Beauty and Aging:  Can the Two Go Together?

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A common cliché is that “Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.”  But have you ever stopped and asked yourself “What is beauty?”  Can you give a definition of beauty?  Would your definition be like mine?  Would old people have the same definition as young people?  Would Blacks and Latinos and Asians and Indians have the same definition as Whites?  Are some definitions more fitting or more powerful than others?

“Outer beauty pleases the EYE. Inner beauty captivates the HEART.” — Mandy Hale

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You can have your own definitions of beauty, but the world also sets standards.  We have lists of beautiful people all around us.  Magazines, TV and the media hype the “beautiful people” almost daily.  People magazine, Maxim and many others regularly maxim hot womenpublish their lists of the most beautiful people in the world.  Beautiful people marry other beautiful people and are constantly in the news.  The Kardashians would seem to have few talents except their almost incredible beauty.  Rich men marry beautiful women.  Beautiful actresses marry NFL football players.  Beautiful heiresses marry rock stars while beautiful rock stars marry record producers.

beauty and the beast

One common cliché is that true beauty lies beneath the skin.  We see the classic “Beauty and the Beast” movie wherein love becomes blind since the Beast is so kind and thoughtful.  It should surprise no one however that in the end, the ugly Beast turns into a handsome dashing the handsome prince

young Prince and they live happily ever after.  I am still waiting to see one beauty contest or pageant based on the “true beauty” that lies within.  Can you imagine the “Annual Miss Beautiful Beneath the Skin Beauty Pageant?”  Or the Top Ten People with the Most Beauty Inside?

“Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart.”  —Kahlil Gibran

sexist men in the worldI once asked my MBA students whether they would rather be smart or beautiful.  They almost unanimously selected beautiful.  I was very surprised but the more I have observed about life, the more it would seem that beauty will get you further than brains.  Brains can get you some things but being nerdy is not one of the things that most people aspire to.  Anti-intellectualism is a fact of American life as noted by Richard Hofstadter in his famous book: “Anti-intellectualism in American Life, 1963.

“Here the politician expresses what a large part of the public feels. The citizen cannot cease to need or to be at the mercy of experts, but he can achieve a kind of revenge by ridiculing the wild-eyed professor, the irresponsible brain truster, or the mad scientist, and by applauding the politicians as they pursue the subversive teacher, the suspect scientist, or the allegedly treacherous foreign-policy adviser.” — Richard Hofstadter

I have many women friends on Facebook whom I regard as strong intelligent women.  They are smart independent and hard working.  They would never depend on a man for their lives or careers.  Nevertheless, let any woman publish a picture of her young daughter and everybody, women as well as men, will fall all over themselves to provide compliments such as “beautiful, pretty, attractive, gorgeous, etc.”  Even among women who should know better, a young girl is defined first by her looks.

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I once wondered how aging would affect my idea of beauty.  I wondered if I could grow old with a wife who would eventually look like any other “old” woman.  I am now 71 years old and my spouse is 73.  I always thought my spouse Karen was beautiful.  I had a harder time convincing her of this fact since one must accept their own beauty or no one can convince them otherwise.  Karen simply never saw herself as beautiful.  I confess I was not really attracted to her the first time we met.  However, I fell in love with her the second time when I watched her smile and laugh while we talked.  Her smile and laughter and kindness towards others have always held the secret to my attractiveness to Karen.

“How beautiful a woman can be if kindness is her true beauty.” Debasish Mridha

180107182313-14-golden-globes-red-carpet-2018-super-916As we both have aged, the process of deterioration taking place in our bodies is clear in the more wrinkled, wizened and paunchy body shapes we now exhibit.  While neither of us was ever beautiful by societies standards, we never had any chance of making any top ten beautiful lists before and certainly not today.  Nevertheless, when I see my spouse in her pajamas or in the shower or when she cuddles up in bed with me, I can’t help but think how beautiful she is and how much I love her.  While I still see the shades of societies standards of beauty in the many young models punctuating my daily life, the beauty I see in my wife is something I cannot describe.  It is a beauty that comes from who she is and not how she looks.  I only know she is more beautiful to me today than she was 35 years ago when we first started dating.

“True beauty radiates not from outer cosmetics, but from the simple joy of making a difference for those that need your voice, passion, and time without expecting or wanting anything in return…”  ― Deborah Barnes

six packYou can claim as you grow older that you either have regrets or you have no regrets.  I have had at least one friend who on his deathbed made the claim that he had no regrets.  I admired his attitude very much.  I wanted to emulate this attitude as I grew older, but try as I might it has escaped me.  I can tell you I have no regrets, but it would be a big lie.  I have enough regrets to write a book about.  One of my regrets is that I am shorter than my father was.  He was six feet four inches paul newmantall and I barely make five feet eight inches.  Mostly though, I wonder what it would have been like to have been born handsome.  To have had the looks of Paul Newman, Sean Connery, Brad Pitt or Robert Redford.  Would I have used my looks to achieve fame and fortune or would I have simply squandered it away on wine, women and song? How much different would my life have been if I had been a “beautiful” person?

“Instead of waiting for beauty to show up at your doorstep, create so much beauty within you that it will inevitably overflow in all directions.”  — Nityananda Das

Golden-Globes-2018-1200x675I understand and fully believe that like ingratitude, (Please read my blog on Ingratitude) wanting external beauty is another trap.  It is too easy to see all the glamorous people and wonder what our lives would be like if we had their looks.  But letting go of the standards of beauty that surround us every day is not easy.  No one believes that simply being beautiful makes anyone a beautiful person.  A very famous saying is that “beauty is as beauty does.”  I was taught that by my parents and I still believe it.

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A few weeks ago, a man I admired as much for his talent as his great looks passed away.  I have always said that if I could be born again, I would want to come back as an opera singer.  My father loved opera and I grew up in Brooklyn NY in an Italian neighborhood that also loved opera.  On a Saturday evening, you could hear arias up and down the block from people singing Verdi and Puccini on their doorsteps.

“I go to Topman at lunchtime and stare at these beautiful, beautiful people who work there and who are so well-dressed.  And I think: Oh! I want to look like that! They’re amazing, how well-dressed they are!” — Nicholas Haslam
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Dmitri Hvorostovsky was one of the greatest male baritones to ever grace an opera stage.  Add to this his ruggedly masculine looks, his wonderful shock of white hair and his six-foot four-inch frame and he had everything I could have dreamed of.  Should I add that his stage presence and charisma was incomparable.  He had a smile that you would not believe.  He always looked like he was having the most fun of anyone in the opera house when he sang.  Dmitri died on November 22, 2017 of brain cancer.  He was only 55 years old.  Would I change places with Dmitri?  No, I would not swap everything he had for the chance to grow older with my spouse Karen.  Be careful they say of what you wish for because you just might get it.

“The mortals never understand. They only see the prize. They never think that the price of getting what you want is having what you once wanted.”MorpheusThe Sandman

Time for Questions:

See my opening paragraph.  Try to answer these questions and leave comments please.  I would love to hear what you think.

Life is just beginning.

I use this byline not because I think I will die and go to heaven or even because I believe in a hereafter.  It simply reminds me of the saying that: “Today is the first day of the rest of my life.”  So, with that in mind, I try to wake up each day taking the responsibility that today is a fresh start and that my life is truly beginning right this moment.  I do not know what (if anything) comes next, but I do know that I want to live the best I can and do the best I can each day to help make a difference in the world.

Each day that I get up, I have a certain amount of fear that I must overcome.  I fear being useless.  I fear failure.  I fear ignominy.  I fear my friends and family getting older and dying.  I fear not making a difference.  I fear giving up.  I fear the thought that I will get sick and die long after everyone I love is gone.  Some days, it is easy to forget these fears and other days, the process of aging wears me down and I question the value of going on.  On these bad days, living seems to take more courage than I have.  I want to have the strength to go raging into the dark.  If life is just beginning, it is also just ending, and I need to face that as well.  I will continue to do the best I can, hopefully taking two steps forward and only one back most weeks.

 

Gratefulness

If you enjoy reading my blog today, please see another blog I wrote dealing with this issue from the opposite perspective:  Ingratitude:  How it destroys our minds and hearts and souls

gratefulnessI want to talk about Gratefulness today.  It is the first in my list of the Key Seven Virtues that I think are worth developing.  Gratefulness is the opposite of ingratitude.  It is easy to fall into the trap of being ungrateful.  The world besieges us with evidence of our incompetence and faults.  Hollywood glamorizes the mundane and makes the rest of us feel inferior in comparison.  American Idol becomes the graven image that we now worship.  It is not an image of a gold calf or a prophet or a saint.  It is the image of success and fame and fortune that we all desire.  Even as I write this, millions of people are buying a lottery ticket in the hope of achieving instant wealth.  How many of these people are grateful for what they have?  I suspect many of them are very grateful in their daily lives, but it makes you wonder how grateful most people are when they will spend their money against all odds to become an overnight millionaire.  What don’t they have that they will buy if they do win?

Every Monday morning I start my day and my week with the following prayer:

  • I am Grateful for this new day and a new start. I give thanks for everything I have – especially my health, my friends, my family and my wife Karen.

I also say a prayer that my wife Karen will be healthy and happy.  She once mentioned to me that she appreciated my praying for her, so I have made it a part of my Monday morning start to the week.  My goal is to try to keep the thought of being grateful in my mind throughout most of the day.  I confess, I am usually able to keep it in my mind for about ten minutes at the most and then my day commences with the usual busyness and trivia that soon makes me forget my admirable goal.

If I were to rate myself on a scale of 1-10 of gratefulness, with 10 being the highest amount of gratefulness possible, I would probably give myself about a 2.  Nevertheless, I refuse to succumb to the Siren of Desire that drives one to buy a lottery ticket.  I do not want to win any money in a lottery.  I do not want to get any free money through a class action lawsuit.  I do not want to inherit any money from a dead relative or friend.  I admit I occasionally go to a casino and will play the penny slots for about fifteen minutes.  Karen has more patience and will play for as long as an hour.  We both allocate about ten dollars when we go for our “chance to win a fortune.”  We are usually at a casino for the entertainment or food.

My father was a gambler when I was young who lost a good portion of his earnings each week betting on the horses.  I learned from him that most gamblers were liars since they will only tell you when they win and never when they lose.  I still begrudge the fact that when I was growing up, my cousins (whose fathers were no richer) always had a nicer house, better clothes and more expensive toys.  My mother would regularly buy a lottery ticket and promise me that when she won, we would all be rich and never have to work again.  I always replied to my mother that if she put her dollar in the bank, she would have $1.01 at the end of the year.  It was kind of a joke.  When my mother died, my sisters and I had to cover the additional costs for her funeral.

I was reading a news article about two days ago about the continued recovery of former Arizona Representative Gabby Giffords.  I was struck by a comment that was attributed to her in the article.  She said:

“I wake up every day grateful that I have a second chance at life and a second chance at service.”

When, I read this, I thought there could not be much more I could add to the subject.  Here is a woman who could be bitter and angry.  She could rightfully complain about her physical and mental handicaps.  She could endorse stronger sentences for criminals.  She could lobby for more guns in society.  She could preach for more prisons.  Instead, she continues to pursue a life dedicated to service and to doing the best she can every day of her life to help other human beings.  We all need role models like this to really understand what gratefulness means.

One of my favorite blog readers is my sister Jeanine.  I think she is perhaps my most faithful reader, usually reading and commenting on my blogs each week.  Last week she posted a comment which included the following quote.

“I shall pass this way but once; any good that I can do or any kindness I can show to any human being; let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.” — Etienne de Grellet

She mentioned that one of her friends wrote this in her high school yearbook and she has never forgotten it.  She noted that she has tried to live by this quote in her daily life.  Judging by her friends and what they think of her and the efforts she puts out to help others, I believe my sister is also a person who does what she can to help others and who is also grateful for her life.

Let us pose the question:  What does it take to be grateful?

I would say that the virtue of gratefulness is composed of the following three abilities:

  1. Appreciating what we have. Savoring your life, your food, and your friends.  Like you would savor a tasty dish or appreciate a good song.  Appreciating the good and the bad.  Realizing that the bad makes the good better.

Without pain, there would be no suffering, without suffering we would never learn from our mistakes.  To make it right, pain and suffering is the key to all windows, without it, there is no way of life.” — Angelina Jolie

  1. Living in the present. If we worry too much about the past or think too much about the future, we are never able to just accept what is.  Violence is caused by too much dwelling on what happened yesterday.  Greed is caused by dreaming about what life would be like “if only.”  When we refuse to live our lives one day at a time, we inevitably get lost in a wilderness of whys, what ifs, and maybes.

Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.”  — Buddha

  1. Service to others. I am not sure that I can ever overcome the lure of fame and fortune and success.  They are constantly in my mind.  Except when I am serving others, particularly those who are less fortunate than I am.  Perhaps the only path to developing the virtue of gratefulness is by seeing the down trodden, oppressed, sick, dying, wounded and poor of the earth.  There is no doubt that seeing the misfortunes of others up close has a salubrious effect on our mental attitudes.  It is hard to feel sorry for yourself when you witness people like Gabby Giffords, Steven Hawking, and Malala Yousafzai and see what they have managed to achieve despite handicaps much more severe than any we might have.

“Too much self-centered attitude, you see, brings, you see, isolation. Result: loneliness, fear, anger. The extreme self-centered attitude is the source of suffering.” — Dalai Lama

I have a little device that I learned in my studies, a long time ago.  It is an algorithm for change. You can use it for changing an organization or for changing your own life.  It goes like this:

  • Awareness precedes choice
  • Choice precedes decision
  • Decision precedes action
  • Action precedes change

If we want to develop the virtue of gratefulness, we must first be aware of what it means to be grateful.  We must be aware of what we should be grateful for.  We must also be aware of our ungratefulness and ask ourselves why we feel this way and where it comes from.  Once we are aware of our feelings in this area, we must continue to maintain this awareness.

Next, we must use our awareness to make a choice.  The choice is simple.  Am I going to be a grateful or ungrateful person?  Am I going to see life as full of opportunities and a place of unlimited possibilities or am I going to see life as a living hell on earth?  The choice is always ours.  The choice to be grateful means that we must make a decision.   To live gratefully or ungratefully.

If we accept the decision to live gratefully, then we must take action on this decision.  We must express gratitude whenever possible.  But more than just words, we also need to help others who are not as fortunate as we are.  Regardless of how unfortunate you feel you are there are always people who are less fortunate.  Start looking for these people and ask yourself “How can I help them.”

The final step in the process will occur if you follow the above heuristic. You will find that there are more and more things in your life to be grateful for.  You will start enjoying life more than you ever thought possible. You will become grateful for the little things in your life and stop waiting for the big things.  You will become a person who appreciates every day that is given to you on earth.  Each day will become the best day of your life.  Don’t trust me!  Try it and see.  Age, death, diseases will still be difficult but you will find that gratitude can replace the sorrows of life with an outlook that can find joy in even the most difficult of times.

Time for Questions:

What are you grateful for?  What are you ungrateful for in your life?  How do you cope with the inevitable blitz of commercials telling you how inferior you are?  What do you do to help other people who are less fortunate than you are?

Life is just beginning.

“We are told that people stay in love because of chemistry, or because they remain intrigued with each other, because of many kindnesses, because of luck.  But part of it has got to be forgiveness and gratefulness. ”  — Ellen Goodman

 

 

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