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Old Women

I’m getting older… single mom, couple of kids…I’m relatively casual, a jeans and t-shirt person predominantly although on a hot day I’ll wear a long loose skirt. I don’t wear make-up, I have a practical shoulder length haircut which I tie in a ponytail when I’m teaching dance classes. My hair is string straight and I have freckles. I’m pretty ordinary.

I know people whose appearances matter much more to them it seems. People who’ve had cosmetic surgeries, who diet and restrict their meals. People who work out incessantly. Friends who read Cosmo, while I read Bust.

Conversations with my friends come around more often to our bodies. There’s a general sense of “our bodies are falling apart.” People seem to think I don’t struggle the same way or to the same degree. Maybe this is true…I’ve been giving it some thought and I’ve come up with a few ideas.

I don’t think I’ve built up a dependence on my appearance. The way I look has little impact on the work I do. I (try to) live off my brain and talents and know that any relationship that is based on superficial shells is fleeting so not worth the effort. I grew up teased for my freckles, and the kids, cruel as they are, called me chicken legs (and I know now that my legs are/were no different than anyone else’s!)

I was tall at a young age so in grade nine gym class when we were all weighed on a scale (hunh? what was that for anyway?) and I was 115 lbs I felt like a fat cow. Today, many years later, I know that I was a healthy weight for my height. Just because I was more than 6 inches taller than all the tiny girls who were under 100 lbs did not mean I was fat! Ridiculous. The point is that I never had a period where I was really happy or excited about my body. I never thought to myself “I have a great legs/abs/breasts/eyes/whatever.” I mostly ignored my body. Sure this caused other issues but it’s giving me a good perspective for this aging stuff.

When I was in my late teens/early twenties I had two older women in my life. I don’t know their ages in years but both had older children/teenagers at the time. One had beautiful long flowing grey-white hair and was a gardener. She spoke gently and thoughtfully and was intelligent and exceptionally insightful. She made a wonderful impression on me and I thought that someday I wanted to be just like her. The other woman was small and incredibly strong. She was the mother of 3 girls who were all incredibly smart, talented, and beautiful young women. I wanted to feel supported like her kids did. I wanted to support my kids the way she supported hers. I wanted to be confidant like her, to be able to see things clearly like she did, to understand like she did. She had a way of making me be honest with myself about things I didn’t even realize were problems. She was the first one to point out to me that the problems in my marriage were problems – that other people were happy and that maybe I might want to be happy too. I remember the way she made me feel more than I remember the way she looked but when I saw her just a few years ago she was covered in wrinkles and her hair was a soft grey. She was bustling, involved in work, volunteering, spending time with her grown kids – she was beautiful. I wanted to be just like her too.

I think the fact that I have these role models/heroines – these admirable women in my life and that I met them when I was young and impressionable is significant. Without someone to show that with age comes good things how can we know that growing older can be good? Having these women to look up to and remember eases the transitions that our bodies and lives go through.

Aging in our society is hard for both men and women. Our culture is tied to youth and beauty and age is equated with uselessness. It’s hard to resist the advertising for wrinkle creams and hair dyes and all the other products and procedures that promise youth, i.e. value. For women though, I think it’s an added challenge that there are so few older women to call ‘successfull’. Women who are currently 60+ were less involved in public life when they were younger than women are now, and so there are fewer popular examples of ‘success’. The older women that tend to come to mind are from show biz and are known for the numbers of cosmetic surgeries they’ve had.

Older women also make up one of the largest groups of people living in poverty. This is another reason why we don’t have a lot of positive role models for growing older. Without enough money to live it’s hard to inspire the next generation. I think though, that some people are more afraid of wrinkles than poverty stats.

So what is it that these bodies are doing that make us feel like they’re falling apart? Well, thinning, greying hair, abs not so tight anymore, skin isn’t the same as it was when we were younger. All I can say is that yeah, change is hard and try to point out that it’s just change. If we could change the perception would we have an easier time of dealing with it? Does the language we use (i.e. “falling apart”) make it that much harder to adjust ( la Sapir-Whorf)? Can people change a perception that is so ingrained?

I’d like to lose some weight and work out more but I wouldn’t change my grey hair or trade in my baby stretch marks. I’m sure most people harbour a desire to be pleasing on the eyes but I would never want to be so dependent on my appearance that I’d be crippled by body changes.

I look forward to getting older. There are so many good things to look forward to. I feel like I’ve been waiting a long time to be old, that this will be the best part of my life. My confidence is beginning to grow and I’m just starting to get the hang of how to live. I also think (maybe naively) that with age will come more understanding and certainty. I’m getting old enough to see that the more I learn, the more questions there are. I’m starting to doubt the correlation of wisdom and age – but I don’t worry specifically about body changes anymore. Our wrinkles are the proof that we’re survivors. But I’m not sure women will ever be convinced to look at it that way.

2 comments:

  1. Sally, 23. June 2006, 11:47

    i was working the other day and i ran into a group of women from the ‘red hat society’ (have you ever heard of this?). As they explained it to me, the organization is a group for women who feel they have reached many of their goals in life and are now embracing growing older, and looking to share the fun of it with like-minded friends. I don’t know much about it, but it seemed like a really sweet idea! your blog on aging made me think of this.
    redhatsociety.com

     
  2. Administrator, 23. June 2006, 12:26

    Definitely – as soon as I’m old enough I will definitely be checking it out!

     

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