Old age is the revenge of the ugly ones is a French proverb, one that I first heard at the very advanced age of 15 upon my arrival in Paris. I had spent five years in the ugly bin at school in Sweden, and had only recently been upgraded to beautiful. My ego was still fragile and my mind still pumped full of highbrow, arty self-education and nerdy jokes, which is how one gets by when one is ugly. Which, of course, I promptly realized, is exactly what will pay off as one ages: Beauty fades, but a mind constantly energized will shine even brighter with age. I immediately took the proverb as my own personal motto and patted myself on the back with satisfaction. I will continue to be intelligent, I vowed, no matter how beautiful I become. And then at, like, the old age of 35, I’ll be an incredibly smart and kinda attractive old lady.
In interviews I gave at the wise age of 17 and 18, I pontificate about the beauty of age and wisdom, and blabber on about how I look forward to my first wrinkle. What an idiot I was.
My first recognition of age setting in was exactly on my thirty-sixth birthday. I have no idea why, on this day of all days, I looked in the mirror and realized my face no longer looked young. I didn’t look bad: only the freshness had somehow disappeared. I immediately became hyperconscious of my looks, went out and bought the most expensive cream on the market (for your information, it did nothing) and began the battle of acceptance, something I have to do now almost every time I face a mirror.
“Oh sure, Miss Supermodel, it must be hard for you,” you may think, pityingly. (I have also heard it spoken aloud more than once, although, oddly enough, the tone wasn’t so much pitying as sarcastic.) “You have always been more beautiful than the average,” the conversation goes, “so it goes without saying, you still are. At least, in your age category.” Hm, I know it’s a compliment, so why do I not fluff up with delight?
Maybe because nothing ages as poorly as a beautiful woman’s ego.
When you’re used to one sort of treatment, it’s really hard to get demoted, even if that new treatment is still better than the average. Boohoo. I know. My life sucks. Now, I don’t actually know the exact cut-off age where beautiful ceases and “must have-once-been-beautiful” begins. It’s true it’s not forty-five. I can still get attention when I try really hard, even if it’s greatly reduced. But would I ever have dreamed that I would miss the time I couldn’t walk past a construction site unmolested? These days when someone whistles at me, it’s mostly a bike messenger about to mow me down.
Having been confident with the way my looks affected others, I was used to using them as extra cash. True, this worked mostly with the male population, but that little extra I could get out of them – as I begged them not to give poor little me a ticket, or keep that door open just a second longer or try just a little harder to find an empty seat on that plane – I took for granted.
Like everything else in life, there is always payback and it’s a bitch. Beauty, unlike the rest of the gifts handed out at birth, does not require dedication, patience and hard work to pay off. But it’s also the only gift that does NOT keep on giving. It usually blossoms at an age where you’re least equipped to handle its benefits and rewards and instead take it all for granted, and by the time you start understanding the value of it, it slowly trickles away. How’s that for revenge of the ugly ones?