In an excerpt from her new memoir, My Foot Is Too Big for the Glass Slipper, former pro volleyball player Gabrielle Reece takes a page from a male friend and says to hell with pining for her youth.
By Gabrielle Reece
Not long ago I showed up for a magazine shoot and the photographer, upon seeing me, stopped in his tracks, widened his eyes, threw open his arms, and exclaimed, "Gabrielle, I am amazed at how good you still look." He's a genuinely nice person in a field filled with sometimes not-so-nice people, and it's possible he regretted that tiny word still the second it tumbled out of his mouth. So he went on to overcompensate, praising the state of my skin ("even though you've spent so much time in the sun") and my figure ("even though you've had two kids"). He meant well, and yet every sentence he uttered dead-ended in the same place: I can rock a magazine spread with the help of Photoshop, but I am not the hot-ta-ta boffo babe I once was. I am, like everyone else in the world, getting older.
Everyone turns 50. (I should say, if you're lucky you turn 50, because some of my friends died in their 40s.) The stark fact is that you can spend all your time, energy, and money having fat removed from this place and injected into that place, having different pieces of skin tucked and sandblasted smooth and other parts puffed up and lightened. (Mind you, I'm not for a minute saying you shouldn't do this. The day may come when I spring for an eye tuck.) But it's good to be sane about it, to pitch your tent in the camp of aging gracefully, and to realize that however much you have done, there might come a day when you look like a really rested 40- or 60-year-old who has had work done, but you're never going to look 22. That ship has sailed.
Some days I catch a glimpse of myself in the rearview mirror of my truck and am shocked by the new lines beneath my eyes. Or I twist my forearm a certain way and see that the elasticity of my skin has decreased. But the older we get, the less critical we should be about our imperfections. At 40 we should be less critical than we were at 30; when we're 50, less critical still. Back off on your head-to-toe inspections. (And stay away from the heinous magnifying mirrors you come across in hotel bathrooms.) There's always going to be a gaggle of beauties who are younger than you, hotter than you, and gaining the attention of the world in a way that you're unlikely to again -- if you ever did in the first place. I'm not being less fortunate than you.
I have young daughters, but I don't let their youth torture me. I want to enjoy watching them come into their own vibrant colors and celebrate all their milestones. I'm not in a race with them, or anyone. You can't be better or worse than anyone if you are not competing with or comparing yourself to them.
Sometimes I tell myself that in ten years I'll look back at how I am now and think how young and beautiful I was, and the thought of that makes me smile. I don't want to be the woman who's angry at the world because the clock keeps ticking. Rather than trying to be endlessly foxy, deep into middle age and beyond, my goal is to be handsome, distinguished, and in command of my life. My goal is to be beloved.
That doesn't mean I don't fear getting older. Aging is scary. You might feel wise and be able to seize the day better than you once did, but the bod gives out. And a big question arises: Why is it that we live this life -- we perform, we have a family, we send our kids on their way -- only to allow ourselves to become enfeebled?
Perhaps the ultimate lesson of getting older is learning to check our egos at the door. Losing our dignity and independence is the fear beneath our anxiety about aging. It's not so much the lines and sunspots on our faces; it's more what the lines and sunspots signal: that life moves in only one direction. Yet every day the sun rises, and each day is our own. I'm reminded of the Emerson quote: "No one suspects the days to be gods." The one advantage of being older is knowing that our days truly are numbered. Every morning we should wake up and think: "I can be an asshole, or I can be a badass."
Consider Don Wildman. Don is the guy who founded the company that became Bally Total Fitness, but around our house he's known for his nine Ironman competitions, his devotion to heli-snowboarding, mountain biking, and stand-up paddling. If I haven't seen him around for a while, I assume he's off running a marathon or paddling the length of the Hawaiian Islands on a surfboard. Did I mention that Don's 80? My husband, Laird, a mere 49, trains with the Wild Man from time to time -- a two-hour circuit that has been known to make professional athletes throw up. The most inspirational thing about Don is that, to him, his age is irrelevant. Sure, he eats an excellent diet -- low in red meat, low in fat, high in plants -- and takes supplements, including glucosamine for his increasingly creaky knees, but his main concern is the next adventure. His age doesn't keep him from doing anything he wants to do.
I amuse myself imagining Don Wildman refusing to go to the beach because he thought he looked bad in a bathing suit. Or Don Wildman skipping a day of snowboarding because the sun on the mountain that day was harsh and might cause more wrinkles. Or Don Wildman saying no to a mountain bike trip because he didn't want to look foolish because he wasn't a 25-year-old hottie. All that Don -- and Laird, too, for that matter -- cares about is being able to do what he wants to do. I think women should aim to age that way.
Not long ago I was at a party with a friend and I noticed a tall young woman in her early 20s slouch into the room, her arms folded across her chest. She was very pretty, but everything about her body language conveyed self-consciousness bordering on self-loathing. "Aren't you glad you're not that young anymore?" I said to my friend, and we both laughed with genuine relief. Being able to walk into a room in full possession of yourself, free from the tortuous insecurity that hobbles so many of us when we're young, to be free to own the grace and beauty only you possess, is the great gift of getting older.
Copyright © 2013 by Honeyline 4 Babies LLC. From the forthcoming book My Foot Is Too Big for the Glass Slipper, by Gabrielle Reece with Karen Karbo. Printed by permission of Scribner, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.