Monday, May 2, 2011

Looks are deceiving—here’s how I deceive

Caution: Don’t read this if you’re bored by someone blathering on about her beauty routines, shopping rules, and age-defying practices. It’s self-indulgent, but aren’t most blogs?
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I know I don't look my age. I'm not gloating about it, but I enjoy hearing gasps when the real number of birthdays I've celebrated is announced. And I'm sure I'll stop announcing it as soon as the gasp turns into a casual “Uh huh.”

I credit the genes from my mother's side, but I also put a little work into it—sometimes a lot of work. People often ask for my "secret," as if I’m keeping the formula for the magic potion in my safety deposit box. I don't even have a safety deposit box. And if I did, I probably wouldn't remember where I hid the key...but I'm getting off-track.

There are no secrets, only my own set of guidelines for staying youthful—an ever-growing set. For those who have asked, here are my own stay-young, anti-frumpy rules, separated into neat categories, like a textbook. (Remember those? We used them in school a long, long time ago.)

Chapter 1: Clothing
I’ve cleansed my closet of anything I consider old-looking. When I shop, I try to keep “youthful-but-not-trying-too-hard” in mind. Here are some of my rules:

• Nothing that’s too boxy or shapeless

• Nothing with little (or big) colorful appliqu├ęs or embroidered kitschy icons—even if it’s the week before Halloween or July 4. No birds, trees, butterflies, snowflakes…unless they are artfully worked into the pattern—and a 40-year-old would wear it.

• Flattering necklines. In my case, it’s usually a V-neck, preferably one that’s not too low—60-something cleavage is often better left under cover.

• Summer pants that don’t end right in the middle of the calf. For years, I wore capris that hit me right there (that’s the old maxi length in skirts), and when I looked in the full-length mirror, I kept changing shoes thinking they were the reason I felt frumpy. Now I know that the mid-calf length is not flattering at all on me, and I go for just below the knee (when I can find them) or longer ankle pants.

• No mid-length shapeless jackets. They should have a belt or some sort of nipped-in waist, even if your waist doesn’t want to nip.

I’ve adopted the look that has my tank or shirt falling below the hem of my jacket. This used to be considered slovenly on all but the very young (and maybe strung out), but it’s now hip and stylish. That means that shorter jackets are good—as long as they don’t hit you in a place that makes your wide hips the focal point (or maybe that’s just me).

Chapter 2: Shoes
Ahh, if I could only wear really hip and youthful shoes…No pointy toes or high heels for me. So I have to be careful in choosing footwear to stay away from old-looking styles. I can wear flats and a little bit of a heel, but I try to buy flats that are cut low (high?), so more of my foot shows.

In the summer, I have a similar problem. There are cool, hip sandals out there, but most of them are flip-flop styles (or what we used to call “thongs,” a term now used to describe underpants that I can only refer to as “painful”—not that I’ve ever tried any).

Chapter 3: Accessories
When it comes to accessories, I pay attention to the trends. Not the ones usually shown in the junior department, but the styles seen in catalogs and magazines—that is, the ones that are age-appropriate, like More and O!—and those shown on TV shows like Today and, of course, What Not to Wear. I adapt the ones that work for me.

For example, chunky, bold jewelry is in, so I buy (or dig out from the past) costume jewelry to add something conspicuous, like a wide bangle bracelet or a necklace of varying size circles that can be doubled. Pieces like these make people notice—hopefully in a good way.

I never leave the house without earrings. “Never” doesn’t include going to have oral surgery or to my hair appointment. If I forget and wear them to the salon, I have to remove them, put them in my purse, then consider them lost until I discover them again several days later—at best.

I choose earrings long enough so that they show, at least a little, below my hair. I admit to having way too many pairs of earrings and, even worse, way too many single ones. I know their mates are probably never coming home, but still…I hang on to them just in case. Despite this wealth of ear jewelry, I am partial to the same few pairs most of the time.

Very trendy now are those long, soft scarves that you can wrap artfully around your neck, European-style. If you didn’t pass Scarves 101, try I plan to do that as soon as I buy a new scarf.

Chapter 4: Hair
My natural hair color is very dark brown. (I’m talking about the good ol’ days. I have no idea what my hair would look like naturally now, except for some mousy gray roots that pop up along my part and around my hairline.) Gray—the salt-and-pepper variety—and white hair can be lovely. But the combination of the drab color I see coming in and my light skin tone made me decide to start coloring my hair. My “secret,” which is widely published, is to go lighter, not darker and not the same dark tone you grew up with. I also have even lighter highlights, and I get lots of compliments on my hair from friends and strangers, so it must be a good look for me.

I’m lucky to have a wonderful stylist—the same one for over 20 years. She’s the age of my older daughter (she was originally my daughter’s stylist), and she’s become a good friend (although one I see only every five weeks). She is dedicated to keeping me youthful, and she cuts my hair with a little “edge” to it. The back is shorter than the sides. Why that’s edgy and youthful, I’m not sure, but it works. I'm also open to changes. I accept my curls and enhance them with a curling iron, but I have a collection of flat irons—used occasionally when I get bored with my routine.

Chapter 5: Teeth
I admit to failing to follow my own advice here, but there are extenuating circumstances.

First and foremost, if at all possible, whiten your teeth. Yellow teeth give away age as fast as wrinkles and jowls. I did this once, through my dentist, but now there are good OTC whiteners that work pretty well for far less cost. My problem now is that my top teeth have bonding, and whiteners don’t whiten them. My dentist tells me there are new, lighter bonding materials available, so when I finish paying for an upcoming new dental implant and costly bridge, I’ll consider going that route. After all, who needs to eat and pay the mortgage? But all those of you who can use the whiteners—do it!

Chapter 6: Skin Care and Makeup
I inherited my mother's skin, and for that I'm grateful. Never mind that she always had dry skin and I always fought off those ugly breakouts and excess oil. She and I were blessed with slow-to-wrinke faces.

But there's another secret that I learned later in life. See the good things that others see in you, and it will reflect in your face and attitude. When I first saw my current dermatologist, she said "You have beautiful skin." I was surprised, even though I'd heard that from other people. When I looked in the mirror, all I saw were the large pores on my chin and a mapping of broken capillaries forming an ugly frame for my nose. We addressed those issues (mostly with pricey creams, which the office sells...), and even though I can still see evidence of these things I used to find unworthy, I now believe the derm and others and feel very good about my skin. Many times I go without foundation, just a little mineral powder (after, of course, all those layers, like sunscreen, moisturizer, sometimes beauty serum). I wear foundation at times, but I make sure it's a formula that doesn't go on heavy (very aging) and I go over it lightly with a sponge to make sure it blends in. If you're not too exhausted to add yet another layer, a primer does a nice job of helping foundation look smooth.

And on the topic of anti-aging skin, 30 SPF sunscreen is the most important layer to put on if you're going to be outside at all. Naturally, I have a great product I bought at the dermatology office.

Do wear eyeliner, shadow, and mascara if you're so inclinded (and it's good to be so inclined as to not look washed out; color—everywhere—fades as we age). Just don't go heavy on any of them. I've also been using an OTC eyelash growth product. I have yet to see an improvement on my thinning lashes, but maybe they would be falling out faster if I didn't use it.

Beauty is expensive, as is age-definace. But you already knew that.

Chapter 7: Behavior
We all know that the younger generations consider their elders stubborn and unwilling to learn something new. It’s a gross generalization, but don’t you know a few people who fit that description? I am fortunate to work at a job that has me continuously learning new software and web applications. But if I didn’t, I would still want to use as much of new (or not so new) media as possible so that I don’t fall behind and—horrors—be considered an alta cocker (or, in English, an old fart).

It’s not just learning something new that’s important. It’s the flexibility to change your way of thinking about something or dropping an old habit. Or to try new things.

Now, I admit to sometimes settling into the stereotype of older people who beg off of activities they used to do. I now prefer to dine in the suburbs rather than face city traffic (even if I’m the passenger—which is usually the case). I recently turned down a night out at a pub (for charity no less) because it started at 9:00 p.m. Leave the house at 9? And isn’t there something good on TV at that time? (Yes. 48 Hours Mystery. Can’t get enough of those stories about husbands killing wives, and vice-versa…)
But you have to stop yourself from automatically saying no to something a little bit out of your comfort zone. Try to squash those knee-jerk thoughts, like "Are there clean bathrooms there?"

There you have it. Follow these rules at your own risk. Or create your own rules and be beautiful and youthful in your unique way. And because I abide by my own rule about being open and flexible, if you find a new miracle product, please let me know.