A Facebook friend recently posted the sentiment: Growing older is inevitable, but aging is optional. I hit “unfriend” immediately. Aging is optional? Maybe if you have the means for elaborate dermatological intervention, or plastic surgery. But when the closest you’ll get to such repair is a jar of drugstore moisturizer and a tube of under eye concealer, aging is not an option, it’s a reality. I know my “friend” posted the affirmation to remind us that aging is a state of mind, and I appreciate her somewhat naïve optimism. But at fifty-eight it’s a state of mind I cannot seem to locate.
When I was younger, I was pretty cocky about aging. Like most in their twenties and thirties, I was in denial; the universal attitude that comes with limber knees, thick hair, and calves minus the trail of varicose veins. I could afford to be smug, as this was before AARP membership requests stuffed my mailbox, and before my ob-gyn ever uttered the words “bone density.” Back then I rolled my eyes at the notion of injections, implants, lifts and fillers. I assumed, with youthful self-righteousness, I was far too enlightened to get sucked into the psychoses of the anti-aging culture. What was wrong with looking one’s age? I envisioned a full life ahead, my character rich with experience as I aged. I also assumed I’d be a published novelist slash stand-up comedian slash non-profit mogul who freelanced as a MORE magazine model. Then one day I woke up and I was fifty. Good-bye Betty Friedan. Hello Estee Lauder.
Eight years in, the raw physical evidence of my decrepitude is astonishing. Numerous body parts have begun to cry Uncle. They include most of my muscles, an arthritic thumb, and a couple of worn out vertebrae. It’s also accurate to state that the skin on my neck has begun to resemble a Shar Pei puppy, and not in a cute way. The small parts have begun to turn on me as well, which means I can no longer wear dangly earrings. I swear if an earring weighs more than a grain of quinoa, my once perfectly normal lobes will now graze my collarbone.
After correcting my severe nearsightedness with Laser surgery twenty years ago, my current eyesight has given in to a crippling reliance on a strong pair of reading glasses. Not only do I need them to skim the morning paper, but I must also wear them to confirm I’m grabbing my own bottle of statins instead of my husband’s; to make out the fat content on a pint of Trader Joe’s cookie butter ice cream; and to ensure I don’t ruin the cinnamon toast by sprinkling on a healthy coat of cumin. And God help me, but I have to use a 10X-magnifying mirror to swipe on the occasional coat of mascara. I know it’s lunacy to think my face can endure that kind of magnified scrutiny, and that staring at my enlarged reflection will ever yield good news. But the reality is that I cannot see my damn eyelashes without it. It’s a tough reality to embrace. My face, these days best described as blotchy, has bumps and spots that my dermatologist regularly freezes off, “just in case.” What was once a light dusting of fair-haired fuzz along my no-longer-firm jaw has grown downright swarthy. Single white hairs now enthusiastically sprout from my brown eyebrows. Weirdly long, they resist every effort to lay flat and play nice with their neighbors.
The indignities of aging follow me to sleep as well. Evidently the muscles that line the back of my throat near that floppy uvula thing have lost their elasticity, leading to a recent diagnosis of sleep apnea. Nothing screams young and alluring like strapping on a CPAP mask every night.
It’s disappointing to know I am not the enlightened person I thought I was in my youth, and to confess I’ve tumbled down into the dark anti-aging wonderland that is our landscape. I have drunk the Kool-Aid, and it is sugar-free.
But wait! I haven’t given in completely, and that’s not just because I can’t afford Botox. There remains a small, tenacious voice in the back of my fuzzy brain that wants to believe the pro-aging propaganda; that aging really can be gorgeous, empowering and freeing. That with the years comes insight, and the confidence to celebrate what’s on the outside. But I am a flawed human. I would be lying if I didn’t admit to getting downright melancholy at the sight of my age-spot speckled hands, or the many strands of hair that now float to the sink while I blow dry. I am ashamed for mourning my once-full upper lip, which has begun to vanish, flattening as if the air was let out.
All this whining has proven ineffective, and it’s a great big time-suck to boot, so I suppose I best summon my inner Katharine Hepburn and adjust the lens. Time to focus on how lucky I am that I continue to age, my body coming with me like a loyal, albeit beleaguered friend. I’ll keep at it. In the meantime, I will still grab all the free eye-cream samples I can get.