I am apparently guilty of one of the last social offenses against humanity: I am aging while female.
I plead guilty. I am 65 and a few months ago had that day that everyone eventually has -- the one when you look in the mirror and see a stranger, a stranger who looks much older than you feel.
I immediately turned to my husband and asked him if I looked any different. Fearful that this was a trick question, he moved straight to Swiss-neutral territory, "You look good. Uh, you got your hair cut?"
A good guess, but no, not a haircut. What I saw when I looked in the mirror were a few extra chins and a body that is succumbing to the forces of gravity -- exacerbated by a few back-to-back nights of insomnia which accentuate the puffiness under my eyes.
Truth is, I'm fine with it -- all of it except maybe the nights of insomnia. What I'm not fine with is the pressure exerted on women my age to "age gracefully."
What exactly is aging gracefully anyway? The definition of "aging gracefully" seems to be someone who doesn't look or act the age they actually are. Now take that idea and flip it on its back and what do you have? Someone must not be aging gracefully if they look or act their age. It's the aging version of fat-shaming. And to that, I say phooey.
When social media heaps praise on women for "aging gracefully," what's being suggested is that aging is the enemy and the winners are people who successfully beat it back. And therein lies the problem: Aging is not the enemy. Aging is inevitable. The enemy is someone who thinks getting older invalidates someone's worth.
At 65, I'm not old. But when someone expresses surprise at hearing my age and tells me that I "don't look 65," what I hear is a backhanded compliment at best. What they are really saying is that it would be a bad thing if I did look 65. I'm tired of hearing the implied suggestion that by thwarting aging, I'm doing something right.
Trust me, there is nothing terrible that comes with being 65. Life has ups and downs and so far, 65 is turning out to be a pretty damn good year. The same may be true of 75 or 85; I don't know because I'm not there yet.
Aging gracefully is simply the act of not aging as rapidly as some people think is typical -- and it shouldn't be held up in such high esteem.
Take Jane Fonda, who is frequently said to be "aging gracefully"; sure, she doesn't look a bit of her 77 years, but who would if they spent as much time as she likely does working on her appearance? Celebrities don't age like the rest of us because of personal trainers, chefs, and plastic surgeons. Their appearance is their meal ticket. Good for Jane, and I envy her for her posture alone. But please don't hold her up as someone who sets a good example in the aging game. Her results are not within reach of most of us. And that was probably true when she was 30 too.
And how about those women with their long, flowing gray locks? You call them "silver foxes" and tell us how self-confident they are, how fabulous they look. They do look fabulous. And for every woman who can rock gray hair and look that fabulous, let me introduce you to a few zillion who can't. I worship at the altar of L'Oreal because I am one of the zillion. And what do I get for it? Grief that I'm not aging gracefully or accepting myself for who I am.
Sorry, but aging gracefully has become a buzzword for not aging at all. Some people were born with better looks and with better genes. But not all of us. For the sake of the rest of us -- the majority -- how about you ease up on the pressure and just let us age in peace. I don't need tips on how to age gracefully or what aging gracefully secrets celebrities know and I don't.
What I need is for the world to be nicer to people who are older than them. Don't assume we aren't interesting because frankly, we are. Don't treat us as if we are invisible because we are still here. And please don't hold up people for praise on the basis of how young they look for their age.
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