CL: In the past 10 years, have you noticed increased pressure or a unique set of problems for women after they turn 40? Or is it a recurring phenomenon that carries the same challenges generation after generation
Diller: Getting older has never been a "walk in the park," but there are several factors that make aging particularly difficult for women in today’s culture.
Most often we first notice the changes that come with age as we enter our 40s — what I call the “oh-oh moment.” While life expectancy was only around age 58 just a couple of decades ago, now we live well into our 80s and 90s. That’s a much longer time to be dealing with these changes and the psychological impact they have on us.
We also we need to keep in mind that, historically — by which I mean as far back as we can remember and right up until the feminist revolution — women’s primary function was to attract a mate and procreate. And then we died. Now we are struggling to figure out new identities, how to remain feeling vital and feel attractive well beyond child-rearing years. We have few role models to pave the way. This is not our mother’s aging experience.
Add to that, the fact never before has our culture been as obsessed by youth and beauty as it is today. Looking young has been elevated to all-important in the media, at work and in relationships. The result? Enormous pressure to stop the clock — a message women hear non-stop. “Anti-aging” is an impossible goal, and yet many women strive to achieve it, feeling insecure and invisible if they don’t.
Which is all to say, that no other generation in the past has dealt with these kinds of complicated pressures about an aging appearance. My book "Face It" helps women find long-term solutions to a cultural dilemma that in some ways we are facing for the first time in history.
Besides spending money on cosmetics and clothes, what are some of the tips or advice in your book Face It that help women project a more vibrant personality and feel as good inside as we want to look outside?
Cosmetic tips can be found at almost any make-up counter or in most how-to beauty books. I focus on helping women feel confident about their aging appearance by making changes to their attitudes
First, it’s helpful to understand the cultural dilemma women face — the one I call the “Beauty Paradox” — that is, the younger we try to look, the less attractive we feel. And the more we get stuck in this impossible paradox, the less able we are to find new definitions of beauty appropriate for our age. Then I advise women to find the proper balance between caring for their appearance and not caring too much. I break the process into six psychological steps, starting with understanding the dilemma we face, then step by step bringing them through ways to permanently shift their internal lens so they can view themselves differently, more positively, more beautifully.
It seems there are pitfalls and dark places where aging women go in their thinking — comparing themselves to other women and taking note of the men who leave their wives for younger women. These are indeed harsh realities. How do 40-plus women overcome them?
Women tend to be much more competitive and critical of themselves than men are when it comes to their looks. Some women say they face a constant battle with the image they see in their mirror. And many say this battle has gone on since adolescence. Men often say they don’t understand their wives’ preoccupation with their looks and plead with them not do anything radical to alter their appearance.
Women need to listen to how they talk to themselves. Sometimes I suggest that they talk to their own image in the mirror the way they might talk to their closest friend or daughter. Often they realize how critical they are in ways they never would be to anyone else. Being kinder, more understanding and accepting of the changes we see goes a long way to feeling more confident and attractive.
How do you feel about cosmetic surgery? Beauty tips?
In addition to working on improving how you view yourself (which I believe is the most important beauty tip of all) there are a lot of non-surgical things women can do to prolong the health and beauty of their faces and bodies. They can eat well, get more sleep, stop smoking or drinking too much. Keeping fit is important, as is maintaining proper skin care from an early age — which means staying out of the sun and wearing sun-screen.
But, if a woman is determined to having cosmetic procedures and gives careful thought to them — psychologically, as well as physically — I think they can sometimes serve a woman's needs. These procedures, which include botox, fillers and other surgical enhancements, can have positive effects on self-esteem when done gradually and carefully. But, we always have to keep in mind that surgery is not a simple solution to women’s fears about aging. And it doesn’t necessarily help all women feel more attractive. That is key. Surgery does not guarantee beauty. For some, in fact, it leads to a slippery slope — one surgery can lead to another and then another. Sometimes, it starts with, "I'll get my breasts done," but when you have those plump breasts, your arms might look like they don't match. You have to ask yourself, "Do I want to go down that road?" As the popular movie, starring Merly Streep, said about it all, “It’s Complicated.”
Do you have any success stories of women who've risen above their depression of aging to be happy and project a more confident image?
There are so many positive stories women have told me, sometimes after reading Face It
or after working with me in psychotherapy. Generally, the women who emerge feeling less depressed about their aging appearance, work hard on understanding the role their own personal histories have had on their self-image, as well as the role that cultural pressures play on their feelings about aging. They begin to realize they are not alone and that there are complicated issues at hand.
Ultimately what these women have in common is that they learn that looking and feeling good means paying some attention to their appearance, but focusing more on other aspects of their identities — the ones that can get better with age — like their warmth, kindness and wisdom. They understand from the inside out, that beauty is about looking the best they can for their age, rather than looking better than anyone else. They begin to smile more. They stand taller. And most importantly, they confidently share their beauty with others.