Having recently just turned 39, my thoughts lately have been turning to our society’s views on ageing. Ageing is something that we must fight, if you listen to all the women’s toiletries marketing ploys. Combat ageing, they say, with their Miracle Defense Cure (incidentally, I did a search on how many products contain the word “defense” in their name for creams, lotions and potions, and it was staggering…) and you will be young forever, for young is beautiful.
Now, I don’t know about you, and can’t speak for the masses, but I don’t want to look like a twelve year old girl. Most models in fashion magazines are under 16 years of age. They wouldn’t even be able to afford the clothes that they are modelling for the older, more affluent women who buy said magazines. Billboards and television advertisements show us young women all the time, for everything from cosmetics to kitchens. We have ingrained in our minds that young is beautiful, and have it reinforced each and every day.
I have recently heard that young women are also shaving themselves completely, removing all pubic hair. Why, I have absolutely no idea, but this only reiterates our new obsession with youth – they may state for hygienic or fashion purposes, but the fact of the matter remains – they still will end up looking like pre-pubescent girls. Not terribly sexy, in my opinion.
Why do we have such a fear of ageing? Why do we consider youth to be so beautiful, at least for the human race? Many humans see beauty in older things, such as a 500 year old tree, or a 1,000 year old cathedral. Here in the UK, the ideal home in the country would be something reminiscent of a house built in the 1600 – 1800’s. Old, at least for some things, is aesthetically pleasing. Why not for the human body as well?
We do not venerate the old in our society; it is not an achievement anymore to reach old age, what with the wonders of modern medicine. Old people are a burden to those still earning money, getting in the way until they are put in homes. We do not look after our elderly anymore, but pay others to do it for us. Out of sight, out of mind. We fear ageing, we do not want to have to deal with it. It’s a sickening, maddening cycle, for we will all age. It’s the one thing that we cannot avoid at any cost. The diet industry might lose us as customers once we’ve lost the desired weight, but there’s no stopping the ageing process, and manufacturers know this, licking their lips in anticipation of our progress down the linear track of time.
Ageing for a man is still, as far as I can observe, less of a fear than for a woman. Men with grey hair are sexy. Women with grey hair are not. Distinguished, people say of men with grey hair. What of women? Personally, I cannot wait to have grey hair, or white even – I love the colour. But society disagrees with me, and sells us harmful chemicals to put on our heads to cover up those grey hairs. As women live longer than men, on the whole, why do they fear ageing even more?
The loss of youth equals the loss of beauty. We need to change our perception of that in order to alleviate our fears. It’s a silly fear in the first place, as nothing we can do will prevent it from happening. And yet, women all over the world go under the knife to have surgery, or injections, or pay exorbitant amounts of money on products that don’t really do anything. Why, for the love of the goddess, why?
Fear is such a grand motivator in all things. We must embrace our fear, as we must embrace our ageing. What is it that we fear about ageing? For some, it might be the fear of being cast aside, of not being a “productive” member of society – what will I do in retirement? For others, it means coming to terms with their own mortality. I know that after meditating on this for some time, my personal fear is the loss of beauty – until I realised that beauty does not come with an age limit. I look around me and find inspiration in all things beautiful and realise just how limiting it is to think of beauty in terms of age. Step outside the human mindset and watch your world expand.
Watching my face and body change is now no longer depressing – it’s interesting, and a little exciting. My curves are softer, my breasts larger. I have cellulite on my thighs. I have wrinkles on my cleavage. Little lines around my eyes. My hands show the hours of work that I have put them to. My days of sunshine and laughter shown in freckles and wrinkles. Tattoos mark life transitions, and will look amazing no matter what age I get, as they will change with my body. Scars show life’s trials and tribulations. All these are a part of my self, and denying these, hating these, is hating myself. What a bloody waste of time.
If society tells me that I should fear ageing, I shall stick up two fingers to it and tell them to bugger off. I’m more afraid of war, nuclear waste, fracking and the poor badgers who are being culled than I am of ageing. I no longer fear ageing full stop. To hell with their distractions – there are so much more important things to be doing that standing in front of a mirror looking at a wrinkle or two.
I adored my youth, and have many, many fond memories of it. Growing up in a beautiful part of the world, loving a beautiful boy for the first time, learning to play music and sing, to roam and find personal freedom. I am also adoring my “middle years”, whatever that may mean. Each and every day is precious, and so I will be thankful for them. There is no battle to be fought, there is no war to be won on ageing. Time is time, and cares not whether you try out your best wrinkle defense cream. Be like time, and care not about that which you cannot alter. Don’t go with the flow, but be the flow itself. Live, love and be happy, free of the fear that society tells you that you should have. Stand tall and proud, grey hairs and saggy breasted, and know that you are goddess, that you are beautiful, if you only allow yourself to be.
My favourite response to people who wish they were younger (or older as teenagers sometimes do) is to ask them how old they are and then point out that they only get to be that age for one year; so make the most of it because they can never be that age again.
It is very sad that our society has such shallow values but until the majority stop watching their soaps, reality and talent shows (not to mention the adverts in-between) there will be a thriving industry out there aiming to make you look more beautiful.
Real beauty, of course, comes from within.
Hear hear… x
Well-said! I’ve been thinking of writing something along the same lines. I’ve always looked young, but as I’ve reached maturity, I’ve found myself welcoming the signs of ageing. In the lines on my skin, I see my face settling into an expression of my character, and I think I quite like who I am. My body is changing, and I welcome the changes. I don’t always want to be an unripe apple.
Unripe apple – love it! x
It seems reasonable to me to fear the ill health, pain, confusion and humiliation that *can* come with aging, and to live in ways that do not invite so much of that – if ever there was a good investment for old age, it is in taking care of the body. Not trying to make it look youthful. If we put the energy into health we currently expend on beauty, there would likely to be far less to fear around getting old.
Indeed! There are people hungry in the street, while others are buying wrinkle cream. Priorities, skewed.
Thank you for this, Joanna.
I found my first silver hair the day before my 12th birthday, and now, after slathering my hair with dye every few weeks for the past 25 years, I am allowing it to grow in naturally. I’m nearly 37, and I’m probably 40% grey. It shimmers like spun tinsel in the sunlight, and is giving me a sense of maturity and self confidence that I feel like I’ve been lacking in recent years.
A couple of days ago, my husband’s uncle chided me for allowing it to grow in, saying that people will think I’m an old woman, and apparently that’s a fate worse than death. I have never understood why people try to cling so desperately to youth, when we can learn and appreciate so much by embracing the aging process. We women especially seem to be inundated with the idea that our only worth as human beings is our potential shag-ability to random strangers, so as soon as the flush of youth begins to wane, so fades our worth and usefulness.
It’s wonderful to know that others are embracing the beauty and magic that comes with ageing, and celebrating their authenticity in every sacred form in which it appears.
I’ve been 39 for quite a few years now and absolutely love it. I completely agree with your post – I just wish more young women would get the message and stop worrying, wouldn’t life be so much better for them if they concentrated more on the content of their character, as Martin Luther King had it, than their appearance.
Hear hear! x
I agree with all the above – I value each stage in life – either my own or others for what it offers. I am now a Crone and value the wisdom I have gathered over my life – the lessons I have learned through pain and obstacles and am filled with gratitude that I am calm and content with how I look and this stage in my life. I hope this does not sound ‘smug’. It has not been an easy journey but then as a very wise lady said many years ago ‘life did not promise you a rose garden’.
Yes, yes and yes! x
I will be 60 next month, and I’m glad I look older as I get older. It would be embarrassing if I looked like a 12 year old boy!
While I agree that from a cosmetic point of view growing older may be easier for men, I disagree that in the overall scheme of things it is any easier. Most men value their physical strength, their ability to be physically active. Of all the older men I have known in my life, I would say at least 80% of them beat themselves up quite hard about not being able to do the things they used to do. I know even at 43, when I was working with 25 year olds it was depressing as hell trying to pull off what they could do.
I totally agree. x
Me too. My husband – a very big chap and always been a very strong and physical person – is finding it very hard.
Knowing that everyone goes through this, may be of comfort. The impermanence of everything – when you stop to think about it, is quite liberating, and utterly and wholly a part of the cycle of life. xox
Of course Zen Druidry is very pertinent here, with the Buddha’s three signs of being.
Anitya: All things are impermanent, ” Everything that arises, ceases, and is it not self”. It is a fact our bodies and features change.
Anatman: There is no fixed, unchanging self, only the whole ceaseless flux of nature. Why do we identify with our bodies and our characteristics as self?
Duhkha: Life is a rocky ride, even with our relatively affluent lives, there always appears to be something too big, or too small, or not how we would like it to be.. We should try to accept this.
Accepting the three signs of being may not be easy, but suffering and despair will result from not embracing them.
Very well said, and couldn’t agree more! x