Reflections (no, opinions) on aging...
Because I am entering my late 60s, I decided to take some time to pause and analyze my feelings about it. A few years ago, I wrote a little post about raging at age stereotypes. And there is plenty to rage at. More and more, I see photos showing older women drenching themselves in bright colors, dressing wildly bohemian, and sporting huge glasses — just to show the world how aging is all in your head. While it’s not my style, I do admire seeing other women do whatever makes them feel vibrant, without a care as to what other people think. Their years have earned them that privilege.
Personally, I have pretty strict rules (sure, call them hang ups) about playing up assets and downplaying detractors where my physical appearance is concerned. My 1950s-style mother brainwashed me well. If you have a waist, show it off. If you don’t, find ways to make it look like you do without revealing the entire waistline — like revealing a belt from the front but wearing a jacket or long sweater to cover the rest of it. I guess it’s kind of like seeing a normally slender but very pregnant woman from behind. You can’t know what shows in front. In the end, I decided I am truly a Hepburn girl — Audrey in her turtlenecks and Katharine in her stand-up (punked) collars and tailored clothes. My friends can vouch for this, since the moment they try to turn down the back of my collar, thinking it was accidentally left that way, I punk it right back up again.
I always wanted to be tiny, but I don’t recall ever having been referred to in that way. My Greek child-bearing hips kept me from wearing low-waisted bell-bottoms because my waist-to-hips circumference made the hourglass too pronounced. I envied women with boyish figures and small boobs, but I knew I would never prance among them, free to let my blouses plunge low because there was nothing to hold the front of them up. While one-piece swimsuits showed off my curves, bikinis made them look too extreme. Now that my post-menopausal body has thickened at the waist, things are more in proportion. Albeit too large a proportion, but more balanced nonetheless. Speaking of menopause, I can’t say enough good things about it. Apart from finding a solution for night sweats (which I did), and developing the multi-tasking habit of wielding a pair of tweezers to attack chin hairs as I watch TV, the liberation it has offered me is endless and I sympathize with those still experiencing the “curse” each month.
The next issue is wrinkles and sagging skin. For some reason, I am enjoying seeing my mother’s “laugh lines” appearing around my eyes. I have so far avoided the knife to correct the signs of aging simply because I feel I haven’t gone to great enough lengths with skin care, food intake and exercise to correct it naturally. But I leave room open for whatever doesn’t alter my smile or freeze my face. Flabby underarms? A few years ago I finally got myself to a strength trainer and have whaled on my triceps so there is not much swinging around any more. To be honest, however, I am much more concerned at this age about maintaining balance and flexibility than being a hardbody. I can’t imagine giving up wearing all those gorgeous pumps that grace the shelves of my walk-in closet. There is something about a pair of skinny jeans with some sexy stilettos that float my boat, and I don’t intend to stop this practice any time soon. So I sweat. And I can now jump, squat and lunge along with the 30-somethings even if my body can’t begin to compete with theirs at the gym.
Having a tan was once more important to me than life itself when I was younger. The moment the sun’s rays were warm enough to turn my skin brown, I welcomed it. No, I was manic about it. Until I wasn’t. That was caused by a few melanoma scares in my 50s which fortunately were “in situ” in nature. Now when I go sleeveless, it’s not so much about the color of my skin as it is covering up the many freckles and age spots that have multiplied on my arms from all those days of sun damage. So I use a topical spray tanner to help them blend — like a connect-the-dots canvas. Yes. The interior of the beige leather driver side door of my car must be regularly cleaned because my arms leave telltale clues there in the summer months. And I have no shame about it.
As for grey, thinning hair? This past year I did something bold. I gave up the dark dye and went platinum, as many of you know. I suppose I just didn't like what I was seeing in the mirror any more. Who knows? Perhaps I had grown up seeing too much bottle-black hair on old Greek ladies at church. After making this major change from dark brown to platinum blond I came home looking like someone else, but it felt great. It just took me a few months to recognize myself in the mirror each morning. While I never asked permission of him to make this change, my husband now delights in having been married to two different women with the same face. Where the hair parts and shows too much scalp? They make keratin fiber powder in a ton of different colors for that. Smoke and mirrors, my dears. By the way, I think Marilyn Monroe and I would have gotten along great. She was famous for having said to look in the mirror and see what doesn’t fit, then change it until it all balances.
I do want you to know that I take nothing for granted - my lifestyle, my work, my DNA, my adult child nor my amazing partner in life. I know I am blessed beyond measure in many ways. But I have only one time to get this right. Because I strength train several times a week, my legs are stronger than they were in my 40s. A marvelous wellness doctor has balanced my hormones, healed my gut, and solved my sleep issues, making me slumber in technicolor. I realize more than ever that aging isn’t about giving up — it’s about getting going. When you’re younger, you take the fact that you can get up off the floor mostly using your legs (not rolling onto all fours) with a grain of salt. Those idyllic horseback riding days of the past? It never occurred to me that getting my foot up high enough to reach the stirrup from the ground and swinging my body over the saddle could someday disappear. When that happened, it didn’t make me frustrated. It made me ANGRY. It was then that I began to wage war, looking for solutions instead of selling out to the natural ravages of older age.
I assure you my daily routine is not full of tedious beauty routines. I am basically one of the most undisciplined people I know. I’ve just never expressed all this at once before. Most of the time I hang out in yoga pants, an old sweatshirt and a baseball cap. When I do leave the house, my entire routine (shower, makeup, hair, dressing) takes a total of 20 minutes on a good day, and 25 minutes on an indecisive one, often making me wait for my husband to get ready. Workouts take up only a few hours a week if you don’t count the commute to the workout studio. I am so used to being exercise-sore, I don’t really think about it any more. I do a few paid writing/editing/ghost-blogging jobs from home and handle email inboxes for my baby girl’s female empowerment media company — something that has me seeing life from refreshing new perspectives and learning to speak the language of her generation. I sing karaoke with my amazing husband on Saturday nights and we have finally cleared a spot in our dining room for tango practice — an artful dance my light-on-his-feet husband promised me he would someday teach me.
Today (on my 67th birthday) I will be traveling solo to Greece to visit relatives in the old country. I see every trip I take alone as an adventure, just as I did in my teens, when my father shipped me to Athens for a year abroad on a cruise ship to have me emulate his own odyssey there at the same age.
I do think more women should be open about how they see themselves. We female Baby Boomers have been all about privacy, rarely sharing information with our peers about aging except to laugh at few Facebook memes. With this blog post, I now consider myself a trail blazer in talking openly about the phenomenon of “pushing 70.” I cherish the ability to write about all of it because the older I get, the more I know something could happen tomorrow to change it.
If so much of aging is truly all in a woman’s head, then my philosophy is that she must use her brain to help her make the physical changes that enable her to be as healthy and happy as possible. All this work may very well extend my life a tad, but then again, it may not. All I know is that the quality of my days is even more important as I rapidly advance to an age I considered “elderly” not too long ago.