A long, successful writing career—and other professional triumphs—mark Anne Bernays as a member of an elite literary group. As one of millions of aging women, she also must deal with a changing self-image.
Author Anne Bernays at 85: Strategies on Aging
Appearance and self image
In our culture, youth is the ultimate synonym for beauty. It trumps kindness, intelligence, humor, and imagination in drawing the kind of notice that defines a woman’s attractiveness—not only in the eyes of others, but to the woman herself. (Hence, the $11 billion cosmetic surgery industry!). Though fancy cosmetic treatments were not for Anne Bernays, she did want to protest the rapid passage of her time. But how?
What the hell, why not?
One day—partly to mark her passage from grandmother to great-grandmother, and partly to escape the invisibility that older women so often experience—Anne Bernays dyed her hair a hot, bright blue. No longer invisible, she found herself smiling back at strangers and even let an unknown older woman shake her hand. Everyone had noticed. Everyone approved.
Lumpy at 11; lumpy at 85
In addition to having lost eyebrows, eyelashes, and some of her hair, Ms. Bernays has lost her figure. She’s lumpy again, just like when she was 11. Does she mind? Yes, of course she does. But she counts her blessings. She can still make her bed, walk around without mechanical help, and teach a roomful of Harvard students who want to become successful writers. And recently, she bought another jar of that hair dye—Lagoon Blue.
Everyone wants to grow older. No one wants to be old™.
We all are tempted to shave years off our age, and this doesn’t change as we grow older. Maybe it’s hardwired into our female DNA. Then again, maybe we’re just accepting the indifferent judgment of others, and we can train ourselves to think differently. After all, women are living longer, stronger, and wealthier than ever before. Why choose to feel down about yourself for an entire third of your life?