Observations on Aging

Maybe it's because I got my first pair of bifocals this week, or maybe it's because I have a birthday coming up in six months and I like to be two steps ahead, but regardless, I have been thinking about aging a lot this week.  

My mother wasn’t afraid of aging. She liked the white streaks at her temples, and she reassured me that we had good genes and both would age well. I have surreptitiously watched my mother age more carefully than she probably suspected, and I hope I age exactly like she has.  

I am 43, going on 44, and I see no reason to lie about it. I don’t mind being in my mid-40s, and I don’t think my looks have peaked yet. The truth is, I don’t want to be or look twenty, or even thirty ever again. I’d like to someday look like Sharon Stone, Elizabeth Hurley, or Michelle Pfeiffer at the ages they are now.  I still think the best is yet to come, and I think part of that is because my mother always talked about beautiful older women in contrast to women who went down the plastic surgery path and met with an unfortunate end.  

My mother was a second-wave feminist, and I am sure that played a part in her views on beauty. She wasn’t perfect, but she never discussed her insecurities with me. The only side of her I saw was one of contentment with who she was. I asked my mother how she got to be so secure-sounding, and she said that she learned it from her mother, who always disparaged women who fought aging and lied about their age. My grandmother told my mother, “I’d rather be a good fifty than a bad forty.”

Now, I have boys, and not girls. My workout videos stress the physical more than I’d like—looking good in a bathing suit, having the body you always wanted—and I know my kids overhear the instructor blathering on about physical beauty. I try to mitigate it by stressing that my goal is to be strong and healthy, but like most of my childhood lessons, the most important ones aren’t spoken, but rather observed.

Do I appear as comfortable with myself as my mother did? Probably not. I’m sure my kids have heard me disparage my hair or dismiss a compliment on more than one occasion. (OK, the hair thing is kind of a lifelong disappointment and constant source of aggravation.) But I wear bathing suits in public and try not to make faces at myself in the mirror in front of the children too often. I have been given a legacy of age-positivity from women who were comfortable in their own skin, and I’d like to pass it down to the fourth generation, even though I have boys. They already know which of their relatives won't tell them their age, and I can't protect them from our beauty obsessed culture, but when I discuss my flaws and insecurities, iI'll take more care to ensure that I'm not in ear-shot of my children. They will notice how I speak about other women and myself, and they will remember, just like I did with my mother, and she did with her mother before her.



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