Stacia Littlefield on Beauty
“Beautiful young people are accidents of nature, but beautiful old people are works of art. ”
One recent morning, while vertical but not yet veritably awake, I grabbed my toothbrush and gazed sleepily into the mirror. I leaned in and studied my reflection for the cursory daily checkup. “Hmmm, kinda sleep deprived, but nothing a little under eye concealer can’t fix. Mascara, check. Too lazy for liner. Eye shadow? Oh please—it’s Monday morning for Pete’s sake. OK, one more minute and then I’m out the door…wait…wait a second. Were those there yesterday?”
I squinted suspiciously. Delicate markings, the kind that frost etches onto windowpanes, were slowly kneading into the skin around my eyes. I smiled. My eyes were a distinct degree crinklier. “Well goodness. OK. I’m decidedly approaching the close of my 20s. Aging, here we come. This is about to get interesting!”
Now, I must stop at this point in the story to offer up a few disclaimers. Though relatively young, I am most definitely an old soul. Furthermore, I have grown up in cultures that highly value old age and the wisdom that comes with all of those lovely wrinkles. I cannot wait until my hair turns silver and my words have decades of weight behind them. That said, I don’t think anyone here is immune to the crushing American tidal wave of obsession with youth and ageism.
As life slowly carves into my soul and—let’s be honest—onto my face, how will I fare? In a society that promotes all sorts of pricey potions that promise to keep your forehead expressionless and your eyelids like an 8th grader’s, will I age with courage? So many people attempt to freeze a version of themselves, fretfully looking back to the way they were. It makes me wonder—what are we so afraid of?
As actress Frances McDormand stated, “We are on red alert when it comes to how we are perceiving ourselves as a species. There’s no desire to be an adult. Adulthood is not a goal. It’s not seen as a gift. Something happened culturally. No one is supposed to age past 45 sartorially, cosmetically, attitudinally. Everybody dresses like a teenager. Everybody dyes their hair.” (New York Times)
I openly admit that a girl in her 20s has no business talking with any authority about how she has handled watching her face change and settle over the space of fifty, sixty years. However, this issue of aging is up close and personal for those even younger than me. Most of us obsess over early aging and look into the future with a real dread of how time will end up distorting and slapping us around.
Perhaps we’ve missed something.
I began studying older people with a new curiosity. Through my surreptitious people watching, I have grown to regard the so-called “ravages of age” as a window into the history of a stranger. It’s fascinating to see how life has settled upon a face. Yes, there’s certainly the hereditary, inescapable wornness of aging that can only be chalked up to genes and sunscreen usage. But as we sail or trudge through this life, so much of our story gleams through the oilskin lining of the physical.
I especially love reading very elderly faces: eyes that have steadfastly stared down the decades or a smile long twisted by sorrow. Burning eyes, exceptionally awake and unhindered by heavy lids—those take a good sixty, seventy years to cultivate. Long enough to prove adolescent aspirations more than mere naiveté. Long enough to mourn dreams and weep over heartbreak and still have the audacity to look for resurrection. I love finding the kind of smile that ambushes an entire face, evidencing obstinate joy despite heavy disappointments over the years. I always keep an eye out for people over fifty that can still dream.
The oldest people I’ve been privileged to know have possessed an iridescent quality, with hope or despair glimmering just below papery skin. Age has a way of gently lifting off the satin cover of pretense and revealing our souls. As my mother used to say, age just makes,“you more you.”
This goes way beyond eye serums. Even as we live our roughly contoured lives, time slowly tattoos that same journey onto our bodies. Rather than stressing about how to avoid eye bags, how will I wear the joy and the pain life will hurtle at me? Even though I’m on the shallow end of the pool, it’s already tempting to let the hurt of my own scant decades toughen, brittle my soul. The bigger question is not how closely my eighty-year old face and frame will resemble my twenty-year old one. But it is this: how will I carry my scars? Will my countenance steadily reflect a childlike faith? Will I still be able to trust Him?
I have this crazy, unabashedly idealistic notion that the older I get, the more beautiful I’ll become because I will know Jesus more. The One who is Beauty Himself. As we look upon the Lord, His glory permeates all that we are, kindling a brilliance that radiates from our inmost being (2 Cor. 3:18). We truly do become what we behold. May the gentle crinkles and folds of our faces reassure younger faces yet unmarked—yes, He can be trusted! Yes, God really is good. May our eyes, wreathed in comfortable wrinkles, hold the glory upon which we have gazed. Let our souls light us up.
“And we all, with unveiled faces, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” —2 Corinthians 3:18
[Editor’s note: this article has been reposted from Emmaus.]