the “sacred grail of youth”

Prue Stent

sacred grailletter to my friend

“Aging as if you haven’t aged at all doesn’t simply expose us to a standardized idea of beauty. It is a narrative that actively prevents us from understanding beauty in forms that do not correspond to the youthful canon. Consequently, the more we chase the Sacred Grail of youth, the more we blackout aging bodies, the less we see them, the less we can appreciate them.”

different forms 

So says, Abigail T. Brooks, who Stefania Medetti interviewed for her wonderful blog, The Age Buster. See more here.

The interview is so dense with ideas, that I got one of my “buzzes” from it. It’s that buzz you get when you find almost too many things you want to follow-up on. But I’ve picked out a couple of ideas here, ideas I’ve been thinking about, and probably you have to.

Appreciating different forms of beauty is something I believe in, in almost a religious way.

I actually think that being able to appreciate different forms of beauty is a part of what might save the world. 

I don’t know when it was that I first realized my fixation on the beauty of an espresso machine and how, to most people, that was a bit odd. It was then that I became aware that there was something to this sensibility, this skill, this “eye” I possess. But it was a quick ego check when I found others who had the same skill. 

And then it was a hallelujah, I’m not alone!

getting it

So there were those people who “got it,” but then there were those who seemed absolutely incapable of getting it. You know some of those people, they’re the people who wrinkle up their noses when you point out the beauty of a rusted old building, hanging in the twilight of the cityscape.

They just can’t understand what anyone would see in the round, “lady bumps” of a

Botero. And when you remark on the beauty of an older woman, one with grey hair and wrinkles, they are simply baffled. Age, in their mind, does not equal beauty. It just can’t. And, unfortunately, to them, people of other races cannot equal beauty either.

the black out

As a matter of fact, people of color, of a certain age, with disabilities, they’re  alien,”the other,” unequal. 

But the ageing body, of course, is a “universal.” It comes in all shapes, sizes, and colors. It’s what we all, God willing, will end up with. Here’s the problem though. If you “black out” the aging body, to use Brook’s term, you’re erasing not just yourself, or your future self, but others as well.

To be seen is a universal longing.

When Brooks talks about “blacking out the aging body,” she could as well be talking about blacking out any marginalized people. The homeless, blacked out. The physically disabled, blacked out. Anyone we prefer not be there, those people, we black out.

the face lift

So what do you do if you are feeling blacked out, invisible, or, not young enough? You are no longer the “real you,” you no longer recognize yourself in the mirror? You can’t compete with the young women around you? 

If you can afford it, you get a face lift. As Brooks says…

“We reject the changing body due to aging and celebrate its plasticity at the hands of technology.”

After not having seen each other for a while, my friend recently greeted me with, “I’m getting a face lift!” My immediate reaction wasn’t one of surprise. Face lifts are a part of our affluent, first world reality, and I’m not patently against them anyway. The two of us had talked about cosmetic surgery in the past and agreed that it was not an “evil” thing.

I wasn’t about to preach about the beauty of the aging process, “the look of an old rose, withered, but with a unique and subtle fragility and mellowed color that surpasses any youthful bloom.” Blah, blah, blah. I wasn’t about to tell my friend how beautiful she already is, how she could “pull off” anything, including aging.

We both believe that women should to do what they want.

My friend can afford a face lift, and she moves in circles where face lifts if not exactly de rigueur, are common. So in short, to sum up my immediate reaction, it was, “so what?”

Pretty quickly though, after saying goodnight to my friend, the critical thinking kicked in. And why was the word that first came to mind. Why attempt to imitate something you no longer are? Why go “under the knife,” willingly, to endure pain and a period of recuperation that is unnecessary for an outcome that is temporary?

My friend has already had some “work” done, and you can tell. I know that when she gets this done, you’ll be able to tell more. 

I think that we can all agree, that’s not a good look.

dying rose

And it makes me sad, but that’s not even the point. Perhaps in some circles, the look of multiple face lifts isn’t a negative thing, but a sign: “you are one of us.” Maybe it’s a reaffirmation of privilege? Who knows? Maybe I’m jealous? I too sometimes don’t recognize myself in the mirror these days.

But no matter how critical I sound, I wish my friend the best. And I will always believe that women should do what they want to. However, I can’t keep quiet about this, I have to state it and state it out loud!

There is a lot of beauty in aging. The dying rose does indeed reflect something unique and special.   

“Ageing as if we haven’t” isn’t sexy. It’s a temporary fix and not a good one. It’s saying age is bad, and that’s just wrong.

So friend, why not just donate the money you would spend for the face lift, to the Smile Train, and be done with it?

Love, your friend,



“An artist is attracted to certain kinds of form without knowing why. You adopt a position intuitively; only later do you attempt to rationalize it.”

—Fernando Botero



  • I know several older women, wrinkly grandmas really, who have had “face lifts” to fix the flap of upper eyelid hanging over and interfering with their vision. Driving the 2 hours into town I totally got it when I felt it happening to me, like someone pushing my eyes shut. I’m trying to do exercises to fix it but would go under the knife if it gets much worse.
    To the rest, to things that do not affect your health I say stop looking in the mirror and start living your life. Get rid of the people who will not be with you if you are wrinkled and grey. If you don’t look in the mirror you are how you feel and you can concentrate on that. People do react by not seeing the grey hair and wrinkles but only seeing your joy for life, and isn’t that the whole point anyway? Having everyone say- she is ageless, more beautiful now than ever.

  • I love every bit of this.

    I always thought I’d get my sagging eyelids lifted, as soon as I could get the doctor to say it was a medical necessity, but realized the other day that it wasn’t going to change anything. What would it really do for me? Would it make me richer, sexier, find the man? The bit about going under the knife–yes. I spend time looking at myself, practicing my smile and seeing the changes there–the radiance when I do smile, and the way my face sags more. The random black hairs sprouting on my arm, the softer, less firms breasts. And it is just me at 65. It does not diminish who I am or the things I can do.
    There is beauty in how the gray mingles with darker hair, just as the wrinkles of an old rose appear so lush. Thank you. I’m going to read the interview and think longer on this ‘blacking out’.

  • Maria Daxer says:

    I really love your honest writing about every human being has to face with her own aging.

    Am I enough the way I look? The look is a mask for hiding or for showing up and it is fun to play with all the personalities we have within us. I am 49 and I am aging…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.