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Fight ageism by looking younger

I can't stand looking in the mirror: the crow's feet, the circles under the eyes, the long-lost hairline. Damn it, even my cheeks are starting to wrinkle.

And we live in such a youth-obsessed society. Even I, who try hard not to be ageist, found myself, when watching CNN's brilliant Jeff Greenfield, thinking, "He's old."

After we reach 40, let alone 55, which I will be this month, are we doomed to being perceived as over the hill? Dead wood? Are my co-workers thinking, "Step aside, old man"?

No, no, no! I will not go gently into that good night.

Of course, we all want to be judged on our merits, not our youthfulness. But in our youth-oriented culture, we may not get a chance if we look older than necessary. Doing even some of the following things can mean we continue to get those plum assignments, get invited to those important meetings, maybe even avoid being forced into early retirement.

Posture. "After a while, it all comes down to posture," says Helen Gurley Brown. And she isn't far from right. Stand up straight, walk with a bounce in your step. Yeah, I know, sometimes, you don't feel like bouncing, but bounce anyway.

Sleep. It's easier to bounce when you get seven or eight hours of sleep per night. Also, you'll look younger. Nearly everyone looks older when sleep-deprived.

Smile. Smiling makes you look younger and more energetic. Bonus: Your smile will distract people from the part of your face that most reveals your age -- your eyes.

Glasses. Speaking of your eyes, glasses cover a multitude of sins: red eyes, glassy eyes and the aforementioned dark circles and crow's feet. You say you don't need glasses? If you want to hide any of the above problems, it may be worth getting glasses made with plain glass lenses. Pick a style that's attractive, but not one that looks like you're trying too hard.

Clothes. The latter phrase goes for your clothing too: Don't try too hard. No, you needn't shop at Talbot's, but think three times before buying clothes meant for teeny-boppers. The contrast between your clothes and your age will accentuate the very thing you're trying to distract from.

A few more clothing tips:

  • Choose clothes that hide your bad features. Have a crepey neck? Wear collars that hide it. Flabby arms? Wear three-quarter-length sleeves. Veiny legs? Wear long dresses and dark stockings or socks. A Buddha belly? Wear loose dresses or jackets that hide it.
  • Soft colors make most people look younger. Try on two shirts of the same style, one muted and one loud to see which makes you look better.
  • Do not wear ill-fitting clothing, especially too-tight clothing. As we get older, we tend to put on a few pounds. Tight clothes are a terrible one-two punch: They accentuate your body's least-flattering parts and make you appear sloppy.
  • Speaking of sloppy, be sure your clothes are pressed. The rumpled look doesn't work, even if you're a professor. There's no faster way to look like you're burned out.

Hair. For most women, a well-styled cut that's close to shoulder-length tends to work. Guys, as you get older, keep it relatively short. Both men and women should consider coloring their hair. Guys, don't forget about your moustache. Generally, it looks best if you color your hair your original color. Guys, that beard that looked cool when you were younger? Now, it ages you five to 10 years.

Teeth: Get your teeth whitened or do it yourself. It costs little and makes a difference.

Cosmetic surgery: A good face lift makes you look 10 years younger and lasts a long time. There are new, easier procedures, but the benefits aren't as dramatic nor as long lasting. Ask lots of people for referrals. When you hear the same surgeon's name again and again, that's probably your best bet. Secret: Prices for face lifts are negotiable. If you're flexible with your schedule, even many top cosmetic surgeons will do the complete job for under $10,000.

I've followed most of this column's advice (not plastic surgery), and think it helps me avoid the old-dude look. But, to be honest, I still hate looking in the mirror.'s corrections policy
-- Posted: June 6, 2005
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