I am not only past the twilight of my thirties, I am on the doorstep of my forties (I refuse to think of it as “entering my fifth decade”). I will (probably) not have a full-blown crisis, but I do admit to some consternation about the whole thing.
I suspect that part of the problem is not even mine, but society’s. Yes, I said it. I am blaming my aging issues on pop culture. Hear me out.
Our culture equates beauty with youth and rewards it with adulation. Yes, there are models and cosmetics spokeswomen in their forties, fifties, and beyond, but what makes them remarkable is not that they are beautiful by some objective standard (which, by the way, does not exist), but because they look younger than their years. We venerate these women, some of whom have gone to dangerous extremes to halt the aging process, because they have managed to press the pause button on nature. Fine. To each her own, I suppose. Call it sour grapes because I actually look 40, but there is a certain knack to aging gracefully. We all know women who manage it, but these are not the ones that society admires. We reward the ones who fight it tooth and nail, by watching their reality (a word which has apparently become antonymous with its traditional definition) TV shows, and by buying the products that they hock on the off chance that they will have the same effect on us. Snake oil, anyone?
Yes, I am the pot calling the kettle black. I do not own a pair of mom jeans. I have no idea what my natural hair colour is. I exercise quite religiously on the pretence that it helps my mental health and is an investment in quality longevity, but know in my heart of hearts that it’s much, much more about vanity.
The cards are stacked against us. We are bombarded by the message that youth is beauty. It causes us to spend money, time and energy that might be better directed elsewhere.
What might make me a little more comfortable with the aging process was if it were more acceptable to celebrate our aging as a sign of acquired wisdom, if wrinkles were thought of as milestones worth celebrating, rather than a medical condition to be cured. I would prefer if experience was revered rather than relegated to a dusty corner. People who dare to behave that way are generally, in North America anyway, disdained as hippies, or worse. Although healthier than it was twenty-five years ago, my self-esteem is not ready for that.
I acknowledge that this may be nothing more than the desire (albeit educated) to hang with the “in” crowd, but it irks me that someone, somewhere decided that women with droopy boobs must want to fix that, and that there is something wrong with women who do not want to fix their own particular mark of age. It implies that younger is better, and that there is a corresponding moral imperative to maintain the appearance of being young. Somehow, it seems dishonest.
I guess it comes down to the law of supply and demand… we have bought in (literally) to this phenomenon. If we want it to shift, either we unanimously drop it all and choose to age gracefully, or carry on and hope that when age finally catches up, and it will, it’s not as awful as we have been led to believe*.
Yes, I am smarter than I used to be. I am more educated, better employed, maybe even more patient. I have had a really good time in my thirties – my kids got interesting, I earned 2 more degrees, had about a dozen different jobs, renovated a house, and realized more every day that I made the right choice in my husband. I am also grayer, more susceptible to the ravages of gravity, more prone to injury and more wrinkled. Sadly, what do I focus on? The physical signs and symptoms vastly moreso than the wisdom I have acquired.
Even though I have a pretty healthy self esteem, I wish I was more comfortable in my skin sometimes. I am truly sad for those that need the validation they only get when they take heroic measures to preserve or “enhance” their… I don’t even want to call it beauty… but I am sadder that it reinforces behaviour that ends up seeming more pathetic than heroic (I’m thinking of this and this and this). And sorry to all those who have made a living preying on women’s desperate need for recognition at any cost, but I resent that you have perpetuated the notion that we are not good enough unless we subscribe to your definition of beauty.
In the end, we all end up as fertilizer. I would like to remain true to myself along the journey, and find a way to let go of those unattainable, externally-imposed ideals that do nothing but make us feel like failures. I know I am not ready to give up my vanity, but I fervently hope that in my forties, I can find a way to stay comfortable in my skin, while still aging gracefully, in spite of society.
*Hey, I just had a thought – can you imagine what would happen to the economy if all women stopped using all “beauty enhancing” products and services? Cosmetics, hair products, pedicures, plastic surgery, Botox? Shoes and purses that cost more than my mortgage payments? What if we were all happy in the skin we have? Oh, my goodness, imagine the chaos!