Growing Older . . . Beautifully

By Katie O’Connell

I have a confession. I’m having a love affair:  No, not that kind. I adore my husband, despite his never-changing wardrobe and inability to dance. Instead, this is a love affair with me, myself, and I. And though it might sound odd at first reading it’s the kind of love I’ve always looked for but could never find – loving the skin I am in.

A few weeks ago, I needed to locate an item amongst old photographs. The search involved a step ladder, loading and unloading several boxes, and several hours reminiscing through dusty memorabilia. (Old photos are always the rabbit hole of an afternoon for me.) I couldn’t help pausing over the memories. I admired how curvy I was – in all the right places – during my college years. I marveled at my young, tanned skin while my husband and I honeymooned on sandy beaches.

I felt a split-second pang of wistfulness, and then caught myself.

“You’ve come a long way, baby,” I muttered.

You see, just like the old Virginia Slims cigarette campaign, I’ve changed in these past 50 years. And it’s certainly been for the better. That afternoon spent reminiscing through my memories made me realize something. If I returned to those days, I wouldn’t have today’s sense of wholeness and peace of mind. Back then I may have looked great, but I was a wreck inside.

Photographs taken at the beach? I believed I was fat and unattractive. I never appreciated the health and vitality I had. First job out of college? I was constantly dissatisfied, always driven by the next promotion or recognition. Jealous of other’s successes.

As I shuffled through the items and mementos I had saved, I recalled “If only…” was often my mindset. If only I could afford that outfit, lose those ten pounds, get that job or promotion or car. On the outside, I looked to have the world by the tail, living a single-girl’s life in a major city. But instead of happiness or gratitude, I “If only’d” my life. What a waste of youthful energy.

Now all these years later, I look at those photos and remember the guilt I felt enjoying a delicious dessert. I recall time misspent worrying over my mistakes and fearing what others thought of me.

Who knew it takes 50 years to become comfortable with yourself?

I’ve come a long way, baby, indeed.

Last week, as my hairdresser’s blow dryer roared in my ear, I shouted, “I’m seeing a lot of gray. I’m thinking I need to start coloring my hair.

”She turned off the dryer. We looked at each other in the mirror that flanks her station. She gave me that no-nonsense look every well-seasoned hairdresser delivers so well.

“If you want to, you gotta realize something. Once you start, you can’t easily stop. You’ll be coloring every time you come in. If you’re okay with that kind of commitment, that’s fine with me, but realize it is commitment.

”I’d never thought of it that way.

I decided to wait a bit. Maybe some gray isn’t all that bad. Maybe it just means I’ve made it this far and that’s something to celebrate. After 50 years, I know it’s okay to be alright right where I am, and my beauty has nothing to do with that.

About this writer

  • Katie O’Connell

    Katie O’Connell

    Katie O’Connell is a former teacher turned full-time writer. Her essays appear in many Chicken Soup for the Soul books, magazines, and online sites such as Patheos and Scary Mommy. She lives in Chicago with her patient husband, two “look-out-world” daughters, and an English Pointer who rules them all. Follow her work at www.heartwiredwriting.com.

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2 Responses to “Growing Older . . . Beautifully”

  1. Linda O'Connell says:

    Hi Katie, from one O’Connell to another. I identified with every part of your essay. How much time we wasted worrying. Let me share a little tip; you can extend the life of your hair color by using brown mascara on your roots and rubbing it in. No way I’m going gray…or to get retinted every six to eight weeks. I’m taking care of my won business these days.

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