It's a sad fact of life that when you're a young adult, glistening with skin, hair and attitude that are all fresh and new, there are a thousand voices telling you exactly how to dress, how to behave, and how to be attractive. When you become an old adult, who cares? You are completely and irrevocably on your own, at a time when you'd welcome a friendly bit of advice on how to nurture that small and ever-dwindling portion of personal attractiveness that still belongs to you.
Magazines are no help at all. "How to look great at any age" the covers promise and then offer the real-life, down-to-earth examples of women like Susan Sarandon or Glenn Close, which makes real-life, down-to-earth women like me begin to search for a nice, sharp razor blade and the closest available artery. Then we have Nora Ephron, who after years of being a smart, incisive dissector of social idiocies and inequities, has decided that the most appropriate response to growing old is to feel bad about her neck.
Go ahead. Embrace the philosophy that age is only a number and that you're only as old as you feel, and you feel pretty good. Go shopping and try on clothes that appeal to you, are fashionable, and that fit. Take them home and come to the deeply shocking revelation that, although they fit, they really don't fit you. Oldfashioned terms like "mutton dressed as lamb" come cruelly to mind and you make some twenty-something of your acquaintance very happy when you give your latest purchases to her.
You realize, as you scrutinize contemporaries on the street, that you have limited choices in the eyes of the world. You can be dowdy or you can be ludicrous. Or you can be Susan Sarandon or Glenn Close.
It's a disheartening realization, especially when you couple it with the knowledge that you can spend every bit of your disposable income on having your hair colored, or buying the latest miracle cream, or having "work done" and the reaction will not be "My god that woman is hot," but "Doesn't she look good for her age?" And then you think of women like Louise Nevelson and Georgia O'Keefe, and you begin to feel just a tiny bit pissed off.
At this point, if you've done any traveling at all, or if you've just spent time looking at copies of the National Geographic, you begin to do a little bit of cross-cultural comparison. and you wonder why the same face that is picturesque and beautiful in Thailand or Mexico is completely without honor here. I don't know about you, but my wrinkles have been acquired along with my experiences. I've traveled, I've worked, I've raised two children, I've loved, and that is all to be seen in my face. I've earned my wrinkles and I'm trying my damndest not to be ashamed of them.
Then I remember the old women whom I met in Bangkok, not the high society khunying-clones with lots of gold and helmet hair, but the ones who were happy little bricks, shapeless in their cheerfully colored tunic blouses or tee shirts worn over unexceptional skirts or slacks, smiles eclipsing their wrinkles, who received the respect that came with their years from everyone who encountered them. I feel sad that in this country that phase of our lives is denied or tucked away or pushed aside and I know that it's time for a change.
"Forever Young" or "To Everything There is a Season"--the choice is ours. Let's bring aging in the U.S. up to the same standard of acceptance and honor that can be found all over the world--it's about time.