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Aging Superheroes

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In the sport of triathlon there’s no hiding. We wear super-tight-wicking-aerodynamic-race-day tri kits. They’re our superhero costumes. They’re bright and flashy and reveal way more than you’d like to have revealed. In addition to our fabulous garb, we’re branded and labeled. We have our bib numbers written on our bodies, attached to our bikes, stuck on our helmets and worn like capes around our waists. But the kicker is the age. Our calves are tatted up with our ages right there in broad daylight for all to see. You can’t miss them. Truth be told, if you’re even slightly competitive, you actually look at the ages. If you pass someone or they pass you, you look and you wonder — is she/he in my age group? Because that’s who we race against, other age groupers. Here’s an example of how we’re categorized: 30-34Female/male, 35-40 female/male, 40-44 female/male. And so it goes. Up and up and up!

In real life we look at ages too. But it’s totally different. In real life, people often lie about how old they are. They don’t want to wear their ages with pride, they want to fib about how old they are. There’s that constant assessment: How am I aging? Am I aging well? Am I okay? And then, to add insult to injury, we get to go to super-fun things like reunions where we all stand there silently comparing ourselves to each other. Measuring how we look after so many years. “Did you SEE so and so?!?! I wouldn’t have even recognized him if he wasn’t wearing a name tag! That’s unbelievable!” Or, “Poor, Mary. She’s really let herself go!” With that, everyone quietly gossips about the trials and tribulations of Mary’s life and comes to some sort of understanding, that Mary’s had a hard life and that’s why she looks so bad. Bleck.

I wish life was about grown-ups wearing superhero capes all of the time. Patting each other on the back and celebrating being able to haul our aging body across this journey of life. When a triathlete turns a year older and has graduated up to another age group it’s cause for celebration for at least two reasons. The first being, that you’re out there doing this training and racing thing as an “old-timer”. Second, you’ve just moved into what is hopefully a slightly easier age group — which means more opportunities for a higher ranking in your new age group, or making the podium, or maybe even qualifying for the Ironman World Championships in Kona. Aging up, as we call it, opens possibilities for all sorts of opportunities. Getting older is a good thing. Being in better shape than you were as a teenager is exhilarating.

However, and I need to emphasize this with a big, HOWEVER!, I’d be a total hypocrite if I didn’t own the fact that I don’t always embrace getting older. A few years ago I was talking with a mom friend of mine and she was sharing how much she disliked her wrinkles and her sagging eyelids. I was so surprised by this. At the time I was up to my eyeballs in baby-hood, toddler-hood and pregnancies; I was just immersed in the intensity of life with young children. It hadn’t occurred to me to look at myself like that. While listening to her, it was as if a part of my brain had been triggered and the world opened up differently to me. She talked about Botox and injections and eye lifts and implants and I started to look at people differently. I assessed how people were aging. I scanned to see who had “work” done. I looked at my own face. I found the wrinkles. And honestly, I hated them.

If you’re close to me, you’ll know that I have this thing about the wrinkles around my eyes. I really do hate them. I talk about them all of the time. So much so that I’ll probably annoy you. But I haven’t done anything about them … yet. I’m super allergic to everything so I can’t even use a fabulous anti-aging eye cream. I’m stuck with them. The lines on my forehead are my latest gripe.  I will always remember the day when I was lecturing my children with a frowned face, and one of them said to me unknowingly, “Mommy, your forehead matches your shirt! They both have lines on them!” That was a great day!

In sports, if you pull a Lance Armstrong, you’re in big trouble. You can’t lie to one-up someone. You have to be clean and honest. Not that athletes don’t lie and cheat, but really, if they do, no one says, “Nice! Excellent Job, Cheater Athlete! You totally won!” No! We get angry and we feel ripped off. We feel disappointed and we ask ourselves, “Are there really no true superheroes left in the world?!”

So let me ask you this, is Botox any different from dying your hair? Wearing makeup? Using Rogaine? Painting your nails? Wearing Spanx? Wearing a push-up bra? Whitening your teeth … you get where I’m going, right? Where do we draw the line? And more importantly what is that line? I’m guessing it’s different for each of us.

If you were my friend and it made you incredibly sad that you felt that you looked like you were 55 instead of your true 45 and you decided to do something about it, I don’t think I’d judge or criticize you. I’d be a loving friend and I’d say, “Good for you. Good for you for taking care of yourself and helping yourself feel good about yourself.” I might even ask myself if I was the fool for not doing the same thing — taking care of myself to feel good. I’m a big fan of feeling good about who we are, so if your droopy eyelids make you feel horrible about yourself, who am I to say, “Leave them alone.”

And yet there is this flip side for me. This side that thinks, can’t we really just love ourselves as we are? Can’t we make life choices that make us feel good? Taking care of our whole-selves in a whole-listic way? Eating well. Sleeping well. Moving our bodies. Aren’t we, in fact, good enough? Can’t that be enough?

But how can it? How can it really be enough, when we see so many messages telling us that it’s not? My husband and I subscribe to our local area magazine because we like the fun tips on things to do, places to eat, and so on. However, most of the magazine is dedicated to photos and advertisements that read: “Get Back The Neck You Knew With Ultratherapy,” “Perfect Hands! Get Perfect Hands Within Days,” “Reveal The Real You With CoolSculpting,” “The Hair Transplant Institute.” I wish I could show you the before pictures of these awful, terrible old hands, sagging bodies and unbecoming mug shots of bald men next to the “much perfected” after shots. Who wouldn’t want that? Or who wouldn’t think that they did after seeing that.

I grapple with where to draw the line for myself. Would getting Botox actually help me feel better about myself? Is it worth it? Is it, in fact, a way of taking care of myself? I look at women and men in my community who have bad Botox and good Botox. I have a hard time looking at the ones who are overworked.  It’s awkward to see this plasticized face looking back at me.  On the other hand, I hate to admit this, but the people who get what I’ve come to learn is a sort of subtle Botox actually look pretty … good. So maybe it is worth it?! They look brighter. Happier. Lighter. Or maybe I just tell myself that they do. Maybe it’s just another way for me to measure how wrinkled I am. Maybe it’s another way for me to question if I am okay. Maybe it’s another way for me to tell myself that I’m not.

You know what, though? If I’m totally honest, what often ends up happening to me when I see these folks, is I get angry at them. I really don’t want to admit this, but I do. I get angry at them because a part of me thinks that they’re cheating. They’re changing the rules. They aren’t modeling aging gracefully well.  They’re hiding it well.  They’re trying to hide it well.  And the rest of us who don’t do anything about our aging process look like old-farts. Isn’t that true? Or is it? Do I actually only look like an old-fart if I feel like an old fart? What if I can come to a place in which I can look at myself in the mirror and say to myself, “You look beautiful. You look just as you should look for a woman your age (which is 42 by the way), with your history, with your genes, with your hours in the sun… that’s just about right. Good for you.”

I really like to think that our mindset enables us to embody aging gracefully. I’m just not sure I’m there yet though.  Sometimes wearing a little makeup, coloring your hair, painting your nails, using the Rogaine, are just where we’re at right now.  If I did get Botox, I’d be embarrassed for you to notice. It would be my own choice to give myself a break from the energy I spend disliking my wrinkles. And you know what?!  Maybe there’s something to be said for giving yourself a break once in a while. Then again, maybe I’d just be conforming to those magazine articles that make me want to believe that I can fight old age and look 25 at 85.  Believing that if I only looked young enough, I’d be good enough.

I think what upsets me the most about all of these ways of thwarting off our aging process, is that they make me think that because you can actually SEE that I’m aging,  I’m not doing a good job at mastering this getting older thing.  If I didn’t LOOK like I was aging, I’d be getting it right.  That’s what they tell us, these magazine advertisements —  if you’re living life right, you’ll look youthful and refreshed and timeless.  Maybe in choosing to get Botox,  I’d just be another person making it harder for everyone else to age gracefully, authentically and with dignity.  I keep telling myself to hold a space for my true self, whatever that looks like.  I’d like to model that for my children.  I’d like to model that for myself.

Want to know what I really, really love?  What makes my heart feel happy and warm?  What inspires me?   I love those gorgeous young/older women who have let their hair grow silver and long like the Eileen Fisher models.  I love the young/older men whose hair is thinning and instead of combing it over, they shave it all off. They’re the rock stars in my book. They’re the superheroes. They’re living life honest and true. Without hiding. And when I see people not hiding, I think they are brave and fearless and you know I want to be like that. I’m just trying to figure out what that looks like for me right now. My hair is turning gray but I don’t color it. That’s not my thing; it doesn’t needle me. My wrinkles do.

I’d love to hear what your thoughts are about aging gracefully and what that looks like for you.  Let me know.

12 replies »

  1. Lots of thoughts but no real answers. In no particular order:

    First (and this really is #1), you can do triathlons! Your body accomplishes amazing feats of strength and endurance that most 22 year-olds (let alone 42 year-olds) simply cannot. So yay, you! But I get that this is mostly not about what you can do but how you look while doing it, which is an entirely different thing. And I also know that there are enormous societal pressures (on women and men but more on women) not to look “old,” whatever that means. Young, hot and perky are where it’s at!!

    Second, I have always been “lazy” about my appearance. I never wore much makeup, and these days, I don’t wear any on most days. I don’t color my hair partly because I like the effect of the silvering strands (almost like highlights, or that’s what I tell myself) but also because I know I’d never keep up with the appointments. I get cuts that don’t need to be blown dry, because I’d rather sleep an extra 15 minutes. The list goes on. But I have been blessed with good genetics, where the women in my family age well (meaning, they look younger than they actually are). My husband thinks I am attractive. And yet, I occasionally find myself doing a bit of research on what exactly CoolSculpting involves, because maybe … And I’ve started using moisturizer nightly. So obviously, I have my line, too.

    I’ve had several conversations with my son about photoshopping and how even women who are generally acknowledged to be beautiful are not immune, are not beautiful enough. I think this is a similar phenomenon. I remember specifically the incident last year (?) with Beyonce and the H&M ads, where she refused to let them run photos that minimized her curves — but then she is accused of altering photos of herself!! What are ordinary mortals supposed to do? He and I concluded that it was okay to alter a photo to eliminate a temporary blemish (like a zit or a bruise) but not to change what someone’s body actually looks like. But why not own the zits?? And what if (getting back to the issue of aging) your wrinkles are getting you passed over for jobs? Or simply make you very, very unhappy?

    I’m realizing I don’t really know what the answer is for myself, but also that this is not where my personal issues lie. Instead, I’m stuck on slowing metabolism, increasing recovery times, and irreversible post-children bodily redistributions. 🙂

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    • I just love this, Jen. Thanks for writing. I love that you’re having conversations with your son about it. It’s so interesting to me how we have our own perspectives about it all and how often times what we see/dislike about ourselves, others do not even notice. I wonder a lot about the demographics — meaning, if I lived in an area where people celebrated and valued different things, I wouldn’t even be thinking about my wrinkles. I think that’s true. This makes me want to move. (Ha!) Sort of like I want to park at the bottom of the hill for my runs. But if I did that, I’d miss getting to run down it. Balance.

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      • It’s funny that you mention demographics, because I was originally going to add a comment that the women in the town where I live don’t tend to be botoxed and made-up (at least to my eye, which is admittedly uninformed). Would I be as comfortable with my own unaltered state if I was surrounded by different women? Probably; I don’t think I’m that secure. However, many are 5-7 years younger than I and I don’t feel like an “old lady,” so there’s that.

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      • Oops! That was supposed to be “probably not.” And it turns out there’s more makeup than I thought. Guess it’s REALLY not my thing!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I am not a triathlete by a long shot. I am a very large woman who was active for most of my life. I played tournament indoor tennis for years, rode my bike, swam in my pool and walked my dog twice a day. When I competed, I used to walk on to the court in baggy shorts and sweat top. NO cute little outfit for me. My opponents would snicker. On purpose, I would warm up hitting the ball like a novice. BUT…..when I served and placed the ball under their arm pit and about 90 mph, their eyes would light up. It was one of my favorite things to do. My team mates loved it!
    I have been told I am pretty but more often, I have a pretty face. I am told I dress well for a large woman. I have very long hair. I have been told I should cut it because I am too old for long hair. Most compliments are veiled in criticism.
    When I was 52, I was diagnosed with a chronic arthritis that has no cure. I went from being very physically active to not being able to walk. With medicine and fortitude I am able to move and do many things, but never like I was.When I try to do too much my body rebels with painful flares. My frustration with this has been immense. When I walk now, I limp a bit. I see pity or more often, judgement in people’s eyes. This year I turned 60. It was a difficult birthday because my mother died at 59. But I made it. Now, I try to not allow critical opinions of others to tarnish my gratefulness that I am alive. I feel sorry for their short sightedness and lack of compassion. Age is a number. I am still inside all the things I was the day before I turned 60. One of my biggest campaigns is to help women live and love their bodies whatever the wrapper and the shape. It is only a vessel. Be extremely grateful for movement, because when that is gone, it is incredibly difficult.
    PS, I really like your blog.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Jane, Thank you so much for your heartfelt response. It’s so nice to hear from you. I smiled and laughed out loud at the image of you surprising your opponents with your awesome serve. Very cool. I hope you don’t cut your hair, especially if it makes you happy. When my mother turned 40 she cut her hair short — saying after 40 women shouldn’t have long hair. I always thought this was strange. Which it is. But that’s my mother … My husband was diagnosed with Psoriatic Arthritis in 1997, he has it very badly and my heart goes out to you with a deep appreciation for the frustration and loss of your body hurting and not cooperating. Thank you also for the gentle reminder to be grateful for movement and self-love. I’m glad you like my blog. It’s scary and thrilling to be here.

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  3. Well, that is exactly what I have. I had a hell of a time convincing drs that it was not “just being fat.” They did not diagnose the rash that was psoriasis either because it presented differently. Idiots! When my hands turned into claws almost overnight, they finally did the tests I needed. To you and your hubby, hang in there. There is no cure YET, but i think they will get there. I do a lot of mindfulness practices to help with the flares. they really help, but there are days……

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    • We were extremely fortunate to have lived in CA when he was diagnosed. He had doctors at USC working like detectives to figure out what it was. At that time it was rarely seen or diagnosed. It takes a lot of work and mindfulness and mental fortitude. We do both Eastern and Western medicines to help. Be well!

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  4. I always looked younger than my age so I didn’t give aging another thought. Then I had my kids at 38 & 40 and I suddenly started to look my age. Sometimes I hate the frown lines between my eyes and other times I’m proud to have survived this long and all the lines that come with it! I think our forties are tough because we’re too young to allow ourselves to look ‘old’ and too old to look like we’re trying too hard.

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    • Well said! The Indigo Girls have a line in their song Get Out The Map, that sings: “With every lesson learned a line upon your beautiful face
      We’ll amuse ourselves one day with these memories we’ll trace.” I just love that. I’m just going with that 😉

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