Four women share the personal triumphs they relish with their happy acceptance of life’s coming of age.
In today’s world of social media filters, fillers, and enhancers, the standard of beauty has evolved into an android-like ideal, detached from the realm of reality, nary a wrinkle or a gray hair in sight. “That’s the Photoshop look. If a patient pulls out a picture of someone else, that’s a warning sign. Enhancements should only ever be about looking like themselves,” says Dr Vinod Gauba, oculofacial plastic surgeon at Imperial Healthcare Institute in Dubai. The emirate has the highest number of cosmetic surgeons per capita in the region, and cosmetic surgery has topped its list for medical tourism. Globally, the cosmetic surgery and procedure market size is expected to reach the US $43.9 billion by 2025, according to a report by Grand View Research. For the following women, however, signs of age are symbolic of a life well-lived. More than numbers, it is a mindset, a way of being that carries them, with confidence, into maturity.
Fakhria Lutfi, 57, Emirati
“People always look at my hair and tell me it makes me look old. I say, ‘Don’t look at my hair, look at my face!’” exclaims Fakhria Lutfi, a graphic designer based in Dubai. Fifteen years ago, the mother of three was diagnosed with breast cancer. Following chemotherapy, her hair grew back 90% gray. Allergic reactions to hairdye and the chore of touching up her roots every three to four weeks prompted her to give up coloring altogether. “I decided to focus on what’s important and be happy,” she explains. Growing up as the youngest of five sisters has imbued her with self-assurance. “I was always confident, even when I was younger. Now, I may look older, but in spirit, I don’t feel it.” It was this conviction that had her opt out of reconstruction surgery following her mastectomy. “I was considered young at that time, but I felt safer without implants, and that was more important than my looks. From the outside, nobody can tell whether I had breasts or not. Women nowadays, because of all the fillers and plastic surgery, they all look alike. I cannot differentiate between them. For me, beauty has to be natural. I’m always afraid that if I do something, I will look different. I want to be myself, I want to look like myself.”
Amel Makkawi, 53, Algerian
When asked about beauty, Amel Makkawi’s mind immediately goes to “aesthetics, poetry, and nature.” A lifetime of globetrotting as the daughter of a diplomat and a career spent in the arts – Makkawi is founder and director of the gallery Artsawa – has informed her view of beauty. She says that the current generation, though with ready access to beauty enhancers, has more inclusivity and more freedom in what is perceived as beautiful. “The standard has changed a lot. The generation of our mothers did not have all these options. They were told, ‘This is beautiful, and this is not beautiful,’ and that’s it. Today, you can have features that are not considered classical beauty, or be more full-figured, and that is still considered beautiful. And now, I feel completely free in my choices.” Although aging can be “a real kick in the butt” as you become more aware of limitations, it can also be empowering. “When you’re younger, you don’t realize that you just go with the train. Now, I’m the conductor, I’m completely in control of everything, and I love that.”
Silke Ahlden, 55, German
“I’m so tired of seeing products for anti-aging. I’m pro-aging,” says Silke Ahlden, a 55-year-old fashion stylist based in Dubai. “It’s not always so easy. It’s difficult to see your body change in a way that you’re not prepared for. But as women, especially with pregnancy, we go through these transitions more often than men and we just need to embrace it. We need to be a little bit more courageous about it and say, ‘That doesn’t define me. My body isn’t who I am.’” Ahlden, who was raised in Guatemala, has spent the last three decades moving to new countries every few years. “I was a trailing spouse; I think that’s been my primary job description,” she says with a laugh. She would often work on fashion and charity events and decided to take it more seriously a few years ago, enrolling in styling courses in Germany and London. She considers staying active key. “If you’re busy doing things that entertain and fulfill you and you’re part of the community, that’s one way to stay young at heart and connected with the world. My parents did that and I want to do that as well. I don’t want to be left on the sidelines, I want to be part of it.”
Caroline Labouchere, 55, British
“I was brought up to not look in mirrors. I don’t think I ever felt beautiful – not even on my wedding day. When I was younger and a camera pointed my way, I turned away. I didn’t experience this feeling of beauty that I have in the past year of my life,” reflects Caroline Labouchere, who started modeling two years ago. Her daughter was working for a herbal drinks brand in London and needed a “gray” model. “I was not a model but I was gray,” shares Labouchere. “She showed them my picture and they flew me over for a casting.” The advertising campaign appeared in British Vogue eight times in one year. Labouchere stays fit thanks to a lifelong love of running. “I’m surprised when people are not trying to be the best version of themselves, because we only live once. I like to be healthy, because I want to live a long life. I don’t want to be sitting in an old people’s home. I have to do everything I can for that not to happen. Why would I give up at 50? This can be the best time of your life.”
Originally published in the November 2020 issue of Vogue Arabia