90-year old Julie, one of the few surviving Yaghans from Tierra del Fuego, is as handsome as the bark of this huge osage-orange tree, with as many experiences and traumas of her life recorded on her face.
Standards of female beauty have been ingrained in humans because of the reproductive function of sex and the necessity of female youthfulness for reproducing. But elsewhere in nature we perceive the beauty of aging. A dried-out leaf, or a faded petal, appears as beautiful as a budding flower.
Nor is our concept of animal beauty affected by norms of human sexual attractiveness. An old elephant matron is the most magnificent of her species; and an elderly camel may look as elegant, or awkward, as a young one.
Some women carry their age with dignity. A proud Vietnamese peasant decorates her graceful aging face with her earrings and smartly tied headscarf. An old Hmong in Thailand smiles sweetly and happily, seemingly untroubled by her toothlessness.
In Western cultures, rare are the women who can face aging with equanimity or humor, like this white-haired British lady. Rarest among the famous, actress Katherine Hepburn accepted old age, beautiful into her 90s even while coping with Parkinson’s disease for years.
By remaining a virgin and taking on male garb, 88-year-old QamiIe Stema became the chief of her large family in Albania, allowing her face to reach its severe natural beauty.
Women are so scared of aging that they willingly undergo face-lifts and other plastic surgery, even repeatedly, to remain youthful-looking. Many American women, some still young, have their faces “fixed,” removing wrinkles or double chins, often losing their individuality and acquiring an artificial smile or doll-like look.
In Asian cultures, aging of the female face is no stigma. These handsome Indian and Tibetan women look real and whole, their lives inscribed on their facial muscles and skin.
A peasant from Bihar, imposing and noble at reportedly 100 years, has come to Varanasi to await death with inner peace. She knows that her body’s ashes will join the river Ganga -- and all of nature.
Brave and fortunate was Ellen, too, who with cancer at age 82 could still look beautiful on her death bed.
CREDITS Main photos: p. 2: Yaghan, Victor Kabath Reyman; Tree, Athena Tacha p. 3: Athena Tacha p. 7: Johan Spanner p. 8: Google Images p. 9: shunya.net p. 10: Claude Renault p. 11: Athena Tacha Presentation and text: Athena Tacha Inspired by her pocket-books The Process of Aging, 1, 2 & 3 ( 1974, 1986 & 2001 ) www.oberlin.edu/art/athena/tacha.html