Age is a matter of feeling, not of years.
It has been frequently said that a woman is as old as she looks, but a man only as old as he feels. It has also been from time to time declared by various wiseacres that every woman looks her age.
Helen of Troy was forty-six when men fought for her smiles and favors. Diane de Poitiers was fifty-six when men far and near acknowledged her a siren, whose fascinations none could resist. Julie Recamier at sixty could hardly dissuade an enamored prince, half her age, from suicide, because she declined to accept his protestations of passionate love. Ninon de 1′Enclos’s last desperate affair of the heart occurred when that lady was in her early eighties. But, you will say very properly, that these are women of history, and personal history is apt to be far from accurate. Let me then point you to examples of persistent beauty and youthfulness, despite all obstacles, in the women of our own generation.
Look at Sara Bernhardt as a typical example of the woman who really is only as old as her face and figure appear. Mme. Bernhardt is far beyond fifty. She ap pears about thirty-seven or thirty-eight on the stage, but wonder of wonders, she really does not look a day over thirty in private life. I know Mme. Bernhardt, and the last time she was here I looked closely at her face. I scrutinized every feature; I was on the alert for the lines that are said to mark the fortieth year; for the loss of flesh firmness which is, unless prevented by care, almost certain to intrude its unwelcome presence at about fortysix. I watched Mme. Bernhardt as perhaps she never was watched before, and I declare to you that, with the exception of a few tiny emotional lines about the upper lip, Sara Bernhardt is as young in appearance today as she was when I saw her twenty years ago in Paris, and a thousand times better looking, more charming, and fascinating in every way.
Adelina Patti is another woman over fifty who will never be old in appearance, and whom no one can recall as a really old woman.
I could continue, had I space, to cite innumerable other instances which would prove the statement I make without qualification, when I declare that there is no necessity for a woman to grow old.
Now, when I say there is no necessity for a woman to grow old, I mean just what the words stand for. This statement is intended for women under thirty. They may remain where they are for twenty years, if they will. I have another and more comprehensive statement to make, and one I have fully proved, and am prepared to prove again. It is that women of fifty or over who chose to do so, may recover, in appearance and feeling, the youth they have been defrauded of. They may get back the lost lines and curves, the freshness of the skin and elasticity of step, if they but will to do so.
You see, happily for us women, the old-fashioned grandmother has gone out of fashion. May she never be revived. Fifty years ago a woman practically retired from the pleasures and active interests of life at about her fortieth birthday and began to get ready to die. It made no difference how youthful her spirit may have been, nor how many years of her young life she had unselfishly devoted to the bearing and rearing of a brood of children.
Yes, I glory in the fact that we have emancipated the young grandmother. The truth is there is no rhyme or reason in age as associated with decrepitude. The woman of today is young, vigorous, and beautiful at fifty, because she has discovered that there need be no such thing as old grandmotherdom. The grandmother of today is something to be proud of. She is in the prime of her life. She looks forward, not back. The reverence inspired in the fulfillment of a splendid womanhood, in which no faintest signs of fading or weakness are visible, is no less exalted and far more admirable than the condescending and patronizing protection we gave to the grandmother of half a century back, who shed tears for her departed youth, often, I doubt not, for the greater portion of her adult life.
It has taken a good many years, and an eternity of patience, to convince the modern woman that she is accountable to herself, as well as to her family, for every wrinkle, for her middle-aged figure, triple chin, scant locks, toothless mouth, bent back, and general invitation in her appearance to Time to do his worst-a rushing out to meet and embrace every foe to her looks, and her happiness as well.
There is an old adage, and a true one, which says “Comeliness recommends virtue.” If there were virtue in plainness, this world ought to be much better than I, at least, have found it to be. Mortals are led by appearance. It is the beautiful women of the world who have been the most powerful. It is the beautiful women who have largely made history. Beauty and goodness should walk hand in hand, and the more lovely a good woman is, the longer she can retain her charm of person, the better equipped she will be for the highest duties that may devolve upon her.
It has been said that there is no royal road to beauty. There is no regal or sumptuous approach to anything that is worth having, so far as my experience has taught me. Certainly the preservation of one’s graces and charms requires care and common sense, but not more care than you give your fine laces, your precious bric-abrac, your flowers, your household effects, or your pets.
Scrupulous cleanliness, air, light, diet, exercise-it is simple enough-and without question we adopt these means, partly, or in their entirety, for all other things within our care and jurisdiction. It is surprising, nay, it is amazing, to think of the line we draw between ourselves in the point of care, and the skillful attention and the solicitude we bestow upon an animal of the lower kingdom, or even upon the parlor furniture. We neglect ourselves, but we keep the silver from tarnishing, and the house well dusted. We have accepted, with rigid sullenness, or a resignation which could never have been anything but pretended, the moth patches and specks upon our cheeks and brows, and the disposition of our noses to turn bright red when they most afflicted us by so doing. We have been tormented by skin diseases, overburdened by fat, and tortured by protruding bones when we desired curves; we have supinely submitted becausewell, does any reasoning woman know? I certainly do not, except that it has been inherited and bred in us for generations back to take all these afflictions as a part of God’s work. At the same time, we have exhausted our lives in polishing brasses and keeping specks off the window glass.
In scornful disdain we bar the spotty bit of fruit, the withered vegetable, or the aged hen from our kitchens and our tables, for we are, first of all, conscientious housekeepers. We are as one who should say: “Nothing shall be speckled or withered or wrinkled but me,” and I speak with no intention of being irreverent when I assert that we have pretended at least to believe that our mutilated and disfigured faces and forms were a part of God’s special and specific work, while we have religiously taught and been taught that ours consisted in an endless war against time and decay, spots and specks, dusts and tarnish, as applied to silver and mahogany, cupboards and window glass. In other words, Providence would look after us. If he didn’t it was for our own good, and a part of some great and glorious scheme has primarily necessitated our being humiliated and neglected. Providence exacted of us to do nothing for ourselves. We were to put in our time beautifying tin pans and brass knockers.
I believe the old-fashioned idea concerning a woman, as here referred to, is not only absurd, but demoralizing. If it be symbolic of pure domestic life and womanly character to be a good housekeeper,-which means to be exquisitely nice about the appointments of one’s home,why in the world is it not even more praiseworthy for the mistress of such a home to regard herself as quite as precious as the daintiest of her possessions, and to care for herself accordingly? I am convinced that no one factor in a family is so demoralizing as a careless, slatternly wife and mother.
A witty member of our sex once said that she found a consolation in being well dressed which no religion had ever afforded her. A woman is always happiest who knows that in her appearance she is charming and pleasing to those whom she loves and whose affection makes up the sum and substance of her life.
There are a number of ways of combating the ravages of time in its impress upon our faces and forms. One, the hygienic method, which is certainly the best, should begin in infancy or early youth, and may properly be called the prevention of destruction. The method will result in giving to every disciple the maximum of her possibilities for physical beauty.
The second is the cosmetic branch, with which may be included plastic surgery. Cosmetics and youth should be strangers.
During the years I studied chemistry and cosmetic art and manufactured so-called cosmetics, I labored faithfully, both here and in Europe, and the longer I remained in the laboratory manufacturing these articles, the less I felt the average woman needed them or should use them, and the more respect I had for scrubbing brushes, soap, and water, without other aids, at least for women under thirty.
Women of a certain age who have missed the great opportunity for perpetuating their youth, in the general ignorance which clouded all of us, at least in my generation, can undo much of the ravages of the past. They may call a halt on Time and may be pardoned for resorting to innocent devices in the way of harmless aids to their toilet. It will be my very pleasant task to offer my readers suggestions from both points of view-that is to say, suggestions for young women who wish to preserve their beauty and to acquire a hygienic method of doing so, and to other and older women advice for the repair of damage and for the restoration of the beauty of youth, or at least a fair resemblance of it, for “beauty doth varnish age and give the crutch the cradle’s infancy.”