I’ll tell you, you sweet taut 20 to 35-year-old who looks at older women with a self-satisfied or dismissive smirk and doesn’t countenance that such a thing will ever happen to you. I’m not old but I am ageing so I know . . . I can share my experience. And while this rant is mostly focussed on the body, because that’s likely where your focus is right now, the heart and mind and spirit are all affected.
No-one will tell you that hair will disappear from some parts of your body and appear in others. The blessing is that you are now in need of glasses so you don’t notice it for the most part . . . that is, until you are out somewhere and you feel a hair on your chin or you spot it in the unforgiving light over a mirror in the women’s toilet. You will swear to carry tweezers in your bag but you will forget.
No-one will tell you that the hairstyle you want can’t be had because the gray hairs have the most rebellious nature, almost a mind of their own dear little individual selves going off in there own direction as it pleases them, a texture defying any attempt to smooth or curl. You want sleek as it was in your youth without working for it? HA! And perhaps you will decide to brave it out and go natural (Why the hell should that be considered brave?) or maybe you will just develop a reaction, allergic or just distaste, and decide against pouring chemicals on your head with any regularity. Or maybe you’ll continue because you’ll be judged by your graying hair. Pathetic and small minded as those judges are, they may have control of your potential income.
Wrinkles? Yes they happen, and the pores of your skin on your face are more visible, your grandchild will be fascinated by your saggy skin so let them touch it, but never, ever, ever place a mirror on a horizontal surface to clean it . . . not ever! Enough said about skin because the changes are inevitable . . . and if your self-worth is tied to your youthful appearance it’s doomed.
No-one will tell you that fit as you may be, supple and you may be, your body will change shape even if your weight doesn’t . . . and sooner or later bits are going to ache if you sit still for too long. My advice is to simply keep moving.
Strength diminishes unless your lifestyle remains the same and for most, it changes because we have so many labour-saving devices . . . I used to have a push mower, use a hand drill and now I’m thinking I might need a skill-saw. No-one will tell you that sooner or later some lids on jars will not come off even if you employ all the tricks you know and you’ll be tempted to go and get your electric drill (I own two), and take to it with a vengeance because you’re damned if you’re going next door just so you can have artichoke hearts with your crackers and blue cheese and besides, it’s 2:00am and you can’t sleep!
Sleep is something no-one will discuss when it comes to ageing . . . when your body wants to sleep you will and it doesn’t matter a damn whether you want to or not. When you want to sleep . . . that’s another story. Maybe you will and maybe you won’t. I sleep like a baby; I fall asleep quickly and wake up every few hours. I’ve always thought ‘sleep like a baby’ was perhaps the most ridiculous saying ever.
Your feet . . . comes a time when not only do you see the sense in keeping your feet flat on the ground . . . you can’t wear heels anyway as you feet just won’t stand for it. Personally I would like to be barefoot all the time, socks in the winter, jandals (thongs) in summer and my old favourite boots in winter (they’ll die soon and then I’ll bury them with full honours, bugle at dawn, flag at half mast).
No-one will tell you that inside your body things have changed drastically even if you have retained stunning good health. For me, menopause was so long ago that it’s just like a bad dream. You know, one of those nightmares where you wake up and the emotions just won’t let you go? Your heart is thumping with fear or you’re so anxious that you’re almost frozen. Well, twenty-um years later I still have a hot flush with coffee (I have a 3-a-day habit and I love the stuff strong and black, unsweetened) and red wine is drunk advisedly because I know how I will sleep . . . hot and restless.
Skipping . . . yes skipping. There will come a time when you realise that what you did all the way to school and home again is just so damned exhausting! When was the last time you attempted to skip? DO IT! DAILY! In the privacy of your own home, or on a deserted beach which is my preference, if you must but do it! Why? Because sooner or later you will lose that spring in your step. Honestly, this phenomenon really happens, one day you jump down off something quite low and you realise the bounce didn’t happen. It vanishes somehow, somewhere there are a lot of bounces waiting to be reclaimed . . . they were ignored and took off to find new owners.
No-one will tell you that you will become more sentimental, that little things will have the power to move you to tears and that the sound of young children laughing is the sweetest thing in the world. No-one will tell you that as your body deteriorates and your thinking slows, even though your intellect remains intact (so don’t you dare think that because someone needs additional thinking time or forgetful they’re not as astute as ever!) your heart, your spirit, call it what you will, will enlarge and your capacity to love those near and dear will remain untouched. You will regret that you didn’t call your parents and grandparents more often.
Now don’t get me wrong, even with the inevitable changes you will continue to love and honour your body as much as ever. (You do, don’t you? Something damned wrong if you don’t because it’s going to house you for a long time.) You will still feel the thrill as a soft warm breeze caresses your skin, yes even that flabby stuff you used to call finely toned triceps, and appreciate where it can take you, and the skills it holds in its ancient muscle-memory. You will continue to make demands on it, nurse it when its sick and curse it when it lets you down but mostly, you will love it. It allows you to say I love you and to touch and cuddle and listen to music and laugh and cry and laugh some more. Love it, better still, respect it . . . every tiny part of it.
So there you go you taut 20+ year-old. And why has no-one told you? Because you aren’t interested . . . yet. You’re busy taking your youth for granted and perhaps feeling a tad superior to us ‘wrinklies’ however if you want to hear about your mind, how every time you forget something you wonder if there’s more to it that there was when you did that exact thing when you were 20 and question if it happens more often, well ask someone. I’ll give you an honest answer if you ask but it’s purely from my perspective, no longtitudinal studies here, no polls, just my experience.
Now I think I must point out that today is a brilliant sunny summer day, birds chirping and all that, I’ve been for a walk and I’m about to water-blast the fence so I can paint it . . . I love my body but I’m tired of all the put-downs, some incredibly subtle, others blatant, and the elevation of youth as an ideal. It’s fleeting . . . if you’re lucky. Youth lasted a short time when I look back at it and I think I have about a thrid of my life to go still.
Yes we have role models, mostly carefully made up affluent women who perhaps won’t leave the house unless they’re dripping with make-up and certainly styled for that photoshoot where the images will be cleverly photoshopped and airbrushed. Let’s get ourselves our there, barefaced or with make-up doesn’t matter . . . let’s just get out there as we were in the 60s and be loud and proud feminists . . . our sons need it just as much as our daughters.
A little disclaimer here: my mother was still ‘getting old’ at 96, she was not allowed to work as a young woman, “Ladies don’t work!” was what she grew up with, but she owned a library, was a pattern-cutter in a knitwear factory, could mix concrete, swing a hammer, use a crowbar with devastating efficiency, and the first thing she did when she moved house at 95 was to plant beans and tomatoes.