Resolution #5: I Will Stop Obsessing About Looking Old
I passed a woman on my way into Walmart yesterday. She was older than I am, maybe 60. Her face was orange with a heavy layer of makeup and her fluffy bob of hair was a brassy, sort of Gwen-Stefani-blonde. The combined effect made her entire head glow radioactively. Despite that, you could see that she was nice looking – slender, nicely dressed, fine featured. As I passed her I thought, “Dear, attractive, older woman: you are trying too hard. You don’t have to look 40. You could be a lovely 60 if you just eased up a little.”
Aging gracefully sounds wonderful, and I can preach it (at least in my head), but living it isn’t as easy. I hate the visible signs that I’m getting older. When I hear actresses say they are proud of their lines and gray hairs because they represent accomplishments and life well lived, something ugly rises up in me and I want to slap their lying mouths. I don’t want people to look at me and think, “Wow! Look at those wrinkles! She has lived some life!” I’d rather people say, “She has a 19-year-old? No way. Is this one of those Dorian Gray kind of deals?” But that doesn’t happen. I am 45 and I look every bit of it, and maybe more. I am occasionally mistaken for my youngest child’s grandmother, which is a real ego booster. It doesn’t help that I was born looking worn out. Even in photos of me as a little girl I have an expression on my face that says, “Oh, Lordy, it’s been a long day. I need to get my feet up.” But I don’t feel old, not on the inside. Anne Lamott wrote, “I am every age I have ever been,” and she’s on to something. I still feel like a child sometimes, and often feel like a young woman. That just makes it all the more jarring – every, single time – to pass a store window and catch the reflection of that woman glancing at me.
I could rant about our youth and body obsessed culture blah, blah, blah, but we’ve all heard that enough times. I do think a few things are true for women, though. The world is a little less hospitable if you are not pretty. The world is a little less hospitable if you are not thin. And the world is a little less hospitable if you are not young. Alas, even if you’re born with good looks and manage to stay thin, you are going to get old.
I will turn 46 in less than two months. That is the late 40s, friends, and it is time that I sucked it up and accepted who am and where I’m headed. The fact that I’m not botoxing my face or dressing like the cast of Gossip Girl (you’re welcome, for that mental image) doesn’t absolve me of responsibility. I am just as guilty as the woman I saw at Walmart of not being at peace with my age.
But this phrase – “aging gracefully” – carries some baggage with it that I don’t want. Just google it if you don’t believe me. To age gracefully is to both look your age and to look fantastically good for your age. And our culture’s standards are pretty brutal. I saw Jamie Lee Curtis on a list of “worst aging celebrities”. I know she’s become an object of fun because of the yogurt ads, but seriously, does she look bad for 52? I can’t take the pressure!
My mental picture of a beautiful old woman is my grandmother. Here are some things I remember about the way she looked: she had, short, snow white hair; she had a receding chin; because she had a narrow face her teeth were crowded and crooked in her mouth. I’m not sure that even in her youth my grandmother would have been called a beauty, and she went gray very early. I’ve seen a photo of her, completely gray, when her youngest child was still a little boy. Perhaps she, too, was sometimes mistaken for the grandmother rather than the mother. But my grandmother was poised, gentle, wise and interested in the world. Well into “old age” she was still traveling the world, playing the organ at her church and singing in the Choral Union. I have her copy of “War and Peace”. She read it three times, the last time when she was in her 60s (take that, Michael Steele!). Her notes on the book are written in the margins, in her tiny script.
If my grandmother ever worried about looking old, I never noticed. She always dressed well, but she never tried to look young. I think she would have considered that a distraction from what mattered to her; a waste of time – and we only have so much of that, all of us.
So my hope – my prayer, really, since this will be an internal work that will require God’s help – is to quit worrying about looking older. I am growing older, and that particular trend in my life is not going to change. I want to follow my grandmother’s example and not be distracted from living by what I cannot change about life. If I can’t age gracefully, I will age gratefully. I will enjoy and give thanks for the good things that come with the passage of time. I won’t pretend that I’m going to love my wrinkles, but perhaps I can ignore them in favor of focusing on other things. And if, in the future (hopefully not the near future), I turn into a wrinkled old crone, I want to be a jolly old crone who is still reading and singing and making fun of myself and hugging my grandchildren.