How do we age gracefully in a world where the appearance of youth, and everything that comes along with it, is what’s valued above all? Now that’s a big question — and it’s one that’s been circling the drain since the beginning of time. Think about it. Why are we so desperately anxious to cling to the skin, the eyes, the forehead, the tummy, the breasts we had long ago? Why do so many of us go under the knife and change ourselves so dramatically (a la Renee Zellweger) that our natural features are barely recognizable? I wonder this a lot. And not in a judgemental way. In an existential, what’s-up-with-our-world way.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could just accept ourselves, in the skin we’re in, at the age we’re at?
I know it’s not easy. I’m a 46-year old model. I’ve been living in the crazy narcissistic, looks-obsessed world of fashion for twenty-seven years. I’ve been witness to the unrelenting pressure on women to remain youthful, vital, plump, and nubile. At all costs.
I know there will always be younger women whose faces are more taut and dewy than mine. I also know I’ve got life experience and wisdom in my face and my bearing. But those are not necessarily qualities that are valued in the circles I travel.
For the record, I’m not against small improvements or enhancements. I’m not ashamed to admit that to counteract too many years of frowning, I’ve had two tiny units of Botox injected between my brows. It was not only tempting, but easy. It was my birthday gift from my best friend, whose husband just happens to be a plastic surgeon. It was also a pretty great way to spend a girls’ afternoon out. Because I’m not your typical model, I have never represented what the industry calls regular size, which, believe it or not, is a size 2. In fact, I’m a good five times that size which, while far more relatable for most women, is not the size that shows off the clothes the way most designers envision. It’s the regular models, who are meant to be merely hangers for the clothes, who live in fear of gaining even one ounce.
You have no idea the measures they take to avoid putting on the pounds. Even more than weight gain, models fear getting older. Wrinkles, loss of skin tone, lines–those are things we can’t control by eating bags of iceberg lettuce. These physical changes signal the inevitable beginning to the end. Because for every age-appropriate model or actress at an open casting call for the newest menopause drug, there will be two girls fifteen years her junior.
Now, I can bet my sagging (but still sexy) bottom that they’d sell far fewer anti-aging products if the ad featured a woman who actually looks like she uses them. We’ve made small steps in this area, but not enough. So how do we change that?
It’s the sad reality of a woman aging and I have to confess that it drives me nuts. To compensate, I repeat my mantra over and over: Embrace your experience, wisdom, wrinkles. You’ve earned them. But it’s not always easy to listen to my inner voice.
So far, genetics have been good to me. Thankfully, I’ve got just enough weight on me to keep a youthful plumpness in my face. I have my fair share of self-inflicted sun damage (resulting in a not-so-little brown spot on my cheek that is sweetly shaped as a heart). I don’t wear sunglasses all the time and have the lines to prove it. I don’t feel the need to alter any of it, at least not yet. I’m getting away with modeling clothes for the mature woman, and I like my reflection in the mirror.
I do wonder if the day will come when I’ll no longer be able embrace my aging chin, sagging lids, or crow’s feet. It’s hard to talk about cosmetic surgery without feeling judgy. Despite its popularity, its still a controversial subject, and women are often the first ones to criticize choices that run contrary to their own. What’s the difference between a celebrity who does a complete facial overhaul and your average suburban gal who has a regular 6-month Juviderm shot? While an actress is worried about being cast in her next lead role, your typical woman just wants to look a little fresher at the next social function. Perhaps it’s just varying degrees of dissatisfaction with ourselves and our aging process. Or it’s something that runs much deeper, ingrained in the psyche of those who seek a life in the public eye.
I do know that it can be agonizing to live a life where so much rides on how you look. From the time my daughter was three, we shared a morning ritual — one that I still repeat every day. We’d look in the mirror and I’d ask her to tell me one thing she liked about herself. At first, her responses were cute: I like my jammies. As a teen, she found it harder but I’d force her to find something. Today, it’s hard to stare myself down and say I love that face. But I do.
If I learned one thing as a model, it’s this: If your self-esteem is diminished, even slightly, there isn’t a compliment or cosmetic procedure out there that will help. Not even a perfectly chiseled nose, pouty lips, flatter tummy, or fuller breasts will fill that void inside of you.
And so I challenge you today to check yourself out in the mirror and ask one question: What do I see that I love?
Jane Pearlman is a busy model in Toronto. After 27 years in front of a camera, and two years working as personal shopper, she has taken her love of all things stylish and created a wardrobe consulting business called Dressed By Jayne. Jane is passionate about assisting women of all sizes in defining and embracing their own signature style. Her mantra — Style is a way to say who you are without having to speak — is what fuels her desire to guide women in achieving what feels right for them. When she’s not working or trekking around in her dream vehicle ( a Jeep Sahara) with her Great Dane, Jane is a complete home body, content to entertain at home with her man (who happens to be a chef!), her kids, and a gorgeous glass of red.