I look in the hall mirror. The person staring out at me is not the person I feel inside. Mirror-me is haggard, pallid and my eyes seem to be disappearing into my head. My hair, although not yet showing signs of grey (thank you genes!), is lank and weak. It takes more effort these days to look and feel like myself, and even then when I catch glimpses in a window or mirror I am shocked by my accumulating decay.
At the tender age of 18, I thought my 30-year-old uncle was ancient. To my mind he was a proper grown up, reaching towards the end of his life – proper old. Like disasters and death, aging was something that happened to other people. I never thought for a moment that I would reach this age within the blink of an eye. Now I’m in my 40s, I know that teenagers consider me an ‘oldie’.
So, why is that so bad, to be considered old? Well we tend to think of aging as a negative thing. When we age we not only lose our youth but also our lustrous hair, our perfect skin, our energy, our eyesight and our muscle tone. Maybe this is a bit of a stereotype, along with the idea that we also lose our wits, and are a burden to the young. But the truth is that older people are no longer young and dewy and as such are increasingly insignificant to younger people. And its something many feel they should be hiding with creams and loose clothing, creative use of make-up and cosmetic surgery. The media don’t help when they splatter images of young fresh-faced beauties all over the mags, where celebrities are praised if they still look 18 when they’re 38, and are ridiculed if they look anywhere near their actual age. So pervasive is the fear of aging that even women in their 20s are worrying about aging. Ironic, considering we’re living longer than ever before. Of course, the producers of anti-aging products who cash in on our ageist fears welcome this.
Ironically my emotional maturity has led me to realise that trying to reject my age and hold on to my youth is futile. I know this, yet the occasional and increasingly rare time someone tells me I don’t look my age, I still puff out my chest in pride.
But what would happen if I decided to embrace the process of growing older? What if I didn’t try to fight it but instead looked forward to a life that becomes more enriched as I age.
I want to forget about my physical decline, to see it as unimportant. Instead, I want to concentrate on the mental and emotional improvements. Since entering my fourth decade I’ve noticed that my mind focuses more on positives than negatives, I take worries less seriously and I have more confidence in asking for what I want, or complaining about what I don’t want. I care less for what people think and more about pleasing myself. I am more accepting of friend’s flaws, less accepting of their bad behaviour. I am in the prime of my life, according to some – I’m not yet old, but mature enough to know my own mind, so why aren’t I celebrating this instead of interrogating the mirror and pulling back my sagging cheeks to see what different a bit of cosmetic hocus would make, were I that way inclined.
I want to look forward to a fulfilled and productive second half of life where I focus on the good things in life; friendships, family, reading, good food, not scrutinising my thighs, underarms and neck for signs that my body has sagged a little further. Yes, I am stretching toward my middle age but there is no reversing this. I cannot control it because the more I try to do that, the more disappointed I become. I want to see the sagging as inevitable and embrace it as part of life, as something I cannot change, so therefore requires no further thought on my part.
I may mourn my youthful body, but by doing so I am giving myself the room to grow in other ways, to have new experiences and to live life more fully.
It doesn’t mean that I can no longer have fun; it just means that my idea of fun has changed.
I may be increasingly invisible to the younger generation, but in a positive light I no longer feel scrutinised. I can relax and wear what I like rather than what fashion dictates, which is not to say I will wear saggy, baggy clothes that do nothing for my figure, but that I will wear what I feel good in, (mainly jeans and t shirt).
With age comes knowledge, about my place in the world and about me. This brings confidence in knowing that whatever age I am, I still matter.