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Reflections May 2017

The Looking Glass Syndrome

By K. F. Donahue

Hurray for the freedom of maturity, the freedom of retirement, the freedom from the dictates of consumerism aimed at the young while still looking quite put together.

Are you using the “Looking Glass” to recreate things to the dictates of the current trends of the young, or a maturity mirror to accept things as they are?

We were in a nearby city for a leisurely lunch at a favorite restaurant in an exquisite historic hotel before setting off to explore the Art Museum. Lunch here is always relaxing and refined with tables clothed in white linen, stemmed water glasses, hot tea from china teapots, long stemmed flowers adorning each table and attentive, gracious service.

Everything was picture perfect until I spotted her. There she was, clomping into the dining room with her husband (?). Maybe...He was about 5'8", medium build, mid-60ish with slightly graying brown hair, in traditional tan chinos and a neat button-down, green-check shirt. She was probably about the same height, with all the telltale signs of a heavy person who had lost weight but forgot to look at those heavy sagging arms hanging out of the too-small sleeveless bright pink top – and, yes, her bra straps were showing too.

But the picture doesn't stop there. She was balancing her blue-vein-strewn legs on 3-inch platforms and her coordinating skirt was about that far above her knees. Her outfit was additionally accessorized with pink bracelets of feathers! Perhaps on a younger person "the look" may have been acceptable – except that she was at least 70 with darkly dyed hair partially pulled up first into a top knot that was folded over onto her forehead for a look of bangs, but also there was a second partial ponytail of a sort under the first but mid-back of the head with the remaining hair hanging to her shoulders. Her makeup was of the overly done variety which we all see too often on the senior female who used a youngster's fantasy looking glass when preparing herself for her entry into the day.

Oh my.

As we cross over to the adult world of the senior we should celebrate all our battles and victories by embracing every one of the character lines we discover on our faces, every one of the grey hairs we find on our heads, and every one of the many aches in our bodies. We should do so with grace, dignity, and refinement so very similar to the historic hotel born in an earlier time but revamped not to the latest in architectural vogue but to the beauty of a classic original.

Recently when I was browsing through a collection of family photographs from the 1950s I came across a black and white snapshot of my family taken on a car trip to Niagara Falls. My mother, my sister and I were enjoying the adventure in our neatly pressed dresses while my father was equally enjoying the day in his summer suit!

How the fashion times have changed. We probably all remember the fads of each decade from mod mini-skirts to bell bottom pants of the ‘60s, jumpsuits to hot pants of the ‘70s, shoulder pads to oversized tops of the ‘80s, bandannas to mood rings of the ‘90s, and so on for a bit of nostalgia from our youth. For most of us baby boomers, the turn of the new century saw us sensibly rethinking the likelihood of incorporating the latest fashion fad into our wardrobes and lifestyles. Fashion fads are for the young and we all had the chance to enjoy them.

By this time in our lives we have probably found the one great haircut and the wardrobe style that easily works for each of us. Through years of trial, error, acceptance we have found our best look and I would guess that the adage "less is more" is dominating our wardrobe and our beauty routine. Perhaps you have perfected a simple style that is easy to care for, fits properly, doesn't allow underwear to show, tastefully covers a multitude of activities with a simple change of accessories, and of course since everything goes with everything else, you can pack a week's change of clothes into one carry-on bag for any adventure opportunity that comes your way. Hurray for the freedom of maturity, the freedom of retirement, the freedom from the dictates of consumerism aimed at the young while still looking quite put together.

However, women aren't the only victims of the Looking Glass syndrome. There are more than I can count older men in their sleeveless t-shirts, shorts, sloppy exercise gear on out-of-shape bodies, parading up and down the streets of America. I have heard one gentleman admit that he actually could not find himself in a recent group photograph. "Who is that old man with the white hair?" Makes you wonder doesn't it?

Youth is a phase not meant to be perpetual. Everyone, everything matures but with the deceit of the Looking Glass or with the grace of a mirror?