Longtime Beauty Editor Valerie Monroe Says Aging Gratefully—Not Gracefully—Is Where It's At
Brief confession: With a steady influx of new readers to my weekly newsletter, How Not to F*ck Up Your Face, a battle has been waging lately between a service journalism angel sitting on my right shoulder and an ego devil on my left. The devil goads, How do I get even more readers? And more? The angel whispers, Intention to be helpful first! F*ck the ego. (It’s a salty angel.) I’m bringing this up because of a recent reader response.
Said reader happens to be a loving person. Though she’s a stranger to me, I know this because at the end of her email detailing her disappointment with HNTFUYF, she signed off with, “Love to you, and thank you for understanding my perspective.”
As a person who’s found satisfaction (maybe even happiness) after a facelift, she felt unsupported by the atmosphere at HNTFUYF. She wrote, “It feels more like if you aren’t happy with aging gracefully in non-surgical ways, then [HNTFUYF] just isn’t for you. I find myself in a place in my life where I thought my face needed a bit of a lift to let me feel like it matched how I felt overall. I work so hard to keep myself healthy mentally and physically, and my decision for a procedure was an easy one.” To which I say, good for you!
Her email followed another in which a reader shared that she was deeply offended by the fact that HNTFUYF allowed that filler might even be considered an option for some women. How misogynistic could I get?
You see the dilemma.
But both criticisms are helpful. More readers mean many more and many different ideas about what aesthetic choices are “right” or “appropriate.”
I maintain that the “right” choice for you is the one you’re happiest with, whether it’s eschewing any and all treatments or electing to have surgery. I could probably do a better job of expressing that, so anyone can feel comfortable hanging out in our yard.
And about that phrase “aging gracefully?” I think it’s often used in a way that presents another difficult objective as we endure the challenges of getting older. No matter what aesthetic choices you make, you must look good—you must embrace (a word I used to love and now yeesh) your changing face and body. But if your goal is to live gracefully—with presence, intention, and compassion—what does aging have to do with it? As my five-year-old granddaughter likes to say, “Nuffing.” I’ll focus on aging gratefully, thanks.
A friend recently suggested I look at an article in the New York Times that was, he said, about how to get beautiful skin. Having missed the story, I looked it up. It was about the makeup artist Gucci Westman’s new skincare line.
The title “In Pursuit of Luminous Skin” made me think it was about how one might achieve that—but the story was bottom line an advertisement for Westman’s products. This, as you may know, is what passes for beauty “journalism” and IMHO it sucks (no offense to the writer). Not because there’s anything wrong with writing about a popular makeup artist’s new skincare line, but because the story is packaged in such a way as to encourage you to believe it’s more than an ad, which it is not. And because it’s in the New York Times, you might want to believe that a reporter has at least researched the ingredients in the skincare line and ascertained their probable effectiveness—but nope. Westman is beautiful. Her products are beautiful. But buying her products will not make you beautiful.
Another friend sent me a story from Vanity Fair Australia with this gratifying headline: “Justine Bateman Explains Decision to Age Naturally: ‘I Just Don't Give a Shit.’” I do wonder about the idea of “aging naturally.” Does that mean you’re aging “unnaturally” if you’re inclined to avail yourself of aesthetic interventions? I expect each of you would have a different answer to that question. Feel free to add your voice to the comments!
Did you know the science/speculative fiction writer Ursula K. Le Guin also had wise thoughts about beauty? I’ve mentioned her before, but here’s more:
“There’s the ideal beauty of youth and health, which never really changes and is always true. There’s the ideal beauty of movie stars and advertising models, the beauty-game ideal, which changes its rules all the time and from place to place, and is never entirely true. And there’s an ideal beauty that is harder to define or understand, because it occurs not just in the body but where the body and the spirit meet and define each other.
That must be what the great artists see and paint. That must be why the tired, aged faces in Rembrandt’s portraits give us such delight: they show us beauty not skin-deep but life-deep.”
“Life-deep beauty.” Now, there’s a phrase I wish we could all get behind.
Valerie Monroe is a writer and former magazine editor who was for nearly 16 years the beauty director at O, The Oprah Magazine. You can subscribe to her newsletter, How Not to F*ck Up Your Face, here.