Recently I took my girls roller skating. The 12-year-old had been going somewhat frequently of late and had gotten pretty good but the 7-year-old and 15-year-old (my child with Down syndrome) hadn’t been in ages and were like baby deer out on the rink. But they got better and enjoyed themselves during our two-hour visit.
As for me, I love donning the wheels and racing around the rink. It was my weekend social activity when I was a tween, and decades later, I still can hold my own. It’s an interesting/frustrating kind of challenging to “race” around when the rink is full of little kids — it’s like a slowly shifting obstacle course. So I was excited when the DJ announced it was backwards-skate time. I can still do it, after all these years, and since most of the little people jamming the floor could barely move forward, let alone go backwards, the time meant I had a much emptier space for skating. Yes! Only difference at this stage in my life is that I wasn’t just focused on my skating: I was also looking around to see where my kids went. And that meant loss of focus on the specialized form of backwards skating. As Queen sang so often when I was skating socially, I bit the dust. Big-time. And falling when going backwards means a particularly spectacular, unbroken-by-arms fall. OUCH. I got up and kept on going and my lack of focus had me back on the hard floor pretty quickly. I could feel my brain shaking around in my head, so I decided it was time to remove myself from the floor for a while.
A little while later, my perceptive and sensitive 12-year-old looked at me with concern and said, “Mom, people were laughing at you.” I realized then that it just didn’t matter. It didn’t bother me at all. I told her so. Maybe it’s because they’re a bunch of kids and it doesn’t matter to me if a bunch of snotty kids are laughing at me, or maybe I’ve finally started reaching a point where it doesn’t bother me quite as much what other people think. I just told my daughter, “You know what? It doesn’t matter to me. I was having fun. Don’t you worry about what people think about me.”
It’s made me think more about how I’m at an age where I can and should stop worrying about what other people think. I’ve read so often about how older women say they live so much more freely and contentedly because they just don’t care about how they look or what other people think, and it seems like a great thing to me. But as our society holds on so tightly to youth and beauty, allowing/encouraging women my age and even into their 50s and 60s to still look “traditionally” young and beautiful, i.e., desirable, sexy, etc., I wonder if that transition into that delightfully free mindset will take even longer.
‘Cause here’s the thing: how long do any of us really need to be beautiful, to have that be one of our defining characteristics? On one hand, I felt uncomfortable in my skin, didn’t feel thin and pretty, when I was growing up, but then around the age of 17 or so I grew to appreciate that I was attractive, that a fair number of guys considered me pretty. And I realized I could use that, I could “work” it. I could flirt, I could be cute and attractive. I could just have fun dating. My attractiveness was a tool, one of the arrows in my quiver. The quiver also included my smarts, my talents, my wit, my personality, my character. But my “beauty” was almost of equal value at that stage in my life as any of my other arrows. I carried around that awareness of its presence for a long time, even past its “usefulness” in “securing a mate.” (That’s a topic for a whole other blog post, methinks.) Two decades into my marriage and my parenting life, it’s honestly just not necessary or important, definitely not like the other valuable arrows I have cultivated. But everywhere I look in our society, I still see messages that tell me my beauty should be treasured above all, should be curated, should be preserved. There are plenty of options for that preservation, after all, and whole multi-billion-dollar industries begging for my attention and money.
No, society today is not at all supportive of a gracious and peaceful acceptance of aging, of losing youth and “beauty.” We don’t get to just comfortably slide into older age. We fight it, we see others fighting it, we are encouraged to fight it. But eventually, whether we get to slide comfortably and willingly, or we fight it the whole way, all of us who make it to old age will be old. We will lose our youthful appearance. What if we actually just accept and embrace the inevitable instead of fighting it tooth (yellowing) and nail (thinning and cracking)? What if we came to appreciate all the other things that make us who we are and stop worrying about the thin veneer of attractiveness, of appearance? What a world that would be! Think of the inner peace! Think of all we could do in the world without using up our (yes, finite) energies on something ridiculous like how we look!
So I’m encouraged a bit by my reaction to my ridiculous-looking falls at the roller rink. Maybe I am just starting to accept the fact that I’m middle-aged. Maybe I’m starting to not worry so much about how I look and how I think others think about me. Maybe. Because I’d like to use my limited energies on the things that matter the most to me, and there are lots. My family, my friends, worthy causes deserve my full attention. And all they need of my appearance is my smile. I still have that, and the only thing I need to do to keep it in top condition is keep using it.