Feeling pressured to look younger

Q: As a woman on the cusp of turning 40, I have felt the effects of middle age creep in. I’m also beginning to feel overwhelmed with increasing expectations to fight the appearance of aging. Where is the balance between looking my best but not going overboard and spending so much time and money in order to look younger?

A: This can be a rabbit hole. Your question points to a common internal conflict for the mindful and budget-conscious modern woman.

Kudos for checking-in with yourself before getting mired in one procedure after another. I always shriek when I see the woman whose addiction to plastic surgery has turned her face into a hybrid of a cheetah and Bozo the clown, or the over-Botoxed woman who looks like an emotionless cyborg with lips stung by a hive of bees. Sadly, her lack of expression prevents her from connecting as one human to another, one person’s furrowed brow to another person’s smile dimples.

We must be careful when we tamper with our finely evolved bodily systems: You mess with one, you confuse another.

You might balk at the bizarre beauty rituals luring the aging American woman while at the same time find them hard to resist.

Similar to mothers who insist they will raise their daughters gender neutral and free from Barbie doll culture (only to find little Suzie obsessed with tutu skirts and princesses) there is a pernicious force that leads even the most natural woman to resign herself to an age-preventing beauty technique here and there. Which is just fine, as long as you are not enslaved to them.

Men are not immune to the pressures to look younger, but since our culture prioritizes power and financial success for men over appearance, the standards are not as stringent. Men can let their weight or hairline rise and still be seen as attractive as long as they are professionally successful.

If you feel you cannot keep up with all the waxing, lasering, tweezing, coloring, cutting, curling, bleaching, tanning, painting and exfoliating (which can cost a mini-fortune), stop and ask yourself, “Who am I doing this for, anyway?” If your crow’s-feet or claw foot is a deal breaker for someone, they are not worth your time.

Also ask yourself, where is the pressure coming from? Your friends, partner, media or from within? Messages to defy aging are ubiquitous in the media. I suggest you stop reading fashion magazines and avoid television commercials and certain feeds on social media.

Notice just how much time the whole beauty rigamarole adds up to over the course of a week. Then think about all the other ways you could spend that time.

That being said, you get to pick and choose which of these regimens might be fun on occasion. Maybe you enjoy a pedicure because it feels good on your aching feet? In which case do it, enjoy it and feel no guilt.

Now for my bumper sticker-esque proverb: How you feel within determines your outer beauty. The more passion and gratitude you have for your life and your purpose, the younger you will look. Inner zest and peace begets outer vitality — that, plus sleep, hydration, reducing stress, healthy eating and exercise.

No matter how much money or time you spend competing or comparing yourself to others who look younger than you, I am here from the future to tell you that we all lose the battle against the clock. You are getting older, end of story.

Put your energy towards living out your bucket list and spending time with people you love.

Beyond that, hats off to enjoying the feeling of shaved legs, a new pedicure or a youthful looking outfit from time to time if you choose, knowing that these can be fun momentarily but are not going to turn back time. These activities can never hide the truth behind each of your wrinkles, which represent the hard-earned wisdom of a life well lived.

Dr. Rachel Allyn is a licensed psychologist in private practice. Learn more about her unique style of therapy at DrRachelAllyn.com. Send questions to [email protected].