Picture in your mind a beautiful woman.
You may think of a celebrity, a friend, or a loved one. But take a moment to imagine her face, her body, her posture, and her attitude.
Now think of beautiful women in the 1500s. If a woman considered to have incomparable beauty in the 16th century was transported to 2014, she would most likely not be called beautiful.
This is a testament to the fact that on many levels there is no such thing as innate beauty. Beauty is molded by society -- by the advertising, fashion, and cosmetic industries. We live in a society of billboards and ads, Photoshop, and Botox. We are trained to believe that size two is perfect, while most healthy women in America fit into a size 12.
It is time to unleash ourselves from what we believe to be the objectivity of beauty.
This subject recently came to mind when I was panting through the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in Manhattan, struggling to get to work on time, when I passed by the Hudson News. There on the cover of one of the top magazines was Christie Brinkley clad in a blue one-piece bathing suit with a title that read "Christie at 60! All Her Stay-Young Secrets."
I found myself staring, baffled.
I believe that men and women truly should grow older with dignity. People are predicted to live longer lives, the retirement age appears to be increasing, and with the help of science and technology, the older generation can have more active lifestyles even as they reach old age. Ms. Brinkley may be sending out a positive message: at age 60 she is active and she is sexy. She continues to stay fit and feels confident in her appeal.
And yet, this is also sending a very different message. By wearing that one-piece bathing suit and posing in an alluring manner it is showing men and women that looking 20 years younger is an expectation, rather than a choice.
In my mind, we should feel attractive at every age. Whether you're 15 or 85, it is important to feel confident and alluring. But this feature does not mean that to be attractive one must appear 30 years younger. Over the past two decades, 40 became the new 30, and now 60 has become the new 40. Why do we waste our time and money attempting to erase time, to erase experience, and to gloss over the reality that people grow older? Many avoid this process, denying its reality, while others proudly rack in years and memories, welcoming the life they have been given.
I believe that women are gaining strong voices. We are determined and we are vibrant. I don't believe that reaching a certain number should stop someone from any sort of lifestyle. Yet, I do feel that we need to live in a realistic world where not only are men with salt and pepper hair considered distinguished and wise, but women, however they may look at whatever age, must be acknowledged for who they are rather than their appearance.
What if Christie Brinkley looked 60? Should we devalue her as a human being? Should an individual be considered unattractive based on her varicose veins or wrinkles? It is time to understand that people age. Holding a standard for our society, to constantly look younger and to work hard to keep up that appearance is not only exhausting, but also takes away from the respect and territory that comes with gaining years.
Whether an individual is 20 or 40, we must stop valuing their bikini bodies and instead recognize their true accomplishments. This understanding dawned on me personally during my recovery process. I did not want a tombstone that read "Here lies Temimah, she was anorexic and weighed x pounds." Rather I realized that I wanted to be remembered for my contributions to society and for my character -- not for my appearance or how many calories I ate.
American Apparel recently launched an ad campaign that shows a 62-year-old lingerie model. The caption reads "Sexy has no expiration date."
It is healthy for us all - men and women - to feel sexy. But this does not mean that we should succumb to society's encouragement to melt off the years. Want to exercise daily until the age of 94? That shows strength. But do you know what else shows strength? To be comfortable with one's age, to enter the aging process with dignity and poise, and to realize that life experiences and accomplishments are what truly makes an individual beautiful; to know that you can feel sexy through exercise and fitness, but that men and women alike can feel sexy at any age for reasons beyond looks; to understand that what you see on a billboard should not dictate your lifestyle and self-worth.
It is time to picture in your mind what you feel beauty should be. Rather than think of a determined shape, decide on your own standard.
Better yet, think of beauty as an attitude, as confidence, and as character.
In 300 years the standard for beauty will have once again changed. We can succumb to society's expectations or we can determine for ourselves what holding appeal means. Perhaps it involves exercising or makeup, or perhaps it means letting one's hair down and embracing one's character. Either way, you be the one to determine this -- not some magazine cover.