“Beauty and ugliness are a mirage, because others end up seeing what’s inside of us.” Frida Kahlo
When Frida Kahlo finished her self-portrait, Fulang-Chang and I, in 1937, she gifted it to a friend. She also gifted her friend a mirror in a matching frame. Frida suggested that her friend hang her framed self-portrait and the similarly framed mirror side-by-side. By doing this, her friend would always see herself next to Frida. At the time Frida painted this self-portrait, she was at the height of her beauty. As I thought about this, I wondered how it would feel if I had a framed self portrait of myself at the age of 28 and a framed mirror next to it. Would I see the young woman I was and would we be friends, today? Would I see the journey and the story of my life in the mirror…the joys, loves and losses? Would the wisdom show? Would my loss of innocence and lost sense of immortality be seen in my face, today? Would I see how my appearance has fallen into the arms of a different kind of beauty…a beauty that burnished the defined edges of my youth into softer lines? Would I be able to look behind the lines and curves and see the woman I have become, the experiences lived, and lessons I have learned? Yes. Yes. Yes. I looked in the mirror and strained my eyes to see beyond the reflection in the glass. I looked for the woman, not the mirage.
In the youth oriented society of the United States…and elsewhere…it it not always easy for women to answer that question. Women of all ages are surrounded by images of thin young girls wearing lovely clothes in lavish settings. Judging by all the anti-aging products on the market, aging is not seen for the privilege it is, but rather as an enemy. Recently, social media has pushed back against these unrealistic standards of beauty through blogs, Facebook, and Instagram. As a result, there seems to be a middle ground that has been carved out. Each of us needs to find where to stand. Each of us needs to set our boundaries when it comes to this forward moving life process. Perhaps, it is to stay fit, active and healthy. Some may embrace traveling and learning new things. It could also include slowing down the appearance of aging. It is a balance that everyone juggles. Everyone will make their own decisions about the linear movement of time and their adjustments to it. This is a good thing. Acceptance of our aging process may also have found a middle ground. That is a good thing, too.
Below is a poem from Irish poet, Mary O’Donnell. The poem comes from her award winning collection of poems titled, The Arc Builders.
It’s a powerful poem and one that triggered my reflection on our culture’s stance against aging and the women caught in its glare. Frida Kahlo had an important message for us and this poem captures it beautifully like a sideways sunbeam. The poem slants its light in on our struggle. Poetry always makes the path brighter.
That mono-brow wouldn’t work today.
Girls wax the in-betweens, the ups and
downs, smooth, smooth. Sometimes,
the greenery around the hacienda
itches so much we sneeze and tickle,
create unnecessary frowns, a slippage.
There’s always Dr. Death, of course,
his bright smile, that happy mouth
inviting us to pout and make kiss shapes.
Kiss, kiss! Kiss, kiss! he urges. His short needle
makes cushions of our worries. Little prick here,
another there, there, there,
it’s all right darlings, growing old
needn’t hurt so badly.
The hairs remind us, marching to link brow
to brow, shadowing our lips.
We want to be Frida, earnest with hair,
mocking Dr. Death’s short needle
before it punctures our flesh.
Old, old! we shout the words he hates,
loose and old, not tight and old!
Senses, raging, in need of colour
as we behold ourselves, mirror-wise,
the women we always were,
just older, looser, still there.
© 2009, Mary O’Donnell
From: The Ark Builders
Publisher: Arc Publications, Todmorden, 2009
The Style Story
I am wearing my “Spanish” skirt. I purchased it at Neiman Marcus years ago for a trip to NYC. I was attending a Montessori Convention ( I was a Montessori teacher), and went shopping for some new wardrobe pieces. I found this playful skirt with scenes of Flamenco dancers and bullfighters emblazoned on it. I wear this skirt often and I have packed it on many trips since..to Spain and beyond. I am also wearing a Missoni duster cardigan in the softest alpaca and Merino wool. I found it on eBay a few years back for a price I could afford. The soft coral color picks up the lighter shades in the skirt.
My visit to NYC was also poetry-full. I was in the third row, center seat to hear Maya Angelou read her poems. It was a memorable day and this skirt attached itself to that warm memory.
Here is a close up of the Spanish images on the skirt