Beauty, of a certain age.


September 7, 2013 by readlisaread

SHE walks in beauty, like the night

Of cloudless climes and starry skies,

And all that’s best of dark and bright

Meets in her aspect and her eyes;…..

Byron didn’t write these words about me (obviously), nor do I fancy he wrote them about a woman anything like me, but nonetheless, I was toasted with these words the other day. Not romantically (a poetic and literate platonic friend), indeed a bit drunkenly, but still with heartfelt (if slightly slurry) emotion.

I think a lot about beauty, and prettiness and physical appeal, like most women of my generation–it was the currency of our childhood. But I find that now I have arrived “at a certain age”, and physical appearance means much less to me now than it ever did, I have reason to think deeply about what it means to be beautiful.

I have this thing that annoys me mightily on Facebook.  More than the Duck-face selfies, the “Look at the shirt I bought today!”-excuse to show cleavage, even the overtly-not-even-pretending-they-aren’t-trying-to-look-provocative poses.  The “you’re pretty!” posts. They go like this: Pretty Girl posts a picture (possibly like one of the above, maybe even a normal one).  Pretty Girl’s friend comments: “You’re so pretty!” and Pretty Girl replies: “I so am not!  I’m a troll/hag/fatty/whatever, but YOU are the pretty one!”, and an Internet Argument ensues about who, of the equally nubile, pretty young girls is the prettiest.  Usually hearts and XOXOX’s accompany this debate, and it’s never resolved, but often other Pretty Friends chime in as well, and soon a Facebook wide Pretty-Fest erupts, then abates….until the next “You’re Pretty!” volley is fired (incidentally, it’s usually spelled “Your Pretty!”, but that is a topic for another rant).

And so, here is the point, I find myself on the dark side of 40 (48 next week, to be precise), and have never, not ever, considered myself pretty/cute/beautiful…..etc.  Don’t get me wrong, at many times in my life, I have considered myself attractive, but usually more in reference to quirks or qualities of my personality–I’m funny, sarcastic, articulate, intelligent, interested in a lot of topics and knowledgeable about some, and I like people.  This all works together to create an occasional aura of attractiveness.

I should point out that I am terribly uncomfortable writing all those complimentary things about myself–but I am determined to be honest and get to kernel of my argument: When the hell did I become beautiful?

In the space of the past week, in several different settings, surrounded by different circles of friends and acquaintances, I was called:  beautiful, gorgeous, glamorous, sassy, sharp (as in a fashion-sense). My hair (great new cut), my eyes (I’m so happy false lashes are back in fashion), and my energy  were all commented upon and complimented. I was lightly mauled by a drunken acquaintance at a party (and yes, I do understand the physics of beer goggles, but I also know the effects of alcohol on the subconscious), who claimed the right to grab my knee,  put his arm around me, and call me Good Looking because “we go WAY back” (like….our kids have been friends for 4 or 5 years? )

And then those famous words of Lord Byron, spoken aloud,  just for me. Me. Never beautiful according to society’s conventions, with enough extra- weight to create a whole other middle-aged, gray haired (the great new cut is also bleached blonde) mother/wife/weekend-in-jammies slattern. (And still have a few kilos left over)

This is far more meaningful to me, now, than any of those hearts, xoxox’s and “your pretty”s (sic) would have been at the time, even if they were true. My peers have no reason to lie to me, nor do I need them to bolster my confidence or self-esteem.  Just when I had finally embraced the fact that having a great personality and a good brain was enough, suddenly I become Beautiful.

Where the hell were you when I was 14, Beauty. I’d have known what to do with you then!!!


  1. Catherine Novak says:

    Oh my goodness, Lisa, 48-year-olds know so much more about beauty, and how to use it, than 14 year olds. You can have a ton of fun with your new-found beauty, which comes so much from the way you radiate joy and comfort in the skin (and hair and eyelashes, real or fake) you are in. How much more lovely is a woman who has seen a thing or two, can tell a fantastic tale, and still pile on the charm? How much more fun a character is the Wife of Bath, than any number of innocent little maidens? I’ll take a bloom in full flower over a little bud any day. Besides, being beautiful at 14 is just plain scary for a lot of young women.

  2. readlisaread says:

    🙂 Well said, Catherine

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