Feeding our insecurities is the fact that plastic surgery and skin care technology have made it possible to turn back the hands of time in a very visible way—you can erase a decade if you choose to. The question is: How do you choose to live peacefully with your looks when the pressure to do just the opposite is overwhelming?
If only you could see the changes in your appearance objectively—not in the harsh light of ageism but in the natural glow of real life—you would be surprised to discover that you do indeed look better than you ever have. Let me count the ways. For starters, your face, free at last from the pudginess of youth, has gained definition. Not only are your cheekbones more visible but your eyes are now more expressive. And how about your skin? Dryer yet softer, it no longer breaks out. Properly hydrated, it has a natural radiance and requires less makeup. And your lips, though admittedly not as full as they used to be, are now more likely to arch into an enticing smile, communicating a wider range of moods and feelings. Truth be told, the intelligence of a mature face can be much more compelling than the sometimes insipid beauty of someone whose main assets are smooth eyelids and pouty lips that provide the perfect surface for the latest high-lacquer gloss.
As renowned makeup artist Laura Mercier, 41, puts it, "Age is sexy because it brings wisdom and knowledge of yourself. As for style, you know what looks good on you. You've learned from your past mistakes; you are not distracted by trends." Who can argue with that? Yet while some women have the wherewithal to age gracefully, others feel that as soon as they hit their thirties they've got to fight to stay on top: They test all the latest high-tech antiwrinkle skin-care treatments, graduate to Botox injections, go for repeated chemical peels and, eventually, schedule an appointment with their best friend's plastic surgeon.
But before succumbing to the prevailing antiaging madness, maybe we should listen to what a few successful maverick beauty experts have to say. Despite the especially intense pressure in their profession to stay young forever, each of these women has chosen to live peacefully with her changing looks, adapting as she goes along, adding new beauty rituals and getting rid of others.
Each woman has translated what she has learned from personal experience into a successful cosmetics line, in hopes of encouraging the rest of us. "If you want to look your best, you don't need to put on a lot of makeup," says Sylvie Chantecaille, 55. "Instead, do what makes you deeply happy. Become successful. There is a true radiance in the face of a woman who takes joy and satisfaction in her own life." And Bobbi Brown, 43, who's always pragmatic, suggests, "Look at yourself as you are now, not in comparison to how you used to be. You may be surprised at your own beauty."
Next: Laura Mercier, Isabella Rosselini, and Iman share their beauty wisdom
O Magazine: How do you handle the constant pressure to fight age?
Laura Mercier: I am the first to admit that it's much harder to see your own beauty than the beauty of others. While I love the slightly crinkly eyes of my older friends, I have very little appreciation for my own fine lines. But I have taught myself, through meditation and therapy, to treat my particularities as gifts. I stay confident by refusing to compare myself with other women of any age. Instead of trying to look young, I try to look unique.
O: What do you do to nurture your own sense of inner and outer well-being?
LM: I stay in touch with the sensuality of my body. I've always loved sports for that reason, and I enjoy dancing as well. When I am on the dance floor, I am no longer critical of myself. I know that I am beautiful. If I may say so, it's the same in bed. I put on pretty lingerie and I feel extremely secure about my femininity.
O: What makeup techniques do you recommend to other women?
LM: The thing I do for my clients is the same thing I do for myself when I feel less than beautiful: I erase the visible causes of anxiety—blemishes, tiny lines, dark circles—but I don't cover the entire face in makeup. The biggest mistake I see women making is wearing too much foundation. It erases the character of the face.
O Magazine: What is your personal beauty philosophy?
Isabella Rosselini: Try to laugh as often as possible and always remember to wash my face!
O: How do you view the beauty industry's approach to aging?
IR: If you look at most beauty advertisements, you would think that makeup is only for beautiful women in their early twenties. I try to make sure the Manifesto [Rossellini's makeup line] advertisements include women of all shapes, colors and ages. Market research shows that older women like seeing older women in ads, and that younger women do too—because they see them and are not frightened of growing older.
O: Do you believe in fighting age?
IR: No, I don't do anything to look younger; this is one battle that you will lose eventually. It is more becoming to accept the unique characteristics that come with age. Women who stay true to themselves are always more interesting and beautiful to me, women like Frida Kahlo, Georgia O'Keeffe and Anna Magnani—women who have style, chic, allure and elegance. They didn't submit to any standard of beauty—they defined it.
O: What makeup advice do you have for women—especially those over 30?
IR: I always encourage women to let their individuality show by not covering up what they perceive as flaws. When I see a woman with the natural wrinkles of time on her face, I do not see the wrinkles at all, but when I see a woman trying to cover them up with too much foundation or concealer, all I see are her wrinkles. Instead of looking in the mirror and asking, "What's wrong with me?" use makeup to highlight your uniqueness, not to hide and correct.
O Magazine: About ten years ago you stopped modeling. Why?
Iman: I was feeling frustrated. The fashion business is so youth-oriented. As a model, a woman is considered old when she is 30. Yet by the time I was 40, I felt I was more beautiful than ever. I was more secure and I had more wisdom. I was not a little girl anymore. In Somalia, where I come from, being young is not a high priority. You look up to mature people for inspiration and guidance. I went into the beauty business to help women feel the way I did—attractive and confident— regardless of age.
O: How do you define beauty in an older woman?
I: Commercial beauty doesn't interest me. A woman who is 50 can be as attractive as a girl who is 17, as long as she recognizes her own strengths. For example, as a young girl, I was much more preoccupied by my flaws. Everyone teased me because of my long, skinny neck. To hide my so-called deformity, I was wearing a turtleneck when I was 3! Yet my neck is probably my best asset. At the end of the day, what counts is the entire package.
O: How do you enhance self-esteem?
I: For me, skin care rituals are a form of meditation—they keep me balanced. I am kind to my skin. I remove my makeup as soon as I get home and I apply moisturizer.
But just as important as being kind to my skin is being kind to younger women. Kindness is a lovely quality to nurture as you get older. It makes you feel good about yourself.
O: So what's the best advice you would give women to follow as they get older?
I: Don't try to look skinny. After a certain age, thinness is not attractive. You'd be surprised, but five extra pounds can make you look healthier, younger, more attractive.
Next: Tricks of the trade from makeup masters Sylvie Chantecaille and Bobbi Brown
O Magazine: What's the secret to projecting a youthful look, regardless of age?
Bobbi Brown: Looking fresh and rested. When are you the most beautiful? When you're on vacation. The trick is to discipline yourself to get enough sleep and find ways to handle your stress in your everyday life too. If you're well-rested instead of sleep deprived, you'll take years off your face. When I need to pick myself up, I do three things. I dab yellow-based concealer under my eyes with my fingers and set it with a powder puff. Then I apply a slightly brighter blush than my usual one to look like I'm flushed. And I spritz on fragrance as an energizer.
O: And what makes women look older?
BB: Worrying constantly about their looks. I believe in being low maintenance. As a matter of fact, I don't often look at myself in the mirror. It's not that I don't have the time—I simply don't have the inclination. Most of us look better when we don't know what we look like anyway.
The best thing to do before a party, for instance, is take a deep breath and tell yourself, "Okay, I am going to have a great time." And then don't look in a mirror all night. It works better than running to the ladies' room every half hour and fixing your makeup.
Oh, and drink a lot of water all day long. When I forget to drink water, I look so much older!
O: What's your philosophy regarding plastic surgery?
BB: It is too easy to go so far that you lose any character in your face. What I would recommend, though, is having your teeth whitened. It's amazing. It totally lightens up your face and you look years younger.
O Magazine: What's the biggest misconception women have about makeup as they age?
Sylvie Chantecaille: That they need more; they actually need less. You can switch to a lightweight foundation that moisturizes your skin and evens it out without covering it too much. Sheer makeup makes your skin look much sexier. Heavy makeup makes you look like you're trying to hide something.
O: What about plastic surgery?
SC: I would suggest resisting the temptation to undergo plastic surgery, except perhaps for pockets under your eyes. Don't do anything that takes away from the expression of your eyes or your smile. Believe me, a face that doesn't move is not a beauty asset. Unfortunately, I know from personal experience. After the birth of my son, I struggled for ten years with the paralysis of half my face. Eventually, I learned to live with it. Then, a couple of years ago, I contracted Lyme disease, and the other side of my face was temporarily paralyzed. So I learned to deal with that too! That's part of growing up. At some point in your life you have to learn to take full responsibility for your own happiness. And for me, that also meant leaving the corporate world to create my own fragrance and, then, cosmetic line. Taking that risk allowed me to bring balance to my life, and consequently I feel—and look—more content.
O: How do you think other women can take advantage of their life experience to look more beautiful with time?
SC: It all adds up to finding out who you are. But remember: Fear—whether of life, of aging, or of change—is the worst danger you will encounter. It's the one thing that can really paralyze you.
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