I recently turned forty-five. For some reason, this age bothers me a lot. It’s not the age, really. It’s the process of aging. I know forty-five isn’t old, but I’m beginning to feel my age. And, to add insult to injury, I’ve had a couple people accuse me of being older than I am. Ouch.
With aging comes aches and pain. Sunspots which are the result of not taking care of my skin when I was younger. And sagging and bagging from gravity. I’ve never considered myself to be particularly vain. I don’t wear makeup. I haven’t dyed my hair in years, though I am sorely tempted right now.
I never understood why my mom was so bothered by aging. Not until now. I can’t speak for my mom or for any other woman, but I think aging is bothering me because aging is treated like a disease in our society. Like a character flaw. Age is something we’re supposed to fight with creams and lotions and injections. It’s okay to get older as long as we don’t look our age, if we “age well.”
I haven’t aged well. I’ve just aged.
The thing that really bothers me about all this is that I know I shouldn’t be bothered by it. I’ve sworn I’d age naturally, that I would ignore the voices that told me I had to age a certain way. I didn’t know those voices would come from inside me. I didn’t know I’d suddenly develop a strong urge to buy lightening cream for my sun-spotted hands, or special lotion to banish the crow’s feet. That I’d regret my short, practical “mom” haircut and wish my hair could be long again.
It makes me angry. Angry with myself for caring so much about something as silly as appearance. And angry with a society that devalues older women. It’s no secret that our young women are bombarded with unrealistic images of how women are supposed to look, but it never ends! As we grow older, women are still targeted by advertising campaigns that tell us that no matter the cost, we must not age. We must not sag, bag or wrinkle. They offer us magical creams and potions to erase the crimes of aging. And, of course, all these advertisements feature smooth-skinned, photo-shopped women who make us feel guilty because our skin care regimen isn’t enough. It’s never enough.
Women of all ages are beautiful. Whether we choose to wear makeup, or not. Whether we choose to dye our hair, or not. These are choices – our choices. We shouldn’t wear makeup simply because society tells us our wrinkles or sunspots are unseemly. My youngest daughter wears makeup because she loves it. She’ll probably wear makeup until she’s 100. And that is her choice. My oldest daughter is like me – she rarely wears it and doesn’t particularly care to spend her time messing around with makeup application. That’s her choice. I hope she never feels the pressure to suffer through a “beauty” routine she doesn’t enjoy.
I don’t expect the cosmetic industry to change anytime soon, so I think women need to examine the way we talk about each other. When we talk about women “aging well” or “letting themselves go,” this only reinforces the belief that looks are supreme. When we talk about other women who “dress too young” or who “shouldn’t be wearing that at her age,” we are legitimizing the silly constraints society has placed on women. Each woman must make her own rules, and it’s up to each of us to give her the freedom to do so.
So far I’ve resisted the urge to buy anti-aging cream and makeup. I might dye my hair. Or I might not. If I do, there’s a good chance it will be purple. It’s time to make my own rules.