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.