I recently overheard a conversation between two gorgeous 20-somethings, all toned bodies, porcelain skin, mile-high legs, butts you could bounce a quarter off of, and boobs still up where God originally put them. One held up her wine glass, making a toast, and declared, “I don’t believe in plastic surgery. I’m going to age naturally.” Her friend nodded and they clinked glasses as she declared with a self-satisfied smile, “Me too. I’m never getting anything ‘done.’ Those women are pathetic and self-absorbed.”
First of all, ouch. Secondly, you’re twelve. Talk to me in 30 years. You have no credibility on this subject, so shut up.
There’s nothing inherently graceful about aging in a society that dismisses the elderly and worships youth. 50 is called a “senior citizen” in most restaurants, and quite frankly, if we died anytime thereafter, our kids would likely say, “Well, she had a good run.”
There’s nothing graceful about breasts that are within chatting distance of our navel, necessitating trading in our Victoria’s Secret “Come here, Big Guy” lace bra for a utilitarian cotton sports bra that shoves them back up to our rib cage and holds them tight so they won’t be mistaken for a fanny pack.
There’s nothing graceful about underarm waddle that rules out anything sleeveless unless we’re prepared to keep our arms pinned to our sides all day long. For days I forget that my triceps are unsuitable for public viewing, I now keep a burka in my trunk to toss over my tank tops.
There’s definitely nothing graceful about menopause that requires daily sheet changes because we sweat the equivalent of a kiddie pool every night in our sleep, or sticking our head out of the car window, hair blowing backwards and bugs in our teeth like the family Shih Tzu in a wind tunnel because it’s TOO FREAKIN’ HOT IN HERE.
There’s nothing graceful about gaining 10+ pounds in your sleep because your metabolism changed overnight without warning, often resulting in the bathroom scale being tossed out the nearest open window, immediately followed by a pity party that would make a 3-year-old jealous.
Middle age is about learning to navigate the fine line between wanting to look younger, instantly deeming us vain and shallow, or choosing to do nothing and let nature take its course, frequently described as “letting yourself go.”
At 57, my brain feels 40, but my body hasn’t found a decade it prefers. Sometimes I look in the mirror and my mother is staring back at me. My mother is a beautiful woman, and I’d be thrilled if she wasn’t 20 years older than me.
Yes, middle age brings with it a plethora of good and valuable qualities like serenity, patience, a better sense of humor (which God had the foresight to know we’d need), new priorities and epic, bucket list adventures. It also lets in the Shape Shifters. Invisible little seam-busters that quietly, but seemingly overnight, shift your proportions into a body shape you’ve never seen before.
Even if you manage to avoid the menopausal equivalent of the “Freshman 10” weight gain, you may arise one morning and discover that nothing fits. Your weight hasn’t changed, but dresses you wore yesterday, today you can’t zip up. Jeans you rocked for years now make you look like your favorite banana nut muffins from the local deli. Skinny jeans are out because of their now-striking resemblance to sausage casings on a Ball Park frank. WTH??
The morning I realized I’d been shape-shifted, I was standing in my walk-in closet wailing like the local Krispy Kreme shop had closed its doors, bringing Hubs running down the hall, assuming some tragedy had befallen me and I clearly needed his manly-manness to fix it.
“Are you okay??” he shouted as he got closer. “I’m fine,” I sniffled, “but I can’t wear these clothes. They’re all a size 8.” “But don’t you wear an 8?” he asked, looking confused in the absence of blood or anything requiring masculine intervention. “Apparently not anymore, “I said, “I grew.” “Well, why don’t you just buy a bigger size?” he asked with a proud smile, apparently believing he just uncovered the magic solution to an otherwise mysterious female woe. “Fine,” I replied, “You can take all these clothes to the Salvation Army, while I go to Nordstrom and replace them.” “Holy crap,” he stared at my closet. “ALL OF THEM??” “No,” I sighed, “just the size 8s. Oh, wait. Yeah, that would be all of them.”
In a gallant attempt to cheer me up, Hubs suggested we pursue alternate, less pricey solutions over wine and a bowl of guacamole at my favorite Mexican restaurant. As I stepped into his favorite date dress (the one I just wore a few weeks ago), I knew instinctively it wasn’t going to work. It made it slightly past my knees, then stopped, steadfastly refusing to go an inch further over my thighs and hips, no matter how I wiggled or maneuvered. Seriously??
Letting it fall to the ground, I then managed to kick it with enough velocity to send it sailing out the back door and into the neighbor’s herb garden, just as I burst into tears. Hubs walked up behind me, reaching around to my tummy, and whispered, “Don’t worry, sweetie. I just love your little Buddha belly,” rubbing it with the enthusiasm of a 3-year-old who expected a genie to fly out and grant him a wish.
Tell me he did not just call any part of my body “Buddha.”
I responded with a muttered “Thanks,” because I’m reasonably certain he meant that to be a compliment, but my brain was screaming “May your camel get fleas, then sleep in your tent.”
So it appears that grace comes not from what happens as we age, and more about how we handle it. Aging gracefully is less about stalling the inevitable and largely about acceptance. Letting go of what you can’t control and finding the joy in the moment we’re living. Right here. Right now. Cosmetic intervention will slow down the physical appearance of aging, but in the end, this journey is largely emotional. Part of the process is learning how to be less judgmental and kinder to the people we love.
I’m learning that that includes me.