Have you ever watched a baby look at herself in the mirror? Watch closely next time as she joyfully examines the beauty of her eyes, her nose, her mouth, her hair, her hands—and becomes downright entranced by the reflection staring back at her. Watch her smile broaden and her face light up at the sight of her own image, as she finds herself filled with complete and utter delight. Then ask yourself: When was the last time I looked at myself in the mirror like that?
If you’re like most women (and even some men), you haven't been captivated by your own reflection since the number of candles on your birthday cake was in the single digits. However, it is possible to recapture the felicity you used to experience when you gazed at your likeness in the mirror. In fact, looking and feeling beautiful is possible at any age. “It has to be about self-acceptance,” says Alyson Hoag, founder and CEO of Authentic Beauty LLC in Atlanta. “You have to get to that point of acceptance where you say, ‘I am a unique creature,’ and truly celebrate who you are.”
Of course, getting to that point can be an arduous challenge, especially with all of the pictures of seemingly perfect celebrities and models that we see in the media every day. It’s actually very natural to fall into the trap of believing that those often-retouched images are the standard by which beauty is and should be assessed. In spite of that, Hoag notes, “There comes a time when you get tired of having other people tell you what you should look like.” That’s because beauty truly is subjective. It is, as they say, in the eye of the beholder—and it’s time for that beholder to be you. Once you understand and embrace that perspective, then your journey toward being beautiful to yourself and everyone around you can really begin.
While it’s common to focus on your exterior appearance when thinking about the concept of beauty, that’s not necessarily where your appeal derives. You need to look somewhere else first, according to life coach Laina Orlando, founder of The Center for Awareness LLC in Marietta and author of The Power of Awareness programs. “Beauty comes from within—it’s a person who is whole and complete within herself,” she says. “It’s a person who has wrestled her inner demons and found inner peace. To me, that’s what beauty is. When that's authentic you can come out from a place of inner peace; there’s this inner light that is more beautiful than any makeup in the whole world—and that confidence just radiates.”
Hoag agrees, adding, “When a woman—or anyone for that matter—is really expressing her inner self, that is beautiful. When you’re tapped into what makes your heart sing, it doesn’t matter what kind of makeup you have on—you’re glowing from the inside out.”
As expected, finding a sense of inner peace is no easy task. Orlando reveals that it often involves dismantling who you believe yourself to be to discover who you really are. “The structure we make up as women is so vast because we’re supposed to be wives and mothers and caretakers—so many things that are so far removed from what we were when we were 2 years old playing with our dolls,” she notes. “And that’s where our true essence lies. That little girl didn’t care about wearing makeup. That little girl didn’t care what anybody thought about what she was wearing. But as we grow up, we become programmed to be what society wants us to be, so we continue to do all the things on the exterior to get accepted. Then we get to a certain point in our lives—often midlife—and something inside of us says, ‘Come back to who you are.’”
Whether it’s through coaching, therapy, workshops or helpful books, there are many ways to examine your life and go on a journey to find inner tranquility. During the process, though, it’s important to realize that you don’t have to completely turn your back on your physical self. “It’s ok to like this incredible body that we’ve been given and enjoy all of the products out there that can help enhance our look,” Orlando contends. “We just have to remind ourselves that there’s not a bottle out there that contains the essence of who we are.”
And the fortunate part of aging is that with age comes acceptance. In fact, the older you get, the more willing you'll be to appreciate yourself as you are. Then you can work from that place of confidence and conviction to find your true sense of style and work to become your best, beautiful self. “Women in their 20s and up to 35 really give themselves a hard time. You’re striving to fit into this ‘I’m going to be the perfect version of myself’ mode. After you hit 35, you still want to look great, but you give yourself more room to breathe. And your willingness [to accept yourself] grows every year,” Hoag explains. “When I was 30, I was more accepting of myself than when I was 20. When I was 40, I was more accepting than at 30. And by the time you hit 40, you really start giving yourself a break.”
Remember, your sense of style can and should change over the years. “That means you’re growing and changing as a human being,” Hoag says. “If your style doesn’t change, then you really need to examine that. We are not the same people we were when we were 25. And the people we gravitate toward are those who construct their image based on their authentic self.”
Seeking your authentic self will motivate you to take better care of your body—ultimately helping you look better as you feel better. “It’s a circle. When you come closer to who you are, you tap into a wellspring of energy, and that energy allows you to feel better about who you are. Now you have more confidence internally and that stimulates the energy that you have externally," Orlando says. "Once you understand that all of your power is inside of you, there is a new appreciation for the body. Instead of it just being something that we’re using, we recognize that it’s a vessel that we’ve been given to enjoy this life experience. So there’s a natural tendency to care of it.”
Turn the page
Ready to begin a journey of self-discovery but don’t know where to start? Pick up one—or all—of these books for a bit of inspiration (suggestions provided by Hoag and Orlando):
- Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy by Sarah Ban Breathnach
- Happy for No Reason by Marci Shimoff
- The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
- Be the Person You Want to Find by Cheri Huber
- Something More: Excavating Your Authentic Self by Sarah Ban Breathnach
Whether you get up every morning and put on makeup or only use cosmetics on special occasions, and whether have your hair done for $10 or $100, the choices you make about your style say so much about you. That’s why understanding yourself is one of the most essential elements in your beautification process. “We’ve all seen those women who wear a full face of makeup and are absolutely gorgeous. And we see people who wear no makeup, and they’re absolutely gorgeous. Why is that? It’s not because one person’s skin is better than the other—it’s because that’s who they are. They’re using the makeup to express who they are,” Hoag says.
The real challenge lies in not comparing yourself to the images you see on television and in magazines. “All of the images we see are Photoshopped anyway, so as women it’s damaging and silly to compare ourselves,” Hoag says. “Unfortunately, the beauty industry has everyone striving to compare themselves. Instead, use those images as if you were window-shopping. Use them for inspiration.” Also, don’t be afraid to try something new. If you’re like many women, you’ve probably adhered to the same set of beauty rituals for years—maybe even since you were a teenager. But while keeping the same hairstyle or using the same foundation is comfortable and familiar, it may not make you feel beautiful anymore. “[Beauty] has to do with personal expression,” Hoag says. “You have to think about who you are at the time and then find the makeup, the clothing and the hairstyle to complement that.”
You can even go so far as to examine your long-standing concept of beauty and what it really means to you. Orlando recommends that you ask yourself the hard questions. For example, are you wearing makeup because you want to or because you think you have to in order to experience happiness in your life? “If you’re wearing makeup and you’re totally happy, then I wouldn’t change a thing,” she remarks. “But if you’re all dolled up and you’re totally unhappy, then we know the makeup isn’t doing the trick.” And that’s when it’s time to shake things up.
If you discover that you are ready to make some changes, they don’t necessarily have to be drastic. There are subtle alterations you can make that will refine your appearance and allow you to feel even more like the confident, beautiful person you are.
Take care of your skin. “I believe you should spend 70 percent of your time on applying skincare products and 30 percent on applying makeup,” Hoag declares. She urges women and men to start wearing sunscreen regularly (and passing that habit onto your children). In addition to protecting you against cancer, a good skincare regimen will keep your epidermis from wrinkling.
It’s been said that the eyes are the windows to the soul. But before you go out and buy the latest eyeshadow and liner to enhance them, you need to work with what you have—namely your eyebrows and eyelashes. Hoag, the “brow guru of Atlanta,” places great emphasis on having properly shaped eyebrows, which will balance your facial features. Most importantly, she notes, “Your arch has to be in the right place. There are angles to follow for your eye.” And when your eyebrows are done right, you can focus on your eyelashes. For many women, having long eyelashes seems like a pipe dream. However, eyelash extensions—having synthetic hairs glued along your lash line—can change all of that. “The lashes add such dimension, especially for women who don’t really have any eyelashes,” she says.
Also, be sure to apply makeup in the light you’ll be seen in, Hoag recommends. For instance, if you work in fluorescent light, apply your makeup in that same light. In that same vein, wear makeup that is appropriate to your environment. If you’re wearing a trendy dress, stick with trendy makeup; if you’re wearing casual clothes or work clothes, go with more natural makeup.
Finally, beautiful makeup application starts with a good, solid foundation. Hoag offers the following tips for age-appropriate foundation application:
In your 30s, lighten up your coverage. At this age, women are starting to develop fine lines and wrinkles; you still need ample coverage but not an entire face. In your 40s and older, you need full coverage to even your skin so it appears smooth, balanced and healthy looking. Some women say that the actual foundation is noticeable on their face and settles into their lines; this is because their skin is not moist enough. If this is you, moisturize more! The skin sucks out all of the moisture in the foundation, leaving the color sitting on top of the skin and looking unnatural, rather than melding into the skin to create a natural look.
There are plenty of guidelines out there about choosing the best hairstyle for the shape of your face and selecting the right hairstylist to work with. The combination of professional counsel and the proper cut and color can do wonders for your appearance on a day-to-day basis. But the one thing women tend to forget, according to Hoag, is that special occasions call for special treatment. “When it comes to a special occasion, go pay someone to do your hair,” she advises. “Go to the salon and have someone blow out your hair. It’s the same thing with your makeup—if you have somewhere important to be, just go out and have someone do it for you.”
Your clothing and accessories
One of the most simple and effective changes you can make when it comes to your wardrobe is stopping yourself before you head to the mall. “With your personal style, you have to do your homework to figure out what you’re even drawn to,” Hoag says. “You don’t go grocery shopping when you’re hungry—don’t go to the department store without knowing what you want. That’s why people have buyer’s remorse.” Instead, go to the mall several times without buying anything. Try things on and see what you like. You can even spend some time looking at magazines to get a sense of what styles appeal to you. “I challenge you to buy the thickest publication you can. Begin by examining each image and allowing the look and feel to wash over you—no comparing,” she continues. “Every time you see a picture that you like or are attracted to, pull it out. When you are done look through the pages you have gathered. Do you notice a pattern? Does a particular look repeat itself over and over? I find when I work with my clients, there might be 20 pages but a similar look and feel on nearly all of them.” Once you’ve pinpointed the look that you feel is an authentic reflection of you, you can then make smart purchases.
And if you think the runway is the best place to scope out today’s hottest looks, think again. You need to go where you can objectively look at regular people and how they are dressed. “Go to the airport for a couple of hours,” Hoag suggests. “Go on a Sunday, sit down and watch the people going in and coming out. I once transformed my entire sense of style just by sitting in the airport for about 4 hours waiting for someone.”
If you have a certain physical attribute that you feel won’t benefit from makeup application or a desire to get additional help looking and feeling your best, then you may want to consider one of the many minimally invasive cosmetic procedures available. “Today’s cosmetic procedures can make both men and women look great at any age,” says Dean J. Fardo, M.D., an Atlanta-based, board-certified plastic surgeon with The Swan Center for Plastic Surgery. “They can help reverse the signs of aging while producing very natural appearances. Natural and refreshed is definitely the goal of most procedures today.”
What's more, Robert A. Colgrove Jr., M.D. of Vining Surgery Center notes, is that cosmetic procedures can be used either in a corrective capacity or as an enhancement. "Cosmetic procedures can correct areas that are out of proportion to other areas of the body. Examples would include a large hump on the nose, small breasts that are not proportional to the shoulders and hips and love handles that are not responsive to diet and exercise," he says. "These procedures also can be used to enhance your beauty. This would include examples like reducing facial wrinkles with Botox and soft-tissue fillers and understanding how to use good skin care products to achieve healthy skin, reducing puffiness and saggy facial skin." As Fardo continues, "There have been many advances in the field that have drastically improved both the safety and efficacy of cosmetic procedures."
According to David Whiteman, M.D., F.R.C.S., of Southern Plastic Surgery in Duluth, people in different age groups do tend to require different types of options. For instance, he says, while younger patients, like those in their 30s, often seek more body-conscious procedures, “older patients tend to shift their attention toward facial procedures. This process begins in the 40s and progresses well into the 60s.” And in terms of facial procedures, there are several minimally invasive options that can help enhance your beauty, from microdermabrasion (removing the dead outermost surface of the skin to alleviate sun damage or lessen scars and dark spots) to injectable fillers like Juvederm and Restylane (for static wrinkles) and Botox and Dysport (for dynamic wrinkling). Fardo also points to such procedures as eyelid lifts and mini-facelifts, which often are requested by patients in their 40s and older and can be done less expensively and with much less recovery time. In fact, according to Colgrove, the top five procedures that require less recovery time and a smaller investment of money are Botox, soft-tissue fillers, breast implants, liposuction and rhinoplasty.
Marc Yune, M.D., a double board-certified facial plastic surgeon with Aesthetic Specialty Centre in Roswell, does offer a warning, though, to people considering their cosmetic- procedure options. “Make sure you use a qualified, experienced provider,” he says. “And also be wary of excessive marketing. Some of the newest procedures have been over-marketed to the public and are just not as effective as some of the more traditional, tried-and-true methods.” Therefore, before you make any decisions about what you plan to have done, consult with a well-trained and seasoned professional who can address your personal needs and help you navigate the many alternatives in front of you.
Whiteman also points out that the newest procedures available today are not necessarily the best ones to try right away. Sometimes you should wait to learn more and see how proven the procedures actually are. “It isn’t always appropriate to be the first person on the block to have a particular procedure done,” he says. “It’s not a bad idea to allow new technology to find its way and find its use.”
Take a look in the mirror
While you may not yet feel like the baby who adores her reflection, you can achieve and revel in a sense of genuine satisfaction at any age when it comes to your appearance. All it takes is looking inside yourself and making sure that your image reflects your inner beauty. The rest will take care of itself.
“When it comes down to what you do with your appearance, you need to pick and choose at will,” Orlando says. “There are no more ‘have-tos.’ It’s time to leave the ‘have-tos’ and ‘should-haves’ behind. These are the best years of our lives—when we really, truly are coming into our own.”
The five beautiful women featured in this section (as shown in first pricture from left): Molly Parrish, 27, of Polished PR; Arden Zinn, 72, founder of Arden’s Garden and a nationally known health and fitness expert; artist Terry Wilcoxon, 62, of Edward Jones Financial; Tanya Rodriguez, 43, president of the Frank Ski Kids Foundation Inc.; and Laina Orlando, 48, founder of the Power of Awareness program
Advice from Atlanta's experts
What’s the No. 1 thing anyone can do to enhance beauty at any age?
The number one thing anyone can do to enhance their beauty at any age is to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! Hydration is the key to maintaining soft, smooth, supple skin. Whether you steam, moisturize, or regularly drink eight glasses of water a day, all of these things are necessary to maintain the skin's natural moisture balance. That’s beauty enhancement made easy!
-Maryum Aziz, esthetician, Float, The Affordable Spa
Living a healthy lifestyle which includes:
1. Drink enough water for your body size to properly hydrate yourself every day.
2. Exercise regularly, including both cardio and strength-training workouts.
3. Eat a healthy amount of fruits, vegetables, good carbohydrates and protein for your body size every day.
-Carrie Heller, M.S.W., L.C.S.W., founder and director, Circus Arts Institute
Learn how to handle stress, meditate and exfoliate, exercise, take your vitamins and herbs, drink your green tea, and learn that you can’t eat and drink everything you want just because you want it.
-Kenya Calloway, owner, Jai’s Handmade Body Products
I handpick products to fit my patients’ individual needs. However, regardless of skin type, the combination of sunscreen in the morning, a retinol nighttime treatment and exercise keep my patients looking young at any age.
-Sumayah J. Taliaferro, M.D., Metro Atlanta Dermatology
I have learned that the best anti-aging regimen comes not from creams, potions or surgeries, but from a health-management plan that addresses stress, nutrition and peace of mind.
-Dr. Tasneem Bhatia, Atlanta Center for Holistic and Integrative Medicine
Protect your assets with sunscreen! The effects of sun-damage are additive; that means even limited amounts of unprotected exposure eventually leave you looking older. Many sunscreens now include moisturizers and even antioxidants which will help to protect and revitalize your skin no matter what your age.
-Dr. Edmond I. Griffin, M.D., Dermatology Associates of Atlanta P.C.
Embrace and maintain your natural beauty. Revitalize your standout features through facial fillers or injectables like Botox® and Dysport® so you look like yourself—just younger and more refreshed.
-David M. Whiteman, M.D., F.R.C.S. (C), Southern Plastic Surgery, P.C.