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aging gracefully

February 23, 2010

When I was a kid, I promised myself that, if I lived to be old, I would not give in to social or societal pressures to pretend I was forever young. I sought to fully embody whatever age I was at, without apologizing for it, or trying to make it look like something else.

As a kid, I was tall for my age, so was often mistaken for being older or more mature than I was. Then, in my early 20s, apparently I “dressed young” without meaning to, so I was often taken for a teenager.

Nowadays, I’m decidedly middle-aged. My hair is salt-and-pepper, I wear “progressive lenses”, there are lines on my face. I feel forty-ish, not least of which because I have 30+ years of clear memories. I’ve packed a lot of life experiences into the time I’ve had so far. And I don’t wish I was younger. My life up through my 20s pretty much sucked.  My thirties were better, and my forties have been better still.

The other day I was musing about women older than I that I could look up to as models for how to age gracefully. Of people I’ve known well, there were perhaps two examples I could think of: my mother’s mother, and a friend of mine who was my mother’s age (both long dead). A complication: both were mothers and then grandmothers, neither of which I’ll ever be. Still, thinking of them, I have some ideas, and feel a renewed sense of kinship across time and space.

I don’t see much of my family of origin, but in the last few years, I did see my parents, godmother, an aunt, several uncles, and various siblings and cousins for two family weddings. I found it odd and unsettling how much many of the women seemed in utter denial of their ages.

I got my first grey hair at age 15, just like my grandmother. For many years, I colored my hair – but to change the original dark brown back to the red I had as a child – not to cover the greys. I stopped coloring my hair partly because I liked the greys enough to want to look at them every day.

I almost never wear makeup anymore. I wore it a lot in my 20s, but my skin is sensitive and it didn’t really agree with me, so I gradually stopped. For a special occasion, I might use lip color, but that’s about it.

I don’t mind “girly” or “feminine” clothes if I can find ones that fit, flatter, allow a full range of movement, and are machine washable. Since I usually can’t find all four, I often default to men’s shirts. I prefer skirts to pants (especially since finding long-enough pants is a trial), but wear pants all winter for warmth. I like interesting jackets, sweaters, and jewelry. I have some fun shoes. Unless I’m making a special effort, I would guess I mostly look sort of androgynous. I think women are allowed a wider range of appealing styles than men are, but … Lately, I’ve been looking around for clothing appropriate for a middle-aged woman’s lifestyle and body, that fits my aesthetic preferences, that is machine washable, and I’m not seeing much of anything like that. I see plenty of clothes designed for the ingenue or the woman-who-wishes-she-was-still-an-ingenue, but neither of them are me.

I guess I will be making some of my own clothes after all.

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