I almost never turn the TV on during the day. On Monday, though, I turned on the Today Show to have on in the background while I was doing my ankle exercises, and I watched a segment they did on taking selfies that focused on "aging women." The youngest woman in the group? Was forty. And as I am quickly coming up on my 42nd birthday, it shook me a little bit to realize that, at least as far as the media is concerned, I'm in the "aging women" group.
It made me look at myself quite critically in the mirror. What evidence of aging can I see? My hair is an obvious example: if I let it go too long between colors, it's not just the roots that show my age (right in front, my hair is completely white I think, under the color), but the length as well. It's not really grey, but it's not a rich, deep brown. It's a faded composite of brown and dark grey. Not very youthful at all.
The skin on my neck is starting to get chickeny.
My nasolabial folds (the line that runs from your nose to the corners of your mouth when you smile) continue to get deeper and deeper. Really: it's my inner Lady Elaine Fairchild, which insists on revealing itself more and more.
My eyelashes are getting sparse while my eyebrows sprout out long and unruly.
The flesh around my triceps gets bigger and bigger—this is a trait I'm 110% certain I inherited from my mom. It will be the doom of me because it doesn't seem to matter how many tricep exercises I do. That flab just keeps growing.
I am starting to get above-the-knee wrinkles.
The skin on my belly refuses to flatten and my above-the-bra-line back fat insists on growing.
I'm self-conscious about the backs of my hands, because they're sort of spotty.
And that's not even talking about the wrinkles on my eyes.
The thing that startled me the most, though, as I looked at myself in the mirror for evidence of aging, is the deep well of shame that gurgled over. I'm not young anymore. I don't look exceedingly old. But I don't look young, and it feels...it feels embarrassing.
Isn't that odd?
As I've thought about aging all this week, I've been able to label that feeling with more specificity. Even though I exercise, and use sunscreen, and drink lots of water—even though I do what I can to, if not exactly combat but at least keep at bay the forces of aging—I'm pretty sure there isn't a whole lot about the process I can control. And yet, it still feels like I have betrayed myself somehow. By growing older. That is why it feels shameful: because it feels like there should be something I should do, but I haven't, so the wrinkles and the flesh and the greyness feel like little failures. Like they are the results of slothfulness.
I have listened to my mom so many times complain about being overweight and looking old. It's made me sad, because here, look at her:
She's in her seventies and she is still beautiful. It makes me sad because I think wait. Isn't there ever a time when we can just be at peace with who we are? When the beautiful and lasting things we've made in our lives are bigger than our outward appearance? I wish she felt beautiful. I wish she knew that being here with us, spending time together and giving advice and making things and eating chocolate chip cookies: that matters more than smooth skin and a narrow waist.
Of course, I want her to know that, but I don't know how to also help myself know that. Except for knowing this: I want to try. I want to continue doing what I can to at least slow the process down. But I want to somehow find joy in it, too. Well, maybe not "joy." That batwing back-of-my-arm skin is never going to make me happy. But I want to learn how to look beyond what I look like, which is only going to continue sliding backwards, and focus more on what I have accomplished, which doesn't have to do anything but increase.
Yesterday at work, a teenage patron came up to my desk and told me about a project she was working on for school. She had a stack of papers and was asking people to write down one thing they loved about their bodies, and she asked me if I would help her. Write one thing I love about myself? That's a hard thing. It is so easy for me to go into that self-hatred place; I do it as a way of self-preservation because it feels like at least if I point out the fact that I have wrinkly knees and a chubby belly and some really ugly back fat, it won't surprise me if someone else does. It is so easy to point out what is wrong. So this girl's request to acknowledge something good really made me pause. Except, there were two other people needing help and the phone was probably going to ring any second, so I didn't really have any time to fuss or ponder or worry. So I wrote down that I love my legs because they take me where I want to go.
(Then I laughed a few minutes later, after it wasn't so busy, because me? Writing "I love my legs"? That is a little bit hilarious, as, well...you know my enormous-thighs issues.)
But it did, also, lift me up. It reminded me that while I might be aging, I'm not old yet. I'm not done. And it lessened—just a smidgeon—that I'm-getting-old embarrassment. Because I should always love my body. We all should, even with the pounds and the skin and the creases. It's the thing that lets us experience life. And I'm going to work on loving mine more.