After the Blush of Youth, What is Beauty?

Via Erica Leibrandt
on Sep 18, 2013
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Now that I am “old” (43) I see something I wish I’d seen when I had it: the beauty of youth.

In my younger years, I considered my appearance to be grossly flawed.

And it was, by the standards of beauty which were waved like twisted flags in my face everywhere I turned. Even though this was the dark ages, and I didn’t have the additional horror of continually streaming media battering my consciousness, I still got the message loud and clear.

I was not beautiful.

And the corollary; beauty is all that matters for a girl.

When I look back, I know what I was seeing. An awkwardly tall, plain faced, overweight kid who had no idea how to be the person she wanted to be.

What I missed was the things I see now in all children, plain or not.

Hair, whatever color it was meant to be, growing unapologetically with whatever texture it was meant to be as well. The miracle of young skin, cool when caressed with the back of a hand, hot while sleeping or fevered and tucked into freshly laundered sheets. Teeth, and the gaps between them, in all stages from baby to adolescent. Teeth that have not yet tasted coffee or wine, and resonate innocence in their crooked splendor. Dirty fingernails and clear eyes, the smell of crayons and mud and grass, a brain that believes in magic.

I can see these things now because I am older, because I have children, and because hindsight is 20/20.

But what beauty in myself am I still missing? When I glance back at me at 43 from the (not so) distant horizon of 82, what will I wish I could have appreciated now?

Strong legs? A healthy sex life? Long hair? A sound mind?

I suspect I’ll see all that and more; things I could never predict now.

I recently mentioned (somewhat naively) to my mother that “aging wasn’t bothering me as much as I thought it might.”

“Just wait,” she said.

I remember her, when I was fifteen or so, trying on a dress at Lord and Taylor’s, asking me how it looked. “Fine,” I’d said, just wanting to hurry up and get out of the dressing room.

“Really?” she replied. “Maybe you’re right. My legs still look pretty good from the knees down.” And she laughed, as if that was just fine. My fifteen year old self was horrified. How could you be satisfied with just “looking good from the knees down”? If I only looked good from the knees down, I’d hide in a locked closet until I died.

Or maybe not. I’m negligible above the knees lately myself.

I have Spanx in my wardrobe.

I haven’t worn them yet, but I expect to, and when I need them they’ll be there. I have jackets and pashminas too, because no one wants to see a 43 year old in a strapless dress, unless it’s Halle Berry, who clearly made some pact with the devil. I have eye creams, and face creams, skirted swimsuits and broad brimmed hats—all things I swore I would never ever resort to.

Such is the pride of youth. We think we have so much control.

And yet, I often feel beautiful. Despite my wrinkled eyes and my bad back and my butt that seems to creep an inch lower every month, I feel beautiful.

I’m not delusional. I see those pretty young girls in their twenties, prancing around (just as I did) in their heels and their smoky eyes, and I feel a pang. I’ll never be young again.

But what I am now feels so much better. I feel like myself. Like a person I created and earned and live as, rather than a warped reflection of what I am supposed to be. I’m not worrying so much about those flags that wave in my face anymore. They’re still there, but now I grab them, carefully roll them up and set them aside.

I’m looking forward to becoming more and more me, even as my body falls to pieces. By the time I die (not holed up in a closet due to shame, but out in the open, brazen, for all the world to see), I’ll be all heart, no body.

I would like to be known then as “The Smiling Woman.” A woman so beautiful, her age, her body, her clothes, her home and every other thing about her, except her smile, is irrelevant.

My teeth will be stained and my body bent, but my face will say,

“Thank you. Thank you for this beautiful life.”


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Ed: Cat Beekmans


About Erica Leibrandt

Erica Leibrandt is a licensed mental health clinician, certified yoga instructor, and mother to six heathens who masquerade as innocent children. If she occasionally finds herself with a fried egg on her plate or dancing until dawn, she asks that you not judge her. Life is short, she knows the chicken that laid the egg, and we can never dance too much. Connect with Erica on FacebookTwitter, and Tumblr. And visit her website.


4 Responses to “After the Blush of Youth, What is Beauty?”

  1. SDC says:

    Gosh, do I ever wish I had the insight to even think all of this through so clearly, at any age. But then I guess we wouldn't need writers like Erica to help us understand it. And regardless of what they look like, our bodies continue to serve many of us quite well up until the end. The older we get the more astonishing it seems! And sometimes the more awful they look or feel the better they serve us. The beauty of how the body works for us and fights for us and helps us survive becomes a whole new concept. How it looks becomes more irrelevant.

  2. Erica says:

    exactly what I was getting at!!

  3. CJM says:

    "I have jackets and pashminas too, because no one wants to see a 43 year old in a strapless dress" – that's a bold, generalized statement that I disagree with. It seems to me that you still haven't let go of the media brainwashing that you still don't fit the 20-something beauty mold, and that anything outside that 'norm' should cover up and hide itself. Be bold and brazen and out there, and leave the cover-up clothing behind. Wear what you want! Healthy women of any age can look gorgeous in a strapless gown.

    I think Helen Mirren pulls this look off way better and I'd much prefer to look at her any day over the slouching teen in the second photo:

  4. rashmidevi says: