Mind & Body

    The Truth About Aging

    If you watch any amount of television, then you know there’s a whole category of ads aimed at women of a certain age. Those ads are far too polite to mention that age, of course, but I think we can generalize and say they’re aimed at women who are aging. By which we mean no longer young.

    In other words, women like me.

    No one mistakes me for a young woman anymore. I have, in fact, been referred to as an old lady by a young man who clearly didn’t know I could hear him, and probably would have been mortified if he’d known that I did. I’ve been coloring my hair for so long that I don’t even know how much gray I would have now, if I stopped (although, according to Mahin, it would be a lot.) And let’s not even talk about how long it’s been since I was carded when I order a margarita.

    But honestly? None of this bothers me very much. (Well, okay. The “old lady” thing bothered me when it happened. At this point, it’s just a funny story I tell sometimes.)  I looked forward to turning 50 for many years, and now that I’ve officially been in my 50’s for several years, I can say with some authority that they’re delightful.

    Which is something those ads don’t tell the women they target. They pretend to; they feature gray-haired women going to a nude beach, or hanging out with their gal pals at the movies and happily taking advantage of the senior discount, or casting a loving look into the eyes of a gray-haired gentleman–who always looks distinguished, because the truth about aging men is a completely different story.

    If you watch them closely, though, every one of those ads is suggesting that women can enjoy their lives in spite of aging, not because of it. It’s as if they’re saying Yeah, you’re aging, but . . .

    What they should be saying is Yeah, you’re aging, and . . .

    You’ve learned to have confidence in yourself.

    Once you’ve been through a struggle or two (or three, or four), you learn to trust your own ability to survive. You know you’ll get through it somehow, because you’ve done it before. And you know that, whatever happens, it’s going to be all right.

    Not perfect. Not the way you’d prefer, perhaps. But you’ll find a way to work it out.

    You know yourself.

    There’s a reason we don’t talk about peer pressure being a factor in the lives of people who are 50-something.

    At some point, most of us come to understand that what we know about ourselves is more valuable than anything others might think or say. This happens only when we’ve had enough life experience to understand what will make us feel good about ourselves and what we’ll regret later on. When self-knowledge becomes the basis for our decisions, it’s easier to know what has to be done.

    You know your body.

    You’ve lived in this skin for a long time–you know how it operates better than anyone else does. When something is wrong, you know it. Even when you’re coping with all the bizarre changes of menopause, you have a sense about what’s normal and what’s not. And you’re less likely to let a doctor tell you that you’re wrong.

    So you’ll see another doctor. You’ll do some research of your own. You’ll do whatever it takes to honor the only body you’re going to get.

    You love your body.

    I’m fairly certain I will never grow fond of what my family affectionately refers to as The Tube–the ring of extra pounds that wraps around my belly and hips and will not disappear, no matter what I do. It’s a legacy: my mother had it. My daughter has it. We are The People of The Tube.

    But this body, Tube and all, gave me two amazing children. It lets me walk and talk and think and write and drive a car and listen to music. It lets me do pretty much anything I want to, every single day. If you’re lucky enough to reach your 50’s, you’ve most likely seen someone lose some of those abilities. You’ve learned that a working body, no matter what it looks like, is a treasure.

    You admit your mistakes.

    As a younger person, I would do all sorts of mental gymnastics to avoid admitting any wrongdoing. Now, I acknowledge that I’m human and therefore prone to making mistakes. Everyone else knows this about me, so why not join the crowd?

    Much to my surprise, giving up on the idea that I’m infallible didn’t feel like a defeat. It was actually a huge relief.

    You welcome the future.

    When you’re in your 20’s, the future is this vast expanse of time that you’re in charge of filling. But with what? How are you supposed to know? Those are the questions that plague us, and it often feels like we’re falling behind those who bravely forge ahead.

    By the time you’re in your 50’s, though, you know that no one has any idea what they’re doing in their 20’s. Forging ahead is just one of many ways of pretending that you do. Also, you realize that certain possibilities–like becoming an Olympic athlete, for instance–are now off the table. That creates a lot of space.

    You also realize that some possibilities–like becoming a world-famous celebrity–are, while still on the table (technically, anyway), highly undesirable. That’s something you might not have understood, as a younger person.

     

    The truth about aging is that it’s both a challenge and a gift. Not everyone gets to do it. Those of us who do should count ourselves lucky.

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