Fashion & Beauty

Better Than Anti-Aging?

October 22, 2023



By Valerie Monroe

For nearly 16 years Valerie Monroe was the beauty director at O, The Oprah Magazine, where she wrote the popular “Ask Val” column. She now splits her time between Manhattan and Tokyo.

If you’re interested in feeling happier about your appearance—especially as you age—you might like reading what she has to say about it. For more of her philosophical and practical advice, subscribe for free to How Not to F*ck Up Your Face at

Can’t get enough Valerie Monroe? There’s more at

I SHARED a burger recently with B, a very smart woman and non-practicing MD, who manifests her business skills in the aesthetic field. We talked about her difficulties treading the fine line between promoting the idea of recapturing youthfulness—known in the beauty market as “anti-aging”—and acknowledging the perilousness of that notion. I suggested the problem is that rejecting “anti-aging” isn’t enough; we’ve yet to come up with a replacement that has the same power and stickiness of  “anti-aging.”

Which led us to a question: What are we aiming for instead? My friend and I both immediately thought of good health and wellness, which is already becoming a huge market, especially among the generations of us who are entering menopause, in it, or mercifully through it.

But wellness doesn’t have the same urgency as anti-aging. Of course you want to be well—but you can be well until you’re dead. If you’re anti-aging, on the other hand, death is receding—constantly receding!—out of the picture. Wouldn’t you rather buy that?

Of course you would. But we’re animals, we’re organic, and let’s face it, we…decay.

What there is is the gift of acceptance, which means becoming aligned with what’s so (being organic, degrading) but learning how to slow it down by avoiding things that accelerate decay (sun exposure and smoking, for example)—and by taking advantage of things that can decelerate it, or at least appear to (nutrition, exercise, and certain aesthetic treatments). Heard of the slow food movement? How about a slow beauty movement?

Two glasses of Malbec in, B and I began trying to figure out what makes a woman feel beautiful. It can be many things, we acknowledged, but there are a few components that cut across all variables: presence (or engagement), self-awareness, generosity, openness. I then wondered if all of these might manifest physiologically, maybe in a similar way that, say, arousal does (but I haven’t found any studies demonstrating that). Walking home after dinner, I thought about when I feel most beautiful. I realized (maybe for the first time!) it’s never when I’m presenting myself at my most “attractive” at an event or a party. It’s when I feel connection, awe, an appreciation for the ocean of mystery we all tread in.

A friend tells the story of a little boy raised in the suburbs, who, peering out the window at New York City for the first time from the back seat of the family car said, “What the hell?” That’s how I often feel about everything. Clouds: What the hell? A book and how it gets from the author’s idea to the object in my hand or the voice in my ear: What the hell? Animals: What the hell? You get the idea. Often, all of it feels like magic, and our appreciation of it most magical of all. I can’t think of anything more beautiful than the way engagement—completely age-neutral—looks on a person.

Years ago at O, The Oprah Magazine, I wrote: “Real beauty isn’t about symmetry, or weight, or makeup. Real beauty is about looking life right in the face and seeing all its magnificence reflected in your own.”

Let’s party.

Whoa, you there, cowering in a corner. Does a party strike dread into your heart, as it sometimes does mine? Or maybe you love the fall party season and feel as deflated as last year’s balloons because everyone is once again afraid of getting Covid, or the flu, or RSV—and you’re sorely missing the RSVPs. Are you an office-party freak who mourns that budget cuts have sliced into your once-a-year opportunity to tie one on with your boss? Val is here to lift your spirits (and maybe empty your wallet) with a grab bag of suggestions for the perfect one-person party. By the end of the night, you’ll be telling yourself what a terrific time you had, praising your hostess about the lovely company, and maybe even sending yourself an elegant bouquet as a thank-you.

Celebration for One

Welcome! Thrilled I could make it! So glad to see me!

Oh, still in the bathtub? No problem. I’ve been immersed in the closest thing to Japanese forest bathing with this cedar-scented gift set.

I’m ready to slip into a pair of silky (not silk) pajamas and, if I feel like cracking the window, a cuddly robe. I do love a fancy slipper (and a fancy cozy slipper). But since it’s just us, these plushy ones will keep the toes toasty in the upcoming months.

You have a comfy sofa or chair, right? Don’t party in your bed if you can avoid it; you’ll want somewhere to go when party time ends. (And you can make your bed exceptionally inviting with these reasonably priced, luxurious-feeling percale sheets.) This couch looks remarkably comfortable! Maybe put it on next year’s holiday list. Till then, wrap yourself in a luxurious mohair blanket and stuff a pillow or two behind your back.

A scented candle—like this smoky, leathery one or this light, summery one—heightens any solo party atmosphere; these two are equally transporting.

Before breaking out the popcorn—don’t forget the salt!—and popping the Champagne (or this tasty Prosecco), you’ll want to tend to the corporeal delights your hostess has in store. For a whipped body butter that quenches the thirstiest skin, slap on some of this deliciousness (an all-time favorite of mine). Does a hint of fragrance tickle your fancy? Douse your shoulders in a delicately scented lotion. Don’t you smell divine!

A face mask? No, thanks. But if my hostess insisted, I would do this one in a flash. The last time I tried it, my skin emerged rosy and soft. I’d pamper my feet (without any prompting) with a luscious honey heel glaze before slipping on a pair of these cheerful, frilly socks.

It’s movie time, where old ladies save the day! A round of applause for Julia, and Julia, and always Agatha. In the mood for a documentary? Jane does the trick, and so does Jane.

Look at the hour! I’m starting to fade. Before I leave, don’t forget my party favor. Thank you for everything. I’m so happy I could be here. xo


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