“Vanity of Vanities. All is Vanity”
- Ecclesiastes 1:2
I sat there quietly in the church pew listening to the Old Testament reading as my heart opened up swallowing the words which stung me deep inside my soul. My own desires to look “perfect” and stay young looking had been something I was struggling with lately, and I was guilty of spending way too much money to achieve this. I felt God was telling me to “wake up” and take a look at the truth I had been avoiding.
Had I become too vain? Did I care too much about how I looked?
Don’t get me wrong, I feel it is important to take care of ourselves and our bodies. It feels good to look good. But when we spend too much time focused on “perfecting” our outer shells and less time working on our inner beauty, we end up chasing an unattainable ideal. That is what had begun to happen with me.
In fact, this self-absorption had gotten so out of control that last month when my children surprised my husband and I with a party to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary, my first thought after seeing the excited, cheerful crowd of friends and family was not joyful. Instead of happiness, I became angry and panicked thinking
“Oh no! I must look terrible…I need time to go fix my makeup and hair!”.
Going through menopause has made me very aware that my body is changing…life is changing…I really am aging. I feel I have now crossed the border into the “getting old” category. Unopened packages of feminine hygiene products collect dust in my bathroom closet, mail from AARP is delivered too frequently, and those gray hairs I had managed to avoid for so long are starting to fiercely multiply. I have not had the best menopause and this new transition in my life has been difficult. I have allowed it to make me feel less of a woman, useless, and well just plain old.
The amount of time I spent analyzing my face in the mirror increased, and I began fixating over every line, crease, sag and sun spot. In my reflection I could see my future hooded lids, sallow undereye bags, and sagging jowls that were certain to arrive someday, and I became obsessed with preventing it! I spent too much time watching youtube videos on various skincare products and magic skin care tools.
Sure, I wasn’t out there buying expensive clothing or shoes, but I began purchasing every so-called miracle anti-aging treatment I read about. I bought dozens of face masks, creams and serums with ingredients that I couldn’t pronounce or even understand. I bought an LED face mask which makes me look like Hannibal Lecter when I wear it. I bought a home micro-current device to zap my skin into producing more collagen. I purchased a derma-roller because apparently this is the latest and greatest way to get plumped looking skin. I bought a crystal to roll over my skin which allows the expensive serums to penetrate deeply and begin to work their magic. I have a product or device to use each day of the week in the hope I can freeze time and at least not look like I am getting older.
Vanity had begun to take over my Sanity.
All this upkeep became exhausting, but I was afraid to stop. I felt I needed to do something…to somehow gain control over this aging thing that was happening to me.
Then, that moment in church helped me to see how blinded I had become. All this worry and toil over staying young…none of it really mattered. We all must age. And it was time for me to embrace this truth and stop fighting it. But how? How could I find the balance between taking care of myself but not becoming obsessed over it?
I decided to start by gathering all the “magic” tools, creams and serums together. I took a good look at all I had bought. I recognized that I had once again over done it. I could never realistically consistently use all these products.
I separated everything into two piles. The first pile contained the items I felt were easy to implement into my self-care beauty routine. The other pile…well, how might I label it? My latest mistakes? More clutter? Evidence I still can be a compulsive overshopper? Perhaps, but instead of all those negative labels, I decided to view it as “my latest inner growth”.
Yes, I took a brief diversion down a path that led to nowhere. I am 54, I am human, and I have emotions, fears, hopes and dreams. I am still learning, still improving.
I will continue to take care of my skin and to look and feel my best. This includes eating well, exercise and a much more reasonable anti-aging routine. But more importantly, I need to focus instead on the beauty inside me. It is our inner beauty that permeates through to truly make us truly genuine beautiful people. It is the most important type of beauty..the type that does not wither or wrinkle with time..this inner beauty transcends our physical bodies and allows our souls to be seen.
How can we become more beautiful on the inside? In one word it is Love. Our beauty grows through kindness, connecting with and helping others, practicing gratitude, experiencing joy in the simplest things. For me, I will start spending less time trying to hold on to the past and live more fully in the present. Instead of wasting time dissecting the flaws of my aging body, I can spend more time participating in positive ways within my community. For starters, I have decided to channel my love of fashion and styling skills by volunteering at my parish outreach thrift boutique.
I do not get the chance to redo my immediate negative reaction to a loving 25th anniversary surprise, but I will not wallow in regret. As long as I am alive, I can change for the better. I may try to age slowly and gracefully, but I can also learn to appreciate that each wrinkle and line is a roadmap of my very unique, special life.