importantly, start capitalizing on your strengths. Focus on the inner beauty you have earned in your lifetime. Wisdom and humor are far sexier than a perfect figure or long, flowing locks.

Now go out there and spread the word. Fortysomething can be a beginning, a time to stop chasing wild horses, to blaze a new trail, to age like a pioneer woman.

  1. Karen DeBonis

    Elizabeth, I LOVE this attitude!! I think each woman has to define for herself what “beautiful” is. It could be those blond highlights, or my “is it blond or grey? toner. But the point is to not give up on feeling beautiful, because it IS possible at any age.

  2. Elaine Campbell

    “Stop wearing the clothes that make you feel old.”
    This is where I need the most help. I’m 62 and in fairly good shape, yet…I somehow manage to look frumpy no matter what I wear, or perhaps it’s what I’m wearing.

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