Looking at pictures of myself and some other women I’ve known for a long time, I’m beginning to solidify some thoughts I’ve had for a long time: for many women, there’s a point in our 40s or 50s when we look our worst. I’ve seen it (in photos) in women as diverse as my grandmother and Katherine Hepburn. It’s like there’s a transition point, where you still look mostly the way you did when young, but in a distorted version, with sag and wrinkles. But it’s not yet possible to see what you’ll look old – and as it happens, both Hepburn and my grandmother were beautiful old women.

Of course this doesn’t apply to everyone; I suspect in the case of women (like a lot of movie stars) who still look thirty when they’re fifty the change just comes later. On the other hand, there are those who don’t seem to have that transition point at all. Those women just move smoothly from looking good at twenty to looking good at thirty, at forty, at fifty, sixty, seventy, eighty, ninety – different at each age but always good, never a distorted version. (I’m thinking particularly of one woman I’ve known since grade school – if her Facebook photo is a good reflection, she looks our age and she also looks better as well as more interesting than she did at 16.) It’s not necessarily the most classically beautiful ones who age best, either; sometimes you’ll see a thirty-year-old woman who’s got one of those faces that let you know she’s done a lot of living, with a bit of the squint you get from being outdoors a lot, maybe some sun damage to skin or hair, and the sort of expression that tells you that you’d like her if you knew her better. And if you see her later, the wrinkles are a bit deeper and the sun-lightened hair is silvery blonde, but she’s still got the same look.

I don’t think I’m one of those, and I do think I’m at that transition point. In some pictures (and mirror angles) I look like I did at thirty, in others I look awful but the difference is mostly about the angle and lighting, I think. The good thing about this theory is that it means that if I don’t like the way I look now, I can just wait a while. In some photos, I think I see a view of what I might look like later on and I kind of like it.

Here are four recent (last 3-4 years) photos for comparison and to help explain my point: there are two I hate from Dec ’06 and May ’09 respectively, one from Jan ’07 I like that I think looks like my younger self, one from Feb ’08 I like, that I think might be where I’m going.

* I could, of course, be totally wrong about any or all of this. One interesting thing is that I’ve actually been getting rare glimpses of that last woman all my life – she looks very much like a grown-up version of the girl I saw in my 9th grade class photo. I liked that photo but didn’t think it looked much like me.

** Also, I don’t know; maybe this is the kind of thing you only notice in yourself and they all look alike to other people?

*** I’m not sure why, but I don’t think this applies to men – I’ve seen them get worse-looking or stay attractive, but haven’t seen the same sort of transition. No idea why. Opinions, explanations, disagreement?

**** I keep thinking of more things I should have said. One of them is that it’s all relative – I mean, if Katherine Hepburn was less gorgeous at 47 than at 27 (or 67) that still puts her pretty high on most people’s scale!