I often think how lucky I am: lucky to have a clean and safe house, enough food, plenty of clothing, enough disposable income to help my kids and still go out to dinner. And, at a more basic level, I am lucky to still be on this earth at the age of 63. Growing older is a privilege, an opportunity to use experience and knowledge to create a happier life and give back.
Those of us in this phase of life sometimes find ourselves discounted because we’re older. We’re perceived as stuck in old ways, unable to learn a new way. Sometimes we are fearful of trying new things. Sometimes we can’t let go of our kids as they move into careers and families of their own, unclear about how our identities as parents are now defined. And sometimes we find it difficult to transition into retirement or a new phase of an old career that has shaped who we are.
But nothing is so constant as change. In our later years, we can still redefine everything about our lives if we so choose. Sometimes we discover we have no more fear because we can’t be fired and we no longer answer to many people besides ourselves. What others think of us is not as important as what we think of our own choices.
I recently had lunch with a new friend who embodies just what I’m talking about here. Cynthia Kretschmar is the owner of Face2Face Skincare Naturals, a skin care business based in Minnesota. Cynthia declared at the age of 16 that she wanted to have her own business; it wasn’t until she was past 50 that she went back to school to finish her business degree, got licensed as an esthetician, and started Face2Face. Later, when she retired from working in-person with clients seeking skin care, she took her business online to make sure those same clients had access to the natural skin care products she used during their appointments. The idea that she accomplished so much after the age of 50 was one I found intriguing. That’s why I invited her to chat a little about what it means to be pro-age and support other older women.
When I asked Cynthia what she thought pro-age means, she said, “We are all going to grow older. We might as well embrace it. The health of the body is important. I want to stay, the best way I know how, healthy and full of vitality…Pro-aging would mean you’re not here for yourself. Everyone has something to offer.” She spoke of how, in the cosmetics and skin care industry, the catchy slogan was “anti-aging” for a long time; that it’s now coming around to “pro-aging” is a healthier way to go. For her business, there was never an advertisement to clients to look younger; the focus was always to look healthy.
There is a long history of cosmetics and moisturizers and other products being marketed to women to make them stop the clock, feel like they did in their twenties. We’re encouraged to think that this is what makes us desirable. I’ve always had trouble with the idea that older equals undesirable and unsexy. I know there are other companies out there who aim for women like me – Cindy Joseph’s Boom cosmetics come to mind, as well as the Dove campaigns – but I do sometimes get the feeling that pro-age is just another marketing tactic to go after the age segment who actually has money to spend. My cynicism doesn’t take much time off. But Cynthia knew I wasn’t talking to her for her business’s products in particular; we were having an honest conversation about what it’s like for an older woman to redefine herself and honor who she is.
There’s uncertainty, of course. Cynthia said she would quote Nike as advice to other women: “Just do it!” Moving into our later years means it’s now or never. For Cynthia, skin care just happened to be the thing she kept coming back to even as she explored work in other industries. Her grandmother and great aunt both worked for Revlon in the 1960s, bringing samples to Cynthia’s mom and planting the seeds in young Cynthia about how to take care of her own skin. She became fascinated with how the skin functions and wondered why people aged so differently, with one person’s skin looking great and another of the same age showing a lot of damage. I could parallel this question about why people age so differently by thinking of my own parents, especially my father who took up serious bicycling when he was retired. The idea of not sitting down resonates for me. I couldn’t understand why, once someone had the time to do other things besides work for a paycheck, they wouldn’t grab that opportunity and run with it. Or bike away with it. The body demands movement unless atrophy is your thing.
Cynthia’s fascination with caring for our skin as we age is still very much evident when talking about her business. As we kept chatting, she talked about skin as our largest organ (which I did know) and how it’s smart (which I never thought about). It reacts to everything we put on it, everything we put into our bodies, the environment around us, stress, rest or lack thereof, and so much more. I watched her face light up as she spoke.
So, this is clearly a passion. How many of us get to follow our passions? How many of us have put those passions off?
As I thought about passion, aging, and what we do with our retirement when we skid into our sixties, I asked Cynthia how she moved from having an in-person clinic for skin care to an online business in the same industry following her own retirement. She spoke of how much she loved her clients, but her body was telling her it was time to treat it differently. Her hands developed arthritis, her back and neck rebelled against being bent over to administer treatments, and her hearing, she recently learned, was affected by the constant sounds of machines (e.g., microderm abrasion machines, oxygen infusion equipment, etc.). But a body that needed something different did not mean leaving behind what she loved. Cynthia turned her business into an online shop for the same care products she used in the clinic. She said she is not ready to say goodbye. Her clients keep her going and she has a network of industry people she knows all over the country. Retiring from in-person service does not mean she is suddenly home alone. She said, “A network is really important.” She keeps in touch with others in the industry.
I asked if she missed the one-on-one interactions and how she filled the gap. She told me that yes, she misses those interactions, but does some small things to assuage her feelings. One is to include handwritten notes with the online orders she receives from those clients, a small way of adding a personal touch to what can be a cold transaction. The other thing she does is have lunch with clients every so often just to keep in touch, which made it much clearer to me why she wanted to have lunch instead of doing an email interview for One Minnesota Crone. I had to hand it to her; I was enjoying our time together very much. And I am an introvert who would usually choose writing an email over talking in-person for a blog post. Her words also reminded me how important small efforts to show we care about others are; I thought back to when I was an editor at Gyroscope Review and found out every day how much the poets whose work I read appreciated personal notes. When you send your work, your products, your passion out into the universe, it’s really nice to have some kind of dialogue along the way that says what you’re doing matters. You matter. Others matter.
Aside from Cynthia’s passion for skin care, I wondered about other creative endeavors, beyond the creativity she uses to educate others about skin care and to market her business. When I asked, she told me that, about five years ago, she started doing quilling art. I had no idea what that was, so had to pull up some images on my laptop before we talked further. (If you, like me, are unfamiliar with the term, click here. The Crafty Lumberjacks, who demonstrate the art of quilling, are pretty entertaining. So is their cat.) Cynthia likes to make cards, usually for milestone birthdays, that include the same number of reasons to celebrate the recipient as they are turning in years. Here was another example of ways to show care for another embedded within a new hobby that gave Cynthia pleasure. And she said it was going far better than when she tried to take up the violin at a mature age. I can attest for how difficult picking up a new musical instrument is; my guitar has not been played for months and my fingers are kind of happy about that.
At the end of our lunch date, I knew a little more about skin care, a lot more about Cynthia, and had a renewed sense of being on a great track with my own ideas about aging gracefully, with joy and gratitude and purpose. Having just had my birthday later in August, I am reminded that while our bodies change and it becomes work to keep them from unhealthy expansion (M&Ms, anyone??), our delight at being in this world can grow and grow. So can our cheers of support for those on this path with us.
Check out Cynthia’s latest pro-age blog post about skincare here: https://face2faceskincarenaturals.com/blog/
cover image by Julita from Pixabay.