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Four Thoughts On Seeing Ourselves In Pictures As We Age

Dara Goldberg September 2022

Ageism Rebel: Dara Goldberg

I got an email from my friend, Susie Lang, the other day.

She was writing an article for a lifestyle e-magazine exclusively for women 50-plus, and she wanted my input.

Seeing Ourselves In Pictures As We Age:

Susie is a professional photographer. She has been taking truly glorious and breathtakingly beautiful pictures of women 60-plus for almost five decades now. So, it didn’t surprise me that the topic of the article was related to her work in some way.

“a painstakingly high number of them say that they hate being photographed because they can’t stand the way they look in pictures.”

What did surprise me–and make me sad–was the issue she was exploring in her article:

“Why do so many older women feel like they don’t look good in photographs?” “Why do we struggle with our pictures as we age?”

Susie meets thousands of older women a year. And a painstakingly high number of them say that they hate being photographed because they can’t stand the way they look in pictures.

This was the topic she had approached me and loads of other women about to gain our perspectives on why it seems that so many older women feel this way.

After pondering Susie’s question for a few days, I sent her some of my thoughts. Admittedly, these are more theories and questions that include a hearty dose of curiosity and wonder rather than definitive opinions or answers.

Here are the Four Thoughts I shared with her:

1. My Truth:

I actually feel exactly the opposite way now that I’m in midlife (and almost beyond it!).

When I was in my teens, 20s, and 30s, I would cringe whenever I looked at a picture of myself. I didn’t want to see the physical aspects of my face that I didn’t like. My nose, my serious lack of eyebrows, blah, blah, blah. Looking at pictures just reminded me that I wished my physical appearance (aka, me) was different.

But then, when I hit my 40s, I found myself having a very different reaction. I liked the pictures. Liked the person I saw. I liked the way she looked. I felt proud of all that the picture was saying about who I am, not just what I look like.

When I look at pictures of myself now, I see SO much more than just my physical appearance. I see my essence; my reservoir of well-earned wisdom. I see my love of life; my resilience; my vulnerability. Moreover, I see my endless capacity to care about people, animals, nature, justice, and life overall. I see the depth of my soul. AND, I see–and feel–my physical beauty. It’s a different and aged version of me, and I really like it.

“With all this “noise” it can be hard to find and relish the beauty in our older appearance.”

2: Beauty Confidence During The Younger Years:

Perhaps for some women, if they felt particularly confident and happy with their looks when they were younger,  accepting the (however natural) changes and embracing the beauty of their appearance at their current age is especially difficult.

And if they grew up having people – family, friends and strangers alike – comment on their physical beauty above all other aspects of their being, it’s understandable if this led them to believe their physical beauty was the sum total of their worth.

3. Our Mind’s Image Of What We Look Like Changes At A Slower Pace Than Our Actual Appearance Does As We Age:

Maybe our (subconscious) image of ourselves doesn’t match what we see in the mirror (and in pictures). Meaning, there’s a disconnect between what we think we look like and what we actually look like. Obviously a picture shows that, so it’s difficult to be confronted with this reality.

4. Society:

Of course, I can’t leave out the incredibly negative societal messages and stereotypes that are forced upon us regarding our own beauty as we age. The fact that society tells us, starting at a very young age, that aging is bad and our beauty declines with age clearly makes it difficult out of the gate for us to see through the lens (literally and figuratively) that our faces are aging. With all this “noise” it can be hard to find and relish the beauty in our older appearance.

No matter which thought is pinging through our minds when we look at our pictures, I’m glad this question is being asked in the first place. It allows us the space not just to have conversations together, but also to have the vital conversations with ourselves.

“I know not every woman thinks the way I do when I look at photos and that is okay.”

Current Version Of Me:

What was my first reaction to the photo? Why do I feel this way?

What stories am I telling myself that don’t serve me anymore? What new beliefs do I need to instill?

How do I love this current version of me?

And how do I take the world’s best Instagram selfie without cringing?

I know not every woman thinks the way I do when I look at photos and that is okay (unfortunate, but ok). But, there is always a reason. Maybe we should invent some sort of Midlife Photography bootcamp where we pull women from all around the globe, pair them up with photographers like Susie, and capture all the gorgeous lines, curves, and energy. Then we’ll sit in a large room, drink Sangria (or lemonade if you prefer), and stare at those pictures until we see the true beauty staring back at us.

Yeah, I’m all in for this bootcamp. You too?

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Dara Goldberg

About the Author:

Dara Goldberg is a change-maker, entrepreneur, speaker, and the founder of the Lovin’ Midlife Movement. She’s known for her love of Spanish wine, and her undying passion to make the world recognize women in midlife are invincible–not invisible.

After 15 happy years advising and raising millions of dollars for nonprofit organizations and charitable foundations as a founding partner in a consulting firm, she woke up one morning and realized something was off. This was the pivotal moment–as society told her she was crazy for wanting to leave a perfect job–where she realized there needed to be a change. Now she advocates for and brings together women in midlife to change the way society looks at, listens to, and understands them. Appearing weekly on Clubhouse, she has sparked a community of like-minded women who are fiercely proud to call themselves women in midlife. You can follow Dara on IG.