I wish I knew what that meant, to age gracefully. Honestly, I think this is meant for the 1%-ers who actually look better as they get older, who gain an almost unfathomable aura of regal-ness, those fortunate few who look glorious in their golden years with wafts of soft, elegant white hair and refined wrinkles (not too many, mind you!) in all the correct places. You know the type. The ones who look good in linen. The men are always slightly tanned, the women graced with fine porcelain skin. They are never rushed, nor impatient, flustered or angry. They are veritable human representations of zen. Sadly, this is not at all an accurate picture of my own aging process (I don’t even dare own linen!).
Let me be frank. Aging is not for the weak of heart (ha!). It’s hard to be almost 60. It’s not the new 40. That is a total lie told to you by friends who want you to feel better about the whole wretched thing. And I am utterly flummoxed by how I got here so quickly. One day I’m in my early 20’s, barreling down the freeway in my cute little RX7 (remember those? No? Too young? Shut up.), not a care in the world (other than speed traps) and the next thing I know, I’m old. God/Buddha/(insert spiritual Zion here) is cruel. There are just so many things about not being 20 (or 30 or 40) anymore, things that bash at your self esteem, attack your mental vision of yourself and otherwise serve to instill a sense of foreboding and, I’m afraid, shock, at what you have become, that overcoming them to hold steadfast to any sense of youthful vivacity is a herculean task.
Where to start? In trying to recall the first visible sign that my body was going awry, the mislaid hairs are first to pop into the mind. Why on earth would there be a single hair growing out of the middle of my forehead? It took me forever to notice it too, even though my hair was dark (dyed of course!) and the hair was a healthy two to three inches long. In my defense, it was a thin little hair. I finally noticed it when it started falling into my eyelashes and driving me nutty. Imagine my shock and surprise when I finally took a gander in the mirror to address this pressing issue only to find the problem was not emanating from my actual hairline! What? Naturally my first thought was to wonder how many people had witnessed this freak of nature and said nothing to me about it. This was quickly followed by visions of strangers, worse yet, friends, whispering and pointing, either giggling or debating “should we tell her?”. To be honest, I did not handle it well. I screamed for my daughter (she being my only cell mate for the last decade or so) and promptly appointed her the “checker of errant hairs” from that day forward. Since that time, she’s found one growing out of my neck (eek) and continues to stand vigil over my forehead. It takes a village, my friends.
Men fare no better here. Take no solace boys! Men, in a sad twist of follicular fate that leads one to wonder if God/Buddha/Other was a woman, suffer the unfortunate condition whereby hairs appear in places they ought not and, in places where they already naturally exist in requisite and acceptable number, they suddenly sprout wings and take on a life of their own. Alternatively, they disappear altogether. I can attest to this phenomena having witnessed its blossoming as my own father reached his 60’s. Hair in the ears of one’s father is a shock, I will say. And the crazed eyebrows! The emerging nostril hairs, first peeking out and then, in a testament to the freakishness of human genetics gone mad, flailing about in the wind as if mocking us, daring us to take issue and demand they be dealt with! I will never forget one of my dear friends, having taken note of my father’s monstrous eyebrows on a previous visit, showing up with a pair of shearing scissors and taking matters into her own hands, something neither I nor my mother had the courage to undertake. Bless her. I only wish she had been brave enough to deal with those dangling nostril hairs. I shudder. (Love you pops!)
And while we’re on the topic of hair, let’s face it, dealing with the arrival of the colorless strands atop our heads has spawned an entire industry. I’m fairly certain this is a predominantly female dilemma but I could be persuaded otherwise. At some point, the number of noticeable little grey’s reach a tipping point and we ladies stand at a crossroads. To dye or not to dye, that is the question. There are a few brave souls out there who refuse to bow down to the magic elixir that is hair color, but, truthfully, who do they think they are? As if it’s not hard enough to endure the cost and time commitment of the every-five-week visit to the salon, we have to feel bad about it too? We, the silent majority, the givers to the beauty economy, we selfless upholders of grey-hair abolishment slink off to spend hours in the chair, nary telling a sole that no, sadly, this is not our natural hair color and silently wondering to ourselves “what is my natural hair color”? Men seemingly have no such battle to wage. They simply turn into, yes, are you ready for it? A silver fox. I roll my eyes. And I’ll bet you those 1%-ers who look so lovely in their silver hair are getting dye jobs and not telling us.
I have colored my hair for decades. I started going grey in high school. What was funky back then quickly turned into a quest for damage control in my 20’s. No fashion ad, no magazine meant for my generation at the time, no swimsuit model was sporting grey hair. And so, down the slippery slope I went. At one point a couple of years ago, I decided to go platinum, my thinking being that my hair must be mostly grey by now, and the spattering here and there of darker hair might look cute. This way, I could ease into my natural hair by just letting it grow out. Makes sense right? It turns out my hair was closer to half grey, half brown/black. Well damn. I had traded in the every-five-week color appointment for an every-four-week bleach appointment. And, as you ladies can attest, nearly doubled the cost. Heavy sigh. It’s hard to be female. Perhaps we take solace in the genetic roll of the dice that make baldness mostly a man’s domain.
And as if being dealt these hairy (ha!) challenges isn’t bad enough, we eventually find ourselves confounded with a sudden inability to see our feet quite as clearly as we once did. And no, I am not addressing the deterioration of our eyesight though that is yet another sliding scale disaster of which we aging shadows of our former selves must endure. Where do our waistlines go? We wake up one day and poof, a ponch has appeared on the scene. The beer belly, if you will, for you gentlemen. I swear it happens in the night while we are innocently sleeping, dreaming of our lost (misspent?) youth. The fat fairy (he wears linen, of course) appears, deems us unfit to be in the 1% who shall age gracefully, waves his scepter (I’m convinced it’s made of bacon and chocolate, or chocolate covered bacon) and voila, we are saddled with a little extra around the middle, a “spare tire”, a pièce de résistance for the fat fairy to marvel over. It resists all attempts to be evicted. No amount of desperate dieting, mall walking or praying to the fat fairy will rid us of the scourge and return our once flat(-ish?) bellies to us. What are we to do? I have a friend who once said the best thing about turning 40 was the elastic waistband. Viva la elastique! I have found that the best escape is a tunic. Bless those Romans! It has become the body armour of the middle aged woman. And what of the men? Are they saved by the wonder that is elasticity? Ah, no. A man will, instead, hold tight to his vanity and simply realign the placement of his waist to the circular area just below his beer belly and exclaim to all that his waist size has not changed since high school! Brilliant!
I truly want to accept that I am “of an age”. I want to embrace the laugh lines, the speckled hair, the constant look of exhaustion. My body is a reflection of a life well lived after all. Right? But let’s be real. When I see my reflection in the mirror first thing in the morning, it’s a bit of shocker. Who is that? Oh, damn, it’s me. And I’m starting to look like my mother. When did that happen? I keep thinking I’d better get a handle on this deterioration before it’s too late, but I’m just too damn tired to exercise consistently and my nutritional desires run far and wide and most certainly well beyond roasted cauliflower and bran. What to do to slow the passage of time (or at least the evidence of it in my physical form)? Somehow there must be a balance, a perfect blend of “I’m okay, you’re okay” and Spartacus where we can achieve nirvana, where we can have our cake and eat it to, or more accurately, have our bran and drain our wine glasses all in the same go (would that be with a red or a rose?). Why can’t we have it all? Haven’t we earned it by sheer survival into our later life?
Even more taboo for public discussion than “does she dye or does she not” would have to be “did she have something done?”. Plastic surgery. Yikes. Only in the last year or so, having now become accustomed to that strange face staring back at me in the mirror each morning, have I come to understand why they do it. Honestly, if money were not an option, I might have something done. Just a little touch up here and there. But that’s probably how they all started and then, many thousands of dollars later, they can’t recognize themselves in the mirror anymore either. Plastic faces that can’t smile (or can’t stop smiling), forever frozen in states of surprise or with cat like expressions that hide all manner of emotion and lead us all to wonder is that better? Lucky for me, I can’t afford plastic surgery, so I get to take a pass on any potential of becoming a caricature of my former self. I’d need a magic wand of some sort and alas, I haven’t found one.
At the end of the day, we will all grapple with our aging bodies and changing faces, our graying hair and our burgeoning middles. It’s part of life’s journey. I think God/Buddha/Other has a sense of humor. How else to explain the litany of haywire genetics that unfolds in our later years. If you, like me, are not one of those who gets better with age, take heart. As my dad used to say, it beats the alternative. No one looks that good in a casket after all. The people in our lives that love us don’t care about our errant hairs or our sagging bodies because it’s our hearts and souls that they love. So perhaps the best thing to remember when you look in the mirror each morning is this. Underneath the battered body and tired eyes is the same soul that has carried you through thick and thin for however many days you’ve already been blessed to be here, that the real you, the part of you that will be remembered long after you’ve gone is not the shell you carry around. What will remain is the essence of you, your laughter, your smile, your hugs, your loyalty to your friends and family, your warmth, your comfort in times of need and your deep and abiding love. We are all, if we’re lucky, going to get old. If you look good in linen, good for you. If you don’t, try elastic waistbands. I hear they’re all the rage.