Aging is beautiful–let’s create a new truth and erase those old stories

aging, aging unapologetically, beauty, male gaze

Aging is beautiful–let’s create a new truth and erase those old stories

I grew up with Disney’s Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. The magical moment when the woodland creatures help Cinderella with the ball gown. I believed if I did the right things that I too might magically find a prince. Happily ever after and all that. The real message was that I would need to become the kind of girl worthy of a prince.

That message is the one most women receive in our culture. If we want to be desired (by men) we have to work at it. We have to stay thin and stay young. We have to be pleasing. Not too smart, not too outspoken. Demure and a bit submissive.

Those were the messages of my childhood. I believed those stories, on some subconscious level and incorporated them. Along with all the bad feelings of not measuring up, and the subsequent sense of having failed because my marriage failed.

What happens when we are no longer young? When we aren’t quite so thin and the dewy tight skin is gone? When our beautiful blonde locks are graying? Some of us spend so much time and energy trying to hold on to that illusion of youth that we lose ourselves. In a society that worships youth and beauty  it’s easy to feel lost, discarded. Invisible.

Aging is beautiful.

Older women are beautiful and wise and soft and intelligent and sexual. We are aging and we can find beauty in our ever changing bodies and minds.

This topic was on my mind when this  Dear Amy column popped up. It captures the angst women feel about “getting old”.  It is painful to read and to witness this individual’s fear and hurt and anger. I am sharing it here, not to deride but to call attention to the damage this ‘youth is beauty’ myth causes.

Dear Amy: I am a 62-year-old woman. I am still attractive and (blessedly) wrinkle-free, due to being on an aggressive slew of hormones, antioxidants and telomerase-enhancing drugs. (I’m using all the latest technology.) Because I am (apparently) unattractive to men, no matter what I do, I take solace in the few close but platonic relationships I have with a few men.

During a recent walk on the California beach with my friend “Martin,” he pointed out one beautiful nubile young woman after another, and then described his male reaction to them. Martin also indicated that I should slim down. (I’m not overweight.)

As a middle-aged woman, I am used to being marginalized, but I think that, during the last three years, the problem has become acute. I’m not invisible: I’m reviled and demeaned, by employers and single men. These days you have to look like a porn model to even get by.

Short of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on plastic surgery, I don’t know what I can do. I feel that something that was optional years ago is now a necessity: a complete body makeover. I have become extremely depressed about the situation. Were it not for my loving father, who left me with enough money to live on, I would be out on the streets. I am still in excellent health. But if people (both men and women) feel my looks are “off,” they will say so! Short of moving to a desert island and waiting for death, what are we supposed to do?

— Wrinkle-Free and Upset

Dear Wrinkle-Free: You already live on a desert island. You’ve put yourself there, and your obsession with looking youthful in order to attract and hold the male gaze will keep you there.

If men are so awful, then why are you so desperate for one? Why not simply step off of this terrible treadmill and decide to spend the rest of your life cultivating inner beauty? Inner beauty comes from your intellect, your character and your interest in the world and in other people. This sort of beauty does not require expensive procedures and products, and it does not fade.

Take some classes or music lessons. Join a book group. Volunteer. Learn to meditate. See a therapist. Find some nice women to hang with. Or move somewhere less shallow.

Here is a passage from the recent obituary of Kathy Kriger, a former diplomat who founded Rick’s Cafe in Casablanca, Morocco, when she was in her late 50s (she died at 72): “‘If I’m honest, I always thought I would find a man while following my dream. That didn’t happen,’ she said cheerfully. ‘Instead, with Rick looking over my shoulder, I found myself.’”

I hope you find yourself, too.

Amy’s reply to Wrinkle-Free is a bit harsh, but she’s right. This is what happens when we let a cultural message shape how we see ourselves. This is a societal problem. This woman has made herself absolutely miserable and probably comes off as anxious and resentful and terribly needy. She feels that her life is worthless because she can’t find a man. The story she internalized is that youth and beauty are the only ways to get a man. I know she’s not alone in this.

There is no fix for aging–except death. A better narrative is to see aging as a positive, natural stage in life.

Women have decades of conditioning and much of it becomes so internalized that we police ourselves. We constantly monitor our weight, we worry about every wrinkle, and we secretly observe men on the street to see if they are looking at us.

How do we let go of these beliefs we have about our aging selves? How do we create more positive images of ourselves? How do we look inward and redefine our self-worth? How do we shift to loving ourselves as we are?

The message I received growing up was that I needed to suppress the very essence of who I was in order to get and keep a man. And getting a man was everything. That message started when I was just in elementary school.

It’s insidious and without being aware of what we’re doing we incorporate the messages and make them our own.

The story I made up was that I was unlovable.

What I needed to hear and what I finally know now is that I am who I am and the only person who needs to be satisfied with me is me. No more hiding selective parts. No more dieting and Spanx. No more keeping my mouth shut and being pleasing. No more forced smiles. I don’t have to be embarrassed about my age or status as a single woman.

It is time to relax into ourselves. To feel contentment with life lived so far. It’s time to be excited about new possibilities. To be as brilliant or moody or opinionated as we want. To honor the wisdom of our years and lived experiences.

How do women, as we age craft a story that is centered around ourselves—a story that allows us to love ourselves as we are right this moment?

We start by evaluating what gives us happiness. Where do we find comfort or discomfort?

We ask ourselves, “What do I desire?” And we ask it often.

And then we give ourselves what we need.

 

 

12 Comments
  • pattaub
    Posted at 14:12h, 03 September Reply

    This is a powerful post. Indeed it is painful to read the “Wrinkle Free” woman’s lament. Your response carries wisdom and solid advice while affirming aging as a positive.

    • Walker
      Posted at 14:28h, 03 September Reply

      Thank you. It was very painful and seconded by a woman I was chatting with last week so still polices her body weight-wise and in monitoring wrinkles too.

  • ME Sims
    Posted at 15:11h, 03 September Reply

    Thank you Walker, I have felt like you and now free from trying to be a fit in. As much as we change, I find we stay the same. At every turn I see adds and articles that push women into that old role. We must stead fast at the helm. By your example and women like us, it will get better. Teaspoon of sugar helps the medicine go down. I loved your response to Amy, well done and right on.
    ME Sims,

    • Walker
      Posted at 15:14h, 03 September Reply

      Thank you.

  • Teresa Speight
    Posted at 07:37h, 04 September Reply

    Walker….you hit the nail on the head. I threw away my Spanx and I try to stay healthy…walking more with my puppy and soloflighting to places I never dreamt of. Most importantly…I AM HAPPY FOR ONCE!
    I guess HE is out there…but hopefully, He wont choke on my dust!

    • Walker
      Posted at 08:03h, 04 September Reply

      Ha ha…. Finding our way as single women has its ups and downs particularly when the men who value an independent woman seem to be scarce. I admit to still have a pair of spanx panties in the drawer somewhere…. I’m so glad you’re happy!

  • Valerie
    Posted at 11:45h, 04 September Reply

    Wonderful, Walker. In and of itself, I see nothing wrong with wanting to maintain our figures, desiring to look good, and wanting to be the best version of ourselves. However, when that is all part of an agenda to “stay young” or “look younger” we throw ourselves into a tailspin of vanity. Do I want to look good when I step out for a night on the town? Of course? The real question is who am I doing it for? Myself. I am blessed to be aging. The alternative is death. No thanks…not yet.

    • Walker
      Posted at 14:27h, 04 September Reply

      Yes. I think it’s a matter of degrees and intent. Part of our journey is finding what we desire to have in our life, with self-love and a sense of living fully. It’s hard to do that from a place of fear or desperation. As for being blessed…totally agree. I’m happy to be here.

  • Tom
    Posted at 10:54h, 05 September Reply

    Hello Walker,
    I’ve been on your mailing list during the past 8 years or so. I was married to an alcoholic, our lives were miserable and I was looking for relationship solutions. (I should have been looking for addiction solutions.)
    My wife died of liver failure about two years ago. About a year ago, I met a widow. Her husband had been a chain smoker and he died about 3 years ago of cancer. I’m 67, she is 68, and our lives have never been better than they are today. When we are out doing things, we look at younger bodies and enjoy each others commentary regarding them, but we each agree we are one another’s “BFE” (Best F*ck Ever). We know the young, firm bodies come with other issues that cannot be immediately recognize.
    We both watch our weight. We can get closer together and make better moves when our bellies don’t get in the way. And, our stamina is better with lighter bodies. We’re winkled but we don’t see each other’s wrinkles. We see each other’s smiles, inviting glances; and feel each other’s wet mouths, tongues, warm skin and hot breath.
    My lady and I have had other lovers. We both know that the “tools” a lover has are nothing without the experience in knowing how to use them. When we’re making love, we are not making love to just a body. We are making love to as spirt, a soul, an eternal energy. If your lover sees only a wrinkled body, (s)he probably won’t be your BFE.
    A side note – love making is the fountain of youth. It cures everything. Do what you can as long as you can. Just kissing can go a long way. Some of my high school friends are already in nursing homes, or dead, due to chronic illnesses. Love making is the best exercise anyone can do.

    • Walker
      Posted at 12:19h, 05 September Reply

      Thank you for sharing your experience.

  • Barbara Torris
    Posted at 16:58h, 21 September Reply

    I loved the question you asked on Women of Midlife. Aging is not easy but then growing wasn’t either. That doesn’t mean that we become less desirable or attractive. Just different in some ways. This article is one of the best I have read lately. Thank you. Or by the way I am linking to this article on my blog. You started me thinking.

    • Walker
      Posted at 19:02h, 22 September Reply

      Thank you. Off to read yours.

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