Looking My Age

April 19, 2015

Last Friday night, the hubby and I attended a black tie event; in honor of the occasion, I got my hair done and put on a fancy dress.  Since we were looking awfully posh, I asked my daughter to take a picture; later, Michael snapped a selfie as we entered the ball and posted it on Facebook.  While I have to say that we clean up pretty good, when I looked at that photo, I had to admit something to myself:  I look OLD.

My whole life, I’ve been told how young I look.  This meant that well into my mid-thirties, I was routinely carded whenever I went into a liquor store or ordered a drink.  I was 25 when I got married, and guests attending another event at the venue where our reception was held surreptitiously asked my sister if I had graduated from high school – apparently, they assumed it was a shotgun wedding.  Up until a few years ago, I could reliably count on credible gasps when I (accurately) revealed my age.  I really, really liked that.

But when I look at that photo, there’s no denying it:  I look OLD.  The crow’s feet and bags under my eyes, the beginnings of jowls, the neck that’s starting to look a little crepe – y.  What’s happened to my body isn’t pretty, either – after years of managing to keep my stomach relatively flat with almost no effort, I’ve got a legitimate potbelly, and don’t get me started on the cellulite, spider veins and (my personal favorite), my bingo wings (the flab that hangs off the upper arm, that is).

My body is failing me from a functional standpoint as well – I recently nursed an injured shoulder for a week after doing nothing more strenuous than sleeping on it wrong, and the right knee gets pretty cranky after a three-mile walk.  Although I’m actually about the same weight as I was ten years ago, things aren’t exactly in the same place – just ask my jeans.

I have to cop to feeling not so great about the realization that these days, I look my age, and it bothers me that it bothers me.  After all, I’m a Paragon of Feminist Outrage when it comes to photo-shopped swimsuit models and the Fashion/Cosmetic Industrial Complex that since the beginning of time has brainwashed all of us into believing that no woman, no matter how thin or beautiful, has ever looked good enough.  I’m the mom who wouldn’t let my pre-teen daughters go to birthday parties at Sweet and Sassy where the main activity was transforming eight-year-olds into pint-sized Vegas Hookers by teasing their hair and slathering their faces with make-up.

I’m also the mom who counts among her proudest moments the fact that on the day of my oldest daughter’s senior prom, she spent the afternoon learning how to roll her kayak and threw on her dress, wet hair pulled into a neat bun, fifteen minutes before her date arrived.  I’m a woman who’s happiest in cargo shorts and flip flips, hair pulled back, no make-up.  If I find myself with the time to engage in some form of self-improvement, it’s far more likely to be of the internal kind, and although I adore my stylist, it’s a bit of a tragedy to me how much time I waste at the hair salon coloring my grays, so much so that I have decided that on the day I retire, I am going to shave my head and let my white hair grow in.  Neither my beloved stylist nor my husband are on board, but I’m going to do it anyway.

Because I’m that kind of woman.

But apparently, I am also the kind of woman who, unexpectedly, doesn’t like the fact that she looks her age.  I don’t mind getting older, or even being older, I just don’t like looking older.  Perhaps it’s because as the baby of the family, I’ve always believed I would be forever young, so the evidence to the contrary is a little unsettling.  Additionally, I didn’t actually think I looked all that great until I hit 40, and I was still getting used to feeling sort of attractive—that is, until Michael’s selfie of us at the gala snapped me out of it.  And now it’s all downhill.

I guess I should take comfort in the fact that the only person besides me whose opinion on my appearance matters—my husband, that is—claims with a straight face and uncrossed fingers that I am “smoking hot.”  He told me this last Friday, at the gala, but he’s a generous man, and he’d had several glasses of wine, so I can’t exactly consider him an unbiased, objective critic.  It’s not that I need members of the opposite sex to fall over themselves in the wake of my surpassing beauty, but nowadays, if a man other than my husband gives me a second glance, it’s probably because I’ve got lettuce in my teeth or I’ve spilled something on myself.  Glamourous, I’m not.

So I guess I’m going to have to get used to people being able to figure out without me telling them that I’m over fifty, and I’m going to have to be okay with people not being shocked when I mention that my oldest is in graduate school.  In the not-too-distant future, I’ll be sharing pictures of my grandchildren, and I doubt anyone’s going to mean it when they say, “but you’re too YOUNG to be a grandmother!”

I’m mostly okay with the whole aging thing.  I’ve never been happier or more at peace in my life, and since I’m a pretty healthy girl, I’m hoping I’ve still got a lot of good years ahead of me.  I wouldn’t switch places with my twenty-two-year-old self for any amount of money, and I’m not ruling out the possibility that someday I’ll have enough time to get my body into the kind of shape that would justify my husband’s sweetly inflated assessment of me.  And, too, I remind myself to be happy with how I look right now, because it’s only going to get worse.

There are worse things than looking your age, or feeling creaky, or knowing that your best days, looks-wise, are behind you.  Perhaps one of the unexpected blessings of believing yourself to be a troll for as long as I did is that it never occurred to me to rely on my looks to get me anywhere in life.  Thus, it shouldn’t be too much of an adjustment for me to go from “smoking hot” back to troll, and women like Meryl Streep and Judi Dench give me hope that I might be able to eke out a few more years of not-too-shabby.

All my life, if you asked me what I’d change about myself, it’s never been to be better looking, even in my teens, the time of my life that (not) being pretty mattered most.  No, I would have chosen to be braver, or stronger, or to have a really great singing voice.  When I die, I don’t want to be remembered for always looking great (and, let’s face it, there’s no real danger of that ever happening); no, I’d like people to say, “you know, even though she looked her age, she was an interesting woman, and she hardly ever had toothpaste in her hair.”

So here I am at almost 51 and looking every minute of it and you know, I think I’m going to be okay with it.  But you can still tell me I don’t look a day over 35, because you should always be kind to the elderly.

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