In Praise Of Elders

In Praise Of Elders

This article originally appeared on on June 21, 2016

Hint: It Isn't Botox!

What is it exactly that makes someone 'attractive?'

When you hear the word, do you think of physical beauty? Many people do. But, there are plenty of models and movie stars who are physically beautiful yet no want really wants to get close to them. Young skin is 'attractive' —  it makes you want to touch the person. But the person inside that skin may have a repellent personality.

When someone is truly attractive, like an object drawn to a magnet, you want to get closer.

By the time we reach middle age, we have the face we earned. A lifetime of expressions shape the facial muscles. We can try fighting those traces of our life with creams and plastic surgery, but what's inside us will still come out. And, as the years go on, no amount of external treatments will keep you looking truly young and beautiful.

I repeat — what's inside you comes out. Your inner life affects the way you look and feel ... and how others see you. There are women who decide they’re "old" at 40, 50, or 60 and there are those who, at every age, are far too interested in living their lives fully to think about their age. There’s the 100-year-old woman, Ella Mae Colbert , who recently broke a record in the 100-yard dash. There’s Diana Nyad , who finally, at 64, " found a way " to swim 103 miles, from Cuba to Florida. When she finished, she said, "you are never too old to chase your dreams." (And take note: elders who make the most of their lives even live longer than those who give in to senescence.)

So what’s the secret to a woman remaining highly attractive at ANY age? Here are 5 things eternally vibrant women have in common:

1. They live with compassion (for themselves).

We live in a task-focused, driven society. It’s not uncommon for ambitious people to work 12 hours a day, every day. Stars, especially athletic stars, push their bodies beyond reasonable limits, all to be "the best." People wear themselves out, and waste precious years pushing themselves to be better, smarter, wealthier. Athletes are considered "old" at 35 (and models even earlier than that).

Wear and tear from a demanding world eventually affects us all. But you can reach for your personal best without whipping yourself. Nyad made four attempts at that historic swim before she finally succeeded. She would never have done it if she’d given up the first time she couldn’t make it … or the second, or the third. It took a lot of patience and compassion for her own human limits. As you age, it’s essential to work out a balance between what you want to do and what you can do. In her case, the balance was, "don’t ever give up your dream" but give yourself a few tries to get there. She was infinitely p atient with herself, her training, finding out just how far she could go, and then going a little further.

As you age, your capacities change . There are still many dreams that you can realize, if you’re willing to strive for it. But sometimes your dreams change (and that's OK). Maybe now, a life of quiet joy and learning feels more important than conquering that mountaintop. Compassion means letting yourself admit what you really want and then feel unapologetically happy and proud as you strive to attain it.

2. They watch their language.

No, not THAT language! Use profanity all you want, especially when your joints hurt, or your sciatic nerve is screaming. I’m talking about what you say to yourself about yourself. Our culture is full of messages that aging is bad. Ashton Applewhite comments that ironically, "… older adults themselves [can be] the worst ageists."

The fact is, women with life experience are not "over the hill." (What hill? I didn’t see any hill!) Our youth-obsessed culture ignores women as they age to its own peril. We’re the ones who remember history, so as not to repeat it. We’re also the ones who have a wide over-view of what life is all about.

Honor your life experience and the wisdom you've acquired. These are not your liability, they are you beautiful gifts.

3. They absolutely LOVE their body.

As you age, it's tempting to berate whichever body part has "betrayed" you by starting to sag, wrinkle, or give out. If you’re like me, you took your body for granted for most of your life. Having your eyesight now become weak, your waistline steadily expand, or even losing some of your hearing feels like an insult! But science tells us that focusing on those losses and blaming your body actually may make things worse .  And, here we come back to compassion .

Gravity will have her way with us all. We live our lives in constant adjustment with the gravity that also keeps us from flying off into outer space. (Personally, I’ve lost over 2 inches in height since my teens.) The constant stress wears us out. But when you're compassionate with your physical aging, and do what you can to keep your body "tuned up," these physical changes slip into the background. The more you focus on what interests you and what your body can do, the more fun you'll have, the more of life you'll enjoy and the more attractive you'll seem with all of that vitality.

Your physical therapist is your friend, your Pilates coach is your friend, your acupuncturist is your friend. Whatever you can do to train your core strength and enhance your balance is decidedly worth doing! Your amazing body deserves your full attention .

4. They remain curious and cultivate a 'growth mindset.'

Sure, you know a lot , but it’s still only a drop in the ocean of what there is to learn! As we age, our brains become less suited to acquire new knowledge — like a foreign language (although that’s not impossible!). But our brains are incredibly well-tuned to make connections. Einstein said, "The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing."

Attractive women are curious about life. They develop a growth mindset and continually expand their horizons.  So long as we modulate our ambitions with compassion and patience, there’s nothing like addressing some new thing with the attitude, "I think I can…"

5. They maintain a fulfilling sex life.

I recently read about a 75-year-old woman who, widowed after a long and successful marriage , finally discovered passionate sex with a new partner. It shocked her so, she went into therapy! At 75, she finally felt free enough to actually enjoy sex. Wow. And she's not alone. There's an upsurge of STDs in retirement communities . No longer needing to worry about pregnancy, older people are having the time of their lives! I’ve heard it referred to as "Assisted Loving"!

That said — maintaining a fulfilling sex life is a practice as we age. Once newness wears off, hormones aren’t at teenage levels any more, so great sex doesn’t just happen without deliberate personal involvement. Attractive women know they're worth the effort. Psychologist Esther Perel likes to point out that, if you want to be a lawyer, you go to law school and study the law; if you want to be a doctor, you go to medical school and study medicine. But something as complicated as eroticism and sexuality is just supposed to come naturally?!?

Develop your Erotic Intelligence , ladies. Love your body and learn what feels pleasurable and most exciting for you. Get curious and open your mind to experiencing so much more than simply reaching orgasm . Great sex includes actually enjoying the frustration before climax. (Now THAT takes practice!) Having a fulfilling sex life begins with your self-image and the things you say to yourself about yourself. (Are you telling yourself that you shouldn’t be worrying about sex at your age? If you are, STOP IT!)

What's beautiful about us changes as we get older.

We can’t unconsciously count on the vibrancy of youth and the glow of young skin to attract others forever.

I first noticed a beautiful woman Elder when I was in my twenties. Her face was wrinkled, but emotionally open. Her eyes rheumy, but still deep and bright. I was fascinated by her. She literally attracted me . I can still see her in my mind’s eye, all these years later.

She was still so radiant because what’s inside always shines outward. If you love yourself, and love your life, you will attract others.

Cheryl Gerson is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, and  Board Certified Diplomate, in private practice in New York City. Call her for a free telephone consultation .

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