As a young woman in the 1960s I defined beauty according to an ideal I saw in magazines -- one I had no hope of meeting. That didn't stop me trying though. I ironed my wild hair, lemon juiced my freckles and did the coconut oil thing in the hope of getting a tan. When none of that worked I labeled myself plain and got on with being somehow lesser than. I didn't have the wisdom back then to see that actually I was beautiful in my own unique way, as we all are. Years later, when I took another look at the notion of beauty I held back then, I saw how absurd it was and how it excluded not only me but most of the people on the planet.
Today, as I head into my 60s, I'm no longer fooled by that narrow definition of beauty. Now I celebrate the multi-dimensional woman I have become. Yes, there are wrinkles and changing shape and greying hair. But I am more real than I have ever been. More confident. More compassionate. More self-aware. Forget those 1960s magazines, and their modern airbrushed equivalent. I'm going deeper. If beauty matters to me at all now it's the kind that shines from within. The kind you can't buy in an expensive glass jar. The kind the beauty industry won't encourage us to focus on because it comes as free as the air we breathe.
So how can we nurture this beauty within ourselves in the years beyond 50?
1) Honor the whole person that you are
Mainstream ideals of beauty focus only on the body and ignore the power of the mind, and the depth and beauty of the human spirit. To me that's like looking at the surface of the ocean only, and ignoring the astonishing beauty that lies hidden at its depths. Look beyond your surface attributes to qualities of character and ways of living and being in the world. Kindness is beautiful. Love is beautiful. Courage and confidence are beautiful. Living your passion is beautiful. Creative expression is beautiful.
Make it a daily practice to ask yourself -- how was I beautiful today?
2) Open your heart to the beauty that exists in every person and every age
I've been caring for my 89-year-old mother for some time now and in her I have found this other kind of beauty. It's not just that her eyes shine. Some days it seems as if every cell in her body is filled with light. The beauty of later life is like a lantern that burns in the depths of a person. In our fast-paced modern world few people notice this kind of beauty because, unlike the beauty of youth, it doesn't advance boldly towards us. To see it we must slow down and look, and listen, with the eyes of the heart. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that beauty steals inward as we age. This time spent caring for my mother has helped me see that this is true.
Make it a daily practice to look for the beauty shining within just one person.
3) Find and nourish your own inner light
Look closely at your eyes in the mirror and see the light of your spirit shining there. It is as important to care for this part of you as it is to care for the physical you. I've noticed as I head into my second half that I have days when I sparkle and days when I don't! It is like the ocean -- some days the storms come and it is harder to see the light dancing beneath the surface where all is calm. When the sparkle in my eyes dims I know it's been a bit stormy and I need to connect with my true self. So I meditate and walk the beach and write in my journal and celebrate the little moments. And after a while the spirit of me flashes in my eyes again.
Make it a daily practice to do one small thing that nourishes your spirit.
4) Take inspiration from nature
Contemplate the changing beauty of the seasons and how they roll one into the next without resistance. See the bigger picture of your life in that light and stand tall where you are. Yes, the spring and summer of life are behind you but the luscious hues of autumn and the ethereal beauty of winter are still yours for the living. So take a leaf out of nature's book. As the freshness of youth recedes, celebrate the new season of life you are in.
Make it a daily practice to notice one thing you love about the season of life you are in.
5) Connect to your timeless and unchanging beauty through meditation
Meditation is how you get to that place inside you where you are ageless. It's how you get to that place where you are beautiful in the way that stars in the sky are beautiful. These are not just words. Spend time in meditation and you will feel it; a beauty within you that is part of something infinitely greater than you. Meditation helps us reach beyond the illusory images of beauty that bombard us every day and connect to what is real, eternal and universal within each of us.
Make it a daily practice to spend even a few minutes in whatever form of meditation works for you.
These daily practices may seem simple but the world they will open up for you is anything but. In the words of Harshit Walia, "Whole life is a search for beauty. But, when the beauty is found inside, the search ends and a beautiful journey begins."
Note: This blog post was previously published on Helen J Russell's blog, www.joyafter50.com