Some women wear their aging skin like an old pair of Levis. I want to be one of those women.
You know the jeans I’m talking about, they hug your curves in all the right places, and know your body almost as well as you do. Whether stained with memories, or tattered by fun, they’re still beautiful and you love them. They charm you into wearing them when others are telling you to throw them out.
Cultural conditioning, advertising and role models all impact how we view aging. Like many women, I assumed I would hold back time with potions, colors and cosmetic treatments. In my twenties, I wasn’t aware I could affect how I aged; by what I ate, how I moved, and by what I believed or felt. I also didn’t realize I could change how I perceived the aging process itself.
Strolling into my forties, I wondered when I should begin hiding my spatter of grays. I looked for an easier and safer alternative to the dyes I had used in my youth. But even henna requires upkeep. Over the years, I grew happily accustomed to low maintenance hair care and makeup. I also suspected there was something else behind my hesitance to jump on the coloring wagon. Three different women inspired a decision that helped shape how I would experience aging in the coming years.
The first I met on a street corner. She wore her aging body with joy and ease. Her snow-white shag fluttered in the breeze. The sparkles of sunlight that bounced off each strand were blinding. Her weathered skin and careful walk gave away her age. Yet her smile and posture would have made a runway model jealous.
Well into her seventies, she appeared more luminous than someone a fraction of her age, exuding a confidence only time could bestow. I was mesmerized.
Inspired by this lady, I christened my grays “streaks of light”. I began to look with the eyes of an explorer, instead of a critic. I saw creases that defined my eyes and thinning skin that highlighted the angularity of my cheekbones. If described as crepe fabric draped on a chiseled sculpture, my face became living art. This changed perspective didn’t come easily. To find self-acceptance, I had to purge a lot of doubt.
There is something hopeful about the younger generation; they accept change more easily. Like the young waitress I met who gushed, “I finally convinced my mom to stop coloring her hair, and you know what? She looks so beautiful!” A loving perspective changes what we see.
I learned about the beautifying power of love from my mother. She was a typical woman of her time. Having lived through the roaring twenties, she knew the power of a bright red lipstick. But she was socialized to view aging as a curse.
At first, she colored her grays religiously. When I asked her why she bothered, she replied with palpable shame, “My gray hair looks ugly.” Yet by her sixties, she was admiring her silvery-white locks, no longer scorning her laugh lines. Time had changed her mind – causing her to shed the embarrassment and embrace the beauty of her years.
Within the final, tear-blurred hours spent with my dying mother, one memory stood out. With tangled hair, ashen skin and life force fading, I couldn’t remember a time my mother had looked more beautiful. Perhaps I noticed this beauty because I was peering through a window of love, framed by borrowed time. These three women pushed me to ask more questions.
Can we blame all our struggles with aging on society? Is it a belief system that we willingly embrace, to compare ourselves to others? Are we trying to turn back the clock, to relive what we believe were happier times? Does being beautiful have to mean looking younger?
We marvel at the gnarled bark of an ancient tree. Why are we not as fascinated by the historic beauty of our own wrinkles? We would rob a tree of its past if we polished away the valleys etched in its bark. Yet by mid adulthood, we often stop counting the candles, and start pinning our hopes on cosmetic promises — concoctions, surgeries, injections and fillers — in an attempt to disguise our own deepening groves. There must be a gentler way.
Could we instead try to celebrate the beauty of our aging bodies, perhaps anticipate the arrival of our grays like we did the sprouting of our breasts in our youth? Everyone’s grays slide in differently. It’s what makes the process so amazing. Aging has its perks; more courage to listen to our inner voices and less need to feel guilty or apologize for the choices we make. If we shifted our perspective, would we discover more hidden gifts?
I have decided to embrace this aging experience, tossing out the judgments and accepting this miraculous, changing form. I’m passing on the dyes, injections and augmentations for the following reasons: I don’t want to risk harming myself, animals or the environment with harsh chemicals, I dislike pain and my breasts are just fine roosting at the height they are. I’m starting to appreciate my loosening form, maybe it’s intended to give my Soul more room to move. I’m even finding humor in some of the unexpected jiggles and drops. At this point, my biggest challenge is to celebrate the comment, “You look your age” — instead of perceiving it as an insult. Life is teaching me that nothing stays the same.
Time is demanding that I expand my awareness, find comfort within my evolving skin and make peace with the aging process. Perhaps my happiness in later years hinges upon it.
I’m going to try to approach aging like I do the wearing of my worn Levi’s; with love, joy and gratitude. Why? Because I’m still here, while some of my younger friends are not.