I got a fortune from a cookie around 15 years ago that I typed onto my computer, printed out big, and taped to my wall. At some point, I must have put it away, because as I cleaned out the drawers and cupboards of an apartment I am soon going to leave forever, I found it.
It reads: “Be beautiful enough to pity the blind beholder.”
Now, I can’t speak for you, but it’s rare for me to keep many fortunes. They seem to have become less and less profound as I have gotten older. But this one hit like a ton of bricks back then, and even as I read it now, it hits just as hard.
I wasn’t in middle age 15 years ago. Someone broke my heart, and this sentence made me feel superior: Like, he doesn’t even know what he left. But today, no such feeling resonates with me when I read this. My first thought is I want to replace the word beautiful with brave.
Be brave enough to pity the blind beholder.
Because as I’ve aged, as I’ve gotten to know myself better, as I’ve acquired wisdom and experience, I know my value doesn’t come from being beautiful in any visible, traditional sense of the word, and I’m less inclined to worry about beholders, blind or otherwise.
The more I look at this piece of paper, I realize what the phrase really implies is that I was always trying to be something for others, whether they saw it or not. That I must pity those who cannot see my value, exalt the ones who do; that I must always tether myself to someone or something else in order to feel my value (or what my ego tells me my value is).
I think this is never more clear than in midlife. There are powerful contradictory forces at work, which makes this a tumultuous period of time. Someone told me this is the age of “age dysphoria.” I think this is particularly true for the generation in midlife right now. We are not only finally openly discussing the hormonal tumult of menopause but also fighting for women in particular to have the kind of healthcare at every stage of life, and in every workplace, that has been so blatantly ignored for so long. And we’re fighting to expand the numbers of women in leadership roles.
And yet at the same time, we are being told we can turn back the clock with Botox and face-lifts or exercise for a younger “inner age.” Don’t get me started on Ozempic. We don’t have time for my rant about that.
Our life spans are getting longer and longer, so it’s undeniable that I will have to look at midlife and myself differently if I have another 40 or 50 years in front of me.
But I also have to face myself literally and make a choice: Am I going to continue to value the same things that made me fear midlife so much, or can I perhaps invert the question? Is it time, in midlife, to feel not like I’ve met my expiration date but that the values I’ve held until now have met theirs?
I am not in competition with those younger than me. I’m not even in competition with the younger versions of me. Being brave is about letting go of old structures, old belief systems, and yes, even old clothes, which no longer serve the person I am now and will become. It’s time to claim freedom from everything I was told to be or what to achieve.
Perhaps there is a real physical rite of passage for midlife, menopause, for a reason: so that we don’t miss it. So that things and ideas and values we once held dear are due for investigation, questioning, and discarding.
We don’t need to be beautiful in any conventional sense. We don’t need to pity anyone. It is time to be brave enough to realize the lens through which we once looked at the world no longer holds clarity or any validity as we start this new adventure. How we dance with this change, how we find new tools is up to us.
Stacy London is the former CEO of the State of Menopause, the author of two books, and the former cohost of TLC’s What Not to Wear. You can find her on Instagram @stacylondonreal.
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