I was captivated by a series of photos by Tom Hussey, who shot with marksman-like accuracy, the bittersweet story of aging.
In one photo, he showcased an elderly man staring into a mirror. The image staring back from the mirror reflected a twenty-something-year-old soldier, a purposeful young man with blazing eyes that looked to a future filled with all of the unknown adventures and treacheries he had yet to experience.
Another photo depicted an elderly woman sitting in front of a vanity mirror. The reflection that looked back at her was that of a stunning and sophisticated young woman, a beauty who called to mind Audrey Hepburn with her movie star poise and good looks. She was breathtaking, and resembled in no way the woman who sat in front of the vanity.
The photo essay is called Reflections, and it gives you much to think about as it showcases elderly men and women reflecting on their younger selves in mirrors.
There was something so moving to see the juxtapose of past and present…to see how the years washed away the youth of these men and women. And it caught my breath and seared my heart to see how the subjects likely still see themselves…as youthful, elegant, brave, purposeful, even if society doesn’t view them that way.
Let’s face it. We live in a youth–oriented society, and we become painfully aware of this fact by the time we hit midlife. We women, in particular, place such a premium on our appearance….because we know that’s what society values. And it’s our beloved beauty magazines that betray us the most, showcasing 20-something-year-old beauties on the covers of publications targeted to women in their 40s and 50s.
As women we should know that holding on to beauty and youth is not really about botox or the latest anti-aging creams. It is about holding on to that beautiful, enchanted, magical and gentle spirit that shines from within us. This is the place where ageless beauty resides.
I know this. I even write about it in my book, Tao Flashes.
But I too have moments when I become fearful of aging. Of growing old. Becoming invisible. Losing my looks. Losing my health. Even losing the attention of strangers.
I think many of us midlife women feel this way at times. At least on a bad day. But thankfully, I have many more good days, days when I feel confident and strong, wise, and even grateful for the life lessons I wear on my face. I earned my wrinkles. And since I have a penchant for learning things the hard way, I think it’s good that I have some visible reminders of my lessons. LOL.
Since seeing those poignant pictures, I’ve thought about what my younger image would reflect back to me. For some reason, I think I’d see my seven-year old self smiling back.
As I get older, I like to tap into my inner child, my guide, the little girl who asked too many questions and wore red and black oxford shoes when everyone else was wearing black patent-leather.
I call on her quiet confidence, her gentle spirit sometimes when I feel old or invisible. Because I know she is very much alive.
I think this is what I discerned from the moving photos of the elderly that this brilliant photographer captured with such clarity. These older people still see themselves as young. Virile. Vital. Alive.
When they looked in the mirror, no matter how gnarled with age or disease-ridden their body, the person staring back at them was their youthful spirit. It wasn’t just their younger selves; it was their younger spirits, alive, ready for adventure, ready to go on one more walkabout.
So, here’s my challenge to myself. And to anyone who struggles with self image, particularly at midlife. Let’s be gentle with ourselves from now on when we look in the mirror. Let’s see more beauty and less flaws. Let’s see our aging selves as we really are: divine, alive, grace-filled spirits and reflect that out into this world. I suspect that what we’ll see is our higher selves mirrored back.
And now, here are the moving photos from Hussey’s series, Reflections.