When I was growing up, soft focus and airbrushing were the tricks of the trade used by Hollywood studios and magazine editors. Like most adolescents, I faced a great deal of anxiety about my appearance. This insecurity was only exacerbated when I compared myself to the unblemished models gracing the covers of my magazines.
During an 11th grade growth spurt, I developed stretch marks on my buttocks and my thighs. As a woman of color, it was hard enough living up to the westernized ideals of unblemished beauty. So, when the cute boy I had a crush on pointed out my stretchmarks while swimming at Red Wing Lake one summer afternoon, I nearly cried. I felt damaged and defective when I saw my reflection in the mirror. I avoided pool parties and the locker room after gym class. I didn't want anyone to see my tiger stripes. And although the lines on my backside faded over time, the damage to my self-esteem took longer to repair.
Ironically, it was a picture of a beautiful model of color that inspired me to love my lines. One evening, while reading Elle in my room, I came across a photo of Karen Alexander frolicking on the beach, white stripes (just like mine!) peeking from the corners of her bikini. That photo changed everything for me: It was relatable and it gave me the confidence to wear a bikini and never look back. If Karen Alexander could bare her stretch marks on the pages of major fashion magazines, then damnit, I could too!
I can’t even imagine the pressure that young girls feel today to be flawless. We are living in a 24 hour-perfectly-curated-Facetune world where everyone is viewed through the skewed lens of an Instagram or Snapchat filter. Our society's obsession with perfection is not only detrimental to young women but it also places unrealistic expectations on older women, often forcing them to conform to ideals impossible to maintain. Want to look thinner? There’s an app for that. Not happy with the symmetry of your face? There’s an app for that too. I recently came across an article which recommended the best filters for hiding your wrinkles. No wonder so many women continue to struggle with self-esteem well beyond their teenage years.
I believe in looking my best. I have a medicine cabinet overflowing with oils and creams; my skin care routine borders on obsessive. I’m not against maintenance, botox, photoshop, or whatever a woman wants to do to feel confident. But it's a little unnerving to see so many of us retouching ourselves into oblivion--eradicating every single fine line or perceived imperfection to the point where we're barely recognizable. I just don’t understand why the new standard of beauty is looking like a porcelain doll. How are young women ever going to feel comfortable with aging until we become comfortable with it ourselves? It's almost as if we are telling them that you have to erase yourself in order to be seen.
I came of age during the era when Linda, Christy, and Naomi reigned supreme. I certainly wasn’t a supermodel, but I pretended to be one, lip-synching along to George Michael’s, Freedom (after several cocktails) in a friend’s living room one night.
So, I was filled with delight when I came across a recent edition of Zeit Magazin featuring Christy Turlington on the cover. I only know a few words in German, but I don’t need Google translator to understand the significance of the photograph: Staring back at me was a beautifully honest portrayal of Christy Turlington, baring all of her un-retouched, radiant, natural 49 year old beauty, lines and all. It was empowering. I was so moved by the photos, I even shared them with my husband, who remarked about how refreshing it was to see her not succumbing to the societal pressure to remain eternally young. This is a reminder to all of us that the "goddesses" of our youth are mere mortals, just like you and me.
Aging is not a disease. Lines are not flaws. Wrinkles are not a reflection of inadequacy.
Instead, our lines are the markers of our existence. They tell our stories. Our lines are laughter, joy, exhilaration, heartbreak, sadness; they are afternoons spent in the sun, the pain and exhilaration of childbirth (and child-rearing), the final mile of a half marathon. Victories, defeats and everything in between.
In the eloquent and timely words of Diane von Furstenberg: "My face carries all my memories. Why would I erase them?"
Feature Photo:Zeit Magazin February 2018 Christy Turlington by Pamela Hanson