2.5. Looks and Appearance
“What beauty is, I know not, though it adheres to many things.”
Albrecht Dürer, German painter, printmaker, and theorist of the German Renaissance
Looks and appearance may not seem to be the most important domain. But haven’t we all found ourselves in front of the mirror plucking out a gray hair, don’t we notice the receding hairline, deeper wrinkles and growing belly line with a certain sense of surprise and disaffection after all?
More than other domains, “Looks and appearance” requires reflecting on age stereotypes and one’s own beauty standards.
Rather than actual, tangible planning, later life preparation in this domain means consciously coming to terms with the fact that our bodies change with age, what that means for us personally, how we would like to deal with it, and what we want to represent to the outside world.
Preparation in this domain certainly is closely tied to “Mental and Physical Fitness” and “Health” but also “Leisure Activities and Lifestyle”.
Looks and Appearance can be divided into two main categories:
- Self-perception or body image (i.e. how do I see my own body and how do I feel about it), and
- Appearance e. how I (would like to) look to others.
While there is an abundance of literature on body image and physical appearance relating to younger people, older peoples’ perception or construction of appearance receives less interest – despite the fact that older people have to adjust to many changes in their physical appearance on the one hand and, on the other, have to deal with a changing attitude towards their body and looks on the other. Men and women might approach this domain differently as women’s bodies are commonly regarded differently than men’s, however, both genders have to deal with physical changes in the ageing process and how to come to terms with these unavoidable changes in their appearance.
“Is it autumn already? For me it´s springtime…”
(Comment by a Polish interviewee, April 2021)
Preparation for this domain might start with questioning your own perceptions about age and ageing bodies. In our societies that favor youth over age and apply Photoshop and Instagram filters to every image, it is not easy to find realistic depictions of ageing bodies in the mainstream media. However, by observing your own reaction to older people’s appearance, you might find ways to come to terms with your own stereotypes.
Considering images of age
Good practice examples from Germany: The Beauty of Age & Age Images
For the Virtual Photo Exhibition “The Beauty of Age”, photographer Laura Zalenga visited thirty people between the ages of 75 and 98. With the exhibition she tries to remind people that beauty has no expiry date but becomes interesting and expresses often unseen wisdom. The virtual tour through the exhibition is supposed to awaken curiosity for the positive in old age and friendships with the elderly.
Have a look at the beautiful pictures that might influence your view on real beauty: https://beautyofage.myportfolio.com/.
“Altersbilder” (Age Images), initiated by the German Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth focusses more on the very diverse ways in which older generations live today. This project wants to renew ideas about life in old age and encourage older people to contribute their abilities to society in a self-determined way. Young people in particular should be encouraged to review their image of old age. The program emphasizes the competencies and strengths of older people and develops a new image of old age.
Have a look at some selected photos of the exhibition and see how attractive truly lived lives are: https://www.programm-altersbilder.de/fileadmin/de.programm- altersbilder/content.de/Wanderausstellung/Englisch/Illustrated_Book_What_s_old_anyway_-
If we now turn to your appearance in old age, what is important to you? Are there certain things that you want to avoid as you are ageing? Look at older people and try to determine whether you apply the same yardstick to others. People tend to be harsher about their own appearance than others’. Be kind to yourself and your body. Training your self-awareness and becoming aware of your own beauty standards will help you to make conscious and healthy decisions that work for you in later life. Take another good look at older people. Is it really the wrinkles that people stumble over in their faces? Or don’t we all feel our hearts go out to an elderly face with a thousand wrinkles in a cheerful smile? Isn’t it rather the lines of sorrow, the grim tug around the mouth, the deeply buried frown that make people look sadly old? Attractiveness also has a lot to do with how satisfied you are, how at peace you are with yourself.
Physical change is inevitable as we get older and the best way to plan for this fact is to accept it. This does not mean, however, that you stop caring for your outward appearance. On the contrary, it just means a healthier relationship with it and engaging with your changing looks in a positive way rather than out of defiance.