This past year as I’ve become more aware about the issue of self-image and how appearance dominates in our society, and as I’ve researched and discussed with other people, I have realized just how pertinent the topic of aging is to the discussion. I don’t think that this will be news to most people, but our society is very anti-aging. We don’t want to look old; ideally everyone in society should have the skin and shape of a 16-year-old. Twenty-somethings are still acceptable, but after that it’s all about thirty-somethings looking like they’re still 20 and “40 is the new 30.” Wrinkles are ugly and must be Botoxed and Juvederm-ed out of existence. Soft bellies must be sucked dry of fat. Saggy breasts must be perked up through surgery.
But it’s not just the look of aging that puts people off. It’s just being old. Our culture, unlike many other cultures, does not revere or respect the older members of our society. We are happy to shunt them off to the side and try to pretend that old age does not exist. No one likes to think about the inevitable breaking down of parts of our bodies. As long as we’re young or just somewhat young, we can eat right and exercise religiously and tell everyone (and ourselves) that since we’re doing all those things, we’ve earned our good health. Even with diseases like Alzheimer’s, which we still don’t know the causes of, there are still all kinds of “tips” out there to help us exercise our brains, too, so we can somehow fend off that kind of debilitation. Perhaps. But the fact is, we cannot fend off aging or death. They are a natural part of life. With all of the technology and resources we have today, we can put them off a little longer, but we still simply cannot make them go away.
I would love to be in a culture in which we respect and revere the elderly, in which we want to put them front and center, in which we seek their wisdom and yearn to be more like them. Rather than trying to emulate 16-year-olds, why don’t we emulate those who truly have something meaningful to impart?
After I broke my foot this week, I became pretty helpless physically. The day afterward, my husband had to help me shower. I used a walker to get into the bathroom, and I needed assistance toileting and getting in the shower, and he helped hold me steady while I shampooed and tried to soap up. Just having one foot broken threw me completely out of whack. I was unable to take care of myself, and I felt my body had completely betrayed me. Leaning over my walker and hobbling slowly down the hallway and being in need of my husband’s help in such personal ways just bothered me. I said, “I feel like an 80-year-old!”
It is very disorienting to all of a sudden not be able to do the things I usually do. It’s upsetting to have to lean on someone (literally) for so much help. It’s hard to lose freedom. And the things that happen to our bodies as they age lead to those outcomes. In our independent, “me” culture, having to be dependent on others goes against our very natures. But really, why should it bother me SO much to feel like I’m 80? It’s not a horrible thing. I know wonderful 80- and 90-year-olds.
Life is not all about youth. Life is about ages and stages. We weren’t meant to stay frozen as teenagers for our entire life spans. We were intended to become adults, to move through middle age into old age. We are built to change, in all ways. Our bodies change, and our minds change, and we learn and gain (hopefully) wisdom and knowledge. We are supposed to experience life in all of its varieties. There’s simply no reason for me at age 42 now to be wistfully thinking back on how I looked at age 16. Honestly, I wouldn’t want to relive those days, I don’t care how cute my legs looked. I love my age now. I love all the neat things I can do. And in 20 years, I expect that I will be loving the new opportunities I will be facing at that stage of my life. I will be even closer to my “golden years” (or IN them) at that point, and I will be that much further away from the fresh years of my youth when my skin was wrinkle-free and my belly flat(ish).
I have read several times about how women in their 70s or older say they just feel free and completely able to just be themselves because they just don’t worry anymore about how they look. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if ALL AGES of people could say the same thing? That we could just be who we are, the real us? Wow. That would be freedom, indeed. We expend so much energy worrying about how we look and trying to look young and thin and … whatever. I don’t mean we shouldn’t take care of ourselves, but we can stop obsessing about all the details and perfection.
I’m thinking I should embrace all the good things about being 80, or at least just appreciate where I am now. Right now, I think I should embrace my SELF, who I AM. Right now, I should enjoy just who I am and where I am in my life. My teen years are past (thank GOODNESS); my 20s are past (those lean years); my 30s are even past. Now is what matters. I am 42, by golly. Today, I have a broken foot. This year, I’ve let myself eat too much, so my body is not in its best shape. I have plans to work on that, and thanks to the foot, it might be a few more months until I can really work hard on that aspect of taking better care of myself. But I have some quality time to read and plan how I will eat better and lose some weight. My house isn’t going to be as spotlessly clean as I like, but my kids are doing the cleaning and laundry. I’m not getting to cook a whole lot of the nice things I like to make, but we’re all getting fed. I’m reading a bit more and getting a chance to watch some movies, and my girls are learning a few more skills and how to take care of their mom. I’m appreciating how nice it is to be independent. I think this time in my life is just fine.