I used to relish what I interpreted as a compliment when someone looked at my driver’s license and said, “No, way! You don’t look your age!”
And I’d feel all warm and fuzzy and say, “Oh, yes, that is my birthdate.”
And they’d say, “Well, you could have fooled me!” (or something to that effect).
And I’d walk away, smiling—grateful that the crows’ feet at the corners of my eyes or the slowly deepening wrinkles on my face didn’t yet scream out, “Get thee to a plastic surgeon for a few shots of Botox.”
But, now, I’m not so sure how to respond to “You sure don’t look your age.” What does that mean, anyway? That I don’t resemble the physical stereotypes of senior women? That my hair is not thinning? My skin not sagging? LOL My eyes not squinting or not wearing trifocals a mile thick? My clothes outdated? My bones breaking? (Oops, that would be a “yes.”) My hip or knees buckling?
Is it truly a good thing to have folks constantly move the goalposts? You know, 50 is the new 60. Or 70 is the new 80. Like the next woman, I want to believe that I’ll outlive my mother (She died just short of her 92nd birthday) and that I’ll be healthy with all my faculties intact. The memory thing is a question mark.
But what’s wrong with looking our age? Aren’t the lines on our faces symbols of lives well lived and the wisdom that accompanies decades of experiences, failures and successes, love and loss?
(Full disclosure: I do stare at young women’s unblemished legs, their unlined faces, muscular arms often tattooed, and I do get a modicum of comfort knowing that they, too, will be seniors before they know it. But that’s a cop-out, really. I want to be able to embrace my body [and my spirit] and to wear all the scars with pride.)
How to proceed: One strategy is to befriend younger women. Actually, that’s easy to do because the pool of women in their 70s+ is beginning to diminish. These younger women can keep us up to date, so to speak, about what life is like today for them and can, in many ways, use our experiences to enhance their own. I often find myself channeling my mother and her generation, saying things like, “Well, when I was _______.” Or “Back in the day, we ______________.” It does peg us as Boomers but, hey, I’m thankful I grew up when I did and felt the strength of being able to make changes in our world. That optimism is currently in short supply.
Another strategy: Honor your voice. “The truth will out.” (Kudos to Will and his Sir Lancelot.) Yep, no matter how often you hide under a desk or keep your mouth shut for fear that someone won’t like you, the harder it becomes to “get what you need,” and the more difficult it is to have open, honest relationships. (I once backed out of returning a pair of shoes because I didn’t want to disappoint the salesman. [I was twelve.])
I realize this isn’t always easy. I took a class in active listening when my son was maybe five (He’s pushing 45 now) and thought I had this whole “Say what you want to say in a nonjudgmental way” all wrapped up. LOL. It has taken me maybe 60 years to refine this way of communicating and up until this moment to use it more than—I don’t know—80 percent of the time.
And give this a try: To allay your fears of your demise, look back at, say, twenty-year chunks of your life: 40 to 60 or 50 to 70. Consider all that happened—the fun, the accomplishments, the hard-fought changes that made your life better. As a 73-year-old, I’m shooting for at least another twenty years. And that gives me relief, knowing that there is still much ahead—so much to look forward to and to check off all those items on my bucket list. (Right now, it’s little stuff like look down and don’t trip, hang on to the railing when walking up and downstairs, don’t lean against doors until they are securely shut. I missed that last memo and ended up with a spinal compression fracture. Oops!)