When I was 6 or 7, I remember coming home from my tap dance lesson and standing in front of a mirror, trying to make my thighs jiggle like my teacher's did. I wanted it so badly. And I could not understand how when I did exactly the same movements, there WAS no movement. The teacher was probably middle-aged with a body that was, as they say, 'losing its tone,' but it was a body that I loved and envied. Well, eventually I got what I wished for and today I can make my legs shake anytime I want! I move… they move. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I wish I could behold myself with the same sense of awe and desire as my 7-year-old self. This is a memory I pull out from time to time, especially as I get older. It helps.
I turned 60 on Sunday. I AM grateful for my years and my health – especially since I have two daughters who cannot move as well as I do. And I appreciate being able to run and dance and do so many things I once took for granted. But what I am constantly working on is my perception of beauty when I look at my now six-decade-old self. I can tell you, at 40 and then 50… I did not bat an eye. They were just birthdays. 60 feels different. My first boss, Polly Mellen, was 62 when I started working for her. And I can remember thinking that, as chic as she was, she was OLD. When she would humiliate me, my only revenge was thinking to myself, "I am young and YOU are not." She could have just as easily thought to herself, "Your skin may be smoother than mine, but you know nothing – you are a baby." So now I find myself in the same decade I once looked down on. It isn't lost on me that many young women might look at me that same way. I am old. It does not feel awesome all the time. I shriek when I accidentally open the front-facing camera on my phone, shocked at my own face. Is that really me? But there are two tricks I use when thinking about how I look in the mirror. You might need them. I promise.
squinting at myself in the mirror
The first one is this: think of someone at least 10 years older than you, whose style you admire. You do not have to be friends with this person (though that helps too,) or even know them personally. But whenever you are feeling sad or shocked by your appearance, you need to conjure up this woman in your head and think about how attractive you find her. Summon that admiration! I tell myself: "I would rather look cool than look young." My go-to girls for this are Lisa Love, longtime West Coast Director of Vogue — I only met her once, but she was a friend of my brother's and it is sweet to love the Love that he loved. And she looks cool as all get-out. I also love the way Lucinda Chambers looks. They aren't trying to look younger – they just look great.
The second trick is the squint. When women are in the dressing rooms here, I tell them to step back, away from the mirror, and squint a little when they look at themselves. You can see the proportion better that way. Most people get straight up into the mirror and stand still. Often not good, but more importantly, not true to life. You are not one-dimensional. When people look at you, they don't see the flat image you're looking at in the mirror – they experience you in all three dimensions. There are any number of angles, figuratively and literally, from which you may look attractive. Whatever complexion problems you are having, or extra X pounds that are bothering you… they matter less to the observer than you think. In fact they often don't even register. I know that when I smile, the people who love me think I am beautiful. The others don't actually matter so much. I work in fashion, and I LOVE to dress for myself and for others, too. it feels great to get a compliment. But I try to remember that the people I find most beautiful aren't perfect, either. Some of them may not even be conventionally attractive (one of many lessons learned from my week at disability camp.) I am grateful for the body and the face that was given to me, and I try to take care of it by eating well (enough,) exercising (enough,) and putting good things on my skin.
SO, if you are wondering what I do, skin-wise… it is very simple. Oil and oil and oil. I am kind of obsessed with Vintner's Daughter products. There are only two of them: an essence and a serum. Lizzie, who works with me and discovers all things cool, had mentioned it before… and then I listened to an interview with the founder, April Gargiulo, on Laura Vinroot Poole's WHAT WE WORE podcast. Her enthusiasm for what she makes was contagious – she was so waaaaaay into it that I decided I would be, too! I love the way it smells, and I love the way my skin looks. It is pricey, definitely, but I would rather use fewer, better things that feel like a joy to put on rather than a chore.
And then my chic French friend Jane Pendry (technically English, but has lived in Paris for so long that I count it) turned me on to these brilliant tanning drops from Tan Luxe. She has always had the most dewy, dreamy bronzed skin. I commented once on her complexion, assuming she'd been on vacation… but she admitted that while she tans in the summer and spends as much time in Greece as she can (her exact words were "I will look like an old apple someday,") she uses these magical drops year-round to keep it up. So I tried them, too. J'adore. I add 2 drops to my Vintner's Daughter serum in the morning, and that is that. At night I use my other favorite oil from Wonder Valley. Totally opposite end of the spectrum here. The branding is brilliant and it smells like California. Not so much like orange blossoms or jacaranda… but how I imagine a Californian would smell. Like a chic hippie. The soap is also fantastic. J'adore that, too.
AM and PM
Other than a slather of travel-size body moisturizer from the last hotel I stayed at… that's about it. Beauty is such a personal thing, and my own slapdash approach feels very ME. Loads of women love products and treatments and get so much joy from a 'self care' ritual. I am not really that girl. I do love a facial and if I weren't so lazy about booking appointments, I would go for one more often than once a year. I guess what I'm saying is, whatever it is that you believe in, lean into it – because doing something for yourself DOES make you feel awesome.
I grew up with a mother who didn't spend a ton of time on makeup… or skincare… or clothes… or much of anything appearance-related. She liked the way she looked. And the small amount of time she spent on herself, plus a swipe of coral lipstick, made her feel pretty enough. While she must have had some vanity, I never saw much of it — she was just more interested in living life than in how she looked doing it. That is kind of major to me and I think about it so much more, now that my reflection in the mirror does not quite square with what I see in my head. When she was in her mid 50s she developed Bell's Palsy, and the right side of her face basically dropped – giving her a lopsided face for the rest of her life. I never once heard her complain about it. Her new Picasso-esque face did not get in the way of sailing with my dad or laughing with her friends. It certainly did not keep her from her morning and evening cigars.
Ever since the digital world has become a larger part of our lives, my oldest daughter and I have been tossing this hypothetical question back and forth. If you had to choose, would you rather people see photos of you online in which you look amazing… only to meet you in person and find you less so? Or the opposite? "She doesn't look great in pictures but she is radiant in real life." I think I know what most people would choose. And every time I see an unflattering photo of myself, I have to remind myself that I want the latter, too. So I try to smile, keep my face well oiled, have a cast of chic older women in my head, and squint when I look at myself. I am just a few days into 60 but so far it feels pretty good.