When I’m Sixty-Four

When I get older losing my hair
many years from now
will you still be sending me a valentine
birthday greeting, bottle of wine?
If I’d been out till quarter to three
would you lock the door?
Will you still need me?
Will you still feed me?
When I’m sixty-four.

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While researching the Michelle Obama piece yesterday I came across a quote from The New Yorker (via Ms. O, a blog that chronicle’s the daily clothing choices of Michelle) that got me thinking,

“Because of Michelle Obama’s affection for independent designers with their own eccentric vision, and her willingness to go sleeveless in the most tradition-bound environments, her legacy may well be to show women how to move gracefully from the insecurities of youth into a sophisticated and stylish maturity. She will have proven, once and for all, that a woman can grow older without looking old.”

Moving away from the media treatment of Michelle, and on to the media treatment of all women (and men, for that matter!) the question today is: why are people so afraid to look old when they ARE old?

I was reminded by this question of an old piece from French Vogue Magazine that was intended to show the ability of makeup to change one’s look by “aging” an actress across six decades using only makeup (and certainly some airbrushing.)

aging

[See better quality scans on Sociological Images]

The model depicted ages 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, and 60; while the makeup and hair did do amazing things in terms of portraying age, the “older” she got, the more annoyed I got.

The truth is, as much as many of us would like to believe we are not influenced by the images in the media, magazine spreads like this have a big potential impact on how women view themselves. This piece is especially disappointing, since so few magazines even show images of women past their fourties – this is one of the very few spreads out there communicating to women what fourty, fifty, and sixty “should” look like…  yet this hardly looks like the reality most of us know.
aging1

Which of these women more closely resebmle the sixty-year-olds in your life?

The majority of the older adults in the media do not represent normal aging appearance. Thanks to plastic surgery, botox, makeup, and airbrushing… aging can simply be smoothed, painted, and stretched away in the world of Hollywood; but what does this practice do to the rest of our culture? More and more we are seeing articles in magazines and newspapers, websites, television specials, diets, and so on… all geared to make people look younger.

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Most of the advice in these articles is just a repetition of the standard eat well (you should do this anyway), don’t smoke, avoid heavy tanning/sunburns (skin cancer, to me, is a much more compelling reason for this one then wrinkles), and moisturize. However, some articles went a bit further, erring on the side of ridiculous. For instance, did you know…

“Smushing your face against your pillow at night can actually cause permanent creases (yikes!). Apparently you should try to sleep on your back or switch to silk pillowcases, which don’t pull or tug at your skin that much.” Also, one should “avoid repetitive facial expressions and sleeping positions. It is said that constant or repetitive positioning of the face […] may cause lines and wrinkles to be etched on the skin.”

I won’t even get into the creams, and gels, and pills, and other supplements that claim to fight the “signs of aging” there are simply too many of them (most fairly ineffective) to even know where to begin – all I know is people are making an awful lot of money off our fear of looking older.

aging2

As for me? I like my cotton pillowcases and sleeping on my stomach pretty much every night. I also smile a lot, pretty repetitively in fact; but I have much better things to spend my money on than an army of creams to help negate the effects of my excessive facial expressions and irresponsible sleep positioning.

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I know what works for me, but what I want to know is, what is better for society? Constant worry over wrinkles, gray hairs, balding, and so on or acceptance of the physical changes that come naturally with age?

I already know that the first option is better for businesses that sell makeup, skin creams, hair dye, hair-growth serums, botox, cosmetic surgery, and so on… but is an endless battle with aging really what we want? Aging is constant – it never stops – which means, if you choose to fight this natural process, you will be waging this battle the rest of your life. Is it really worth the effort?

Accepting the natural physical changes that come with age is a part of creating peace with yourself and accepting your body just the way it is.

You can’t say you’ll love your body after you change your hair, or your weight, or just this one little thing… you have to do it now, exactly as is. I’m not saying you should never change, I’m saying loving your body should not be dependent upon changing it. Be healthy, of course, but also love your body enough to let it grow, and wrinkle, and change naturally through your life…  the effort you save not worrying about wrinkles, gray hair, and looking your age will be much better spent on living a life you love.

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Tips for Embracing Your  Body at any Age:

  1. Recognize that many of the public figures that we look up to in society are made-up or cut-up to appear younger than they actually are; you may be the same age as they are, but their bodies have not aged naturally and should not be used as a benchmark for your own appearance. In fact, avoid comparing yourself to other people. You are beautiful because you are uniquely you… who cares what other people your age look like?
  2. Take care of your body with good nutrition, adequate sleep, exercise, sunscreen and so on… but do it so that you can feel your best, not so that you can look your best. Every body ages and grows differently, due to factors like genetics that are beyond our control. If looking a certain way is your goal then you’re most likely going to be disappointed. Feeling healthy, however, goes hand in hand with being healthy…no disappointments there!
  3. Surround yourself with people who are encouraging and positive. Don’t let friends and family put their bodies, or your body down… instead, encourage those around you to love their bodies and your own body just the way they are. If we can change our own mindset about body-image, then we can inspire others to change theirs and eventually… hopefully… social perceptions of beauty will expand to include and encourage everybody, and every body.

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(I am aware this may seem strange coming from an eighteen year old… but even eighteen year olds are conditioned to worry about aging. I’ve already had well-meaning teachers tell me to start moisturizing now so as to “preserve” my skin later, I can’t read a magazine without reading about the things I should be doing to fight of aging… and so on. I may not be experiencing it yet but one day my body too will show signs of aging, and I plan to embrace it fully. I’m sorry if I offended anyone by speaking of something I have yet to experience, I just feel that this is an issue that needs to be addressed within the spectrum of hurdles one must face in the struggle to truly love their bodies.) Feel free to provide your opinion in the comments – I’d love to hear from people who have actually experienced this pressure, as my own perspective is fairly limited.

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