Live More, Fear Less: Aging (with Style)

After my recent post about finding beauty in imperfection, I came across Ari Seth Cohen’s Advanced Style blog. According to a note in the sidebar, he roams “the streets of New York looking for the most stylish and creative older folks” to photograph. He shares these photos on his blog, as well as video interviews. He says, “Respect your elders and let these ladies and gents teach you a thing or two about living life to the fullest.”

In one post he explains that he “started the blog in order to change people’s perception of aging and show that there is much fun to be had once you reach 80, 90 and 100 years old. Women often tell [him] that after 40 they have started to feel invisible…girls have reached out to tell [him] that they look forward to growing old like the Advanced Style ladies. Older women have commented that [his] photos have given them the permission to dress up and feel good about themselves.”

He’s also working on a documentary film titled Advanced Style which presents “portraits of women aging gracefully with tremendous spirit [that] will challenge conventional ideas about beauty, growing old, and Western culture’s increasing obsession with youth.”

If my mother was still alive, she’d celebrate her 85th birthday this year. I like to think Ari Seth Cohen would have picked her out of the crowd to photograph, too. She wasn’t extravagant, but she loved color, walked with her head held high (because ladies should have good posture), owned dozens of purses and scarves, and never left the house without wearing a bright shade of lipstick and a spray of perfume.

There is something remarkable about people who dress in their own unconventional way, regardless of what anyone else thinks. It speaks of freedom and courage (and maybe rebellion). Seeing someone – especially an elderly someone – dressed in classic elegance or crazy colors and patterns always makes me smile. Not because I think they look funny but because I know they must be the most interesting people to get to know. They have stories to tell and something to say to the rest of us.

Do you know someone from the “wise and silver-haired set” who you’ll never forget because of their own special style?

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Live More, Fear Less: Imperfection

beauty in imperfectionI’m not perfect, but I want to be. I accept imperfection in others because I know no one is perfect. But for some reason, it’s hard to apply that acceptance to myself.

I strive for perfection, not in my physical appearance (that’s beyond help), but in most things I do in my life. This does not include housework, however. I decided years ago to take on my mother’s philosophy that there are better things to do than clean one’s house everyday. My nagging – no, my screaming – perfectionism deals with just about everything else.

When I do something for someone, like complete a job or make a gift or cook a meal, I strive to make sure it’s done perfectly, and beat myself up if it’s not. Perfection is, after all, what others expect from me, right? It’s taken me years to realize that people don’t expect perfection from me, any more than I expect it from them. I need to remind myself of this truth just about every day.

Now that I’m aging – the proof of it in graying hair, wrinkles, and body parts that droop (yippee) a little bit more each day – I’m facing even more personal imperfection. Oddly, this lack of being perfect doesn’t bother me so much.

I look at nature. Often, the most beautiful trees are those that have grown a bit crooked, off-centered but somehow still balanced. Their imperfect shadings of leaf and bark catch my eye. And smooth, shiny stones are certainly beautiful, but it’s the ones with cracks and interesting veins of impurity that I’ll turn over in my hands and look at the most.

If I understand the concept right, the Japanese call it wabi-sabi, which has to do with finding beauty in imperfection – those things that are simple or unrefined, not quite symmetrical, that have attained beauty or serenity through age or wear.

If we live long enough, we will all be old someday. Our youth will fade, but will our beauty, really? Or will that which we think is beautiful change? If we allow ourselves, will we see the beauty in how time changes us? We cannot be perfect but we can be beautiful.

Let us strive to accept the imperfection in ourselves and in others. What do you think is beautiful but imperfect at the same time?