aging · body image · fashion

On not growing old gracefully

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“Aging also helps us grow into ourselves. We start to know what we like and don’t like. We stop giving a fuck what other people think of us.

Imagine, younguns, a world where you just don’t give a shit about looking stupid or what your friends think or falling down in public or impressing the Joneses or having to go along with the crowd to do things you hate. Imagine how awesome that would be. The liberation. The joyous freedom. The glorious sense of possibility. Well, if you’re lucky, that’s what getting older is.” Krista Scott Dixon, In Praise of Older Women

For what it’s worth I don’t plan to age gracefully. Depending on how well you know me this may not be a surprise.

Here I am approaching my life’s halfway mark. Halfway? How could that be?

I’m 48 and 96 might strike you as a tad ambitious.

Let me explain the math. Given family history, if I make it through my forties, 90 isn’t unreasonable. One can hope.The first ten years of life don’t count as years of my life really. That wasn’t me in the sense philosophers most care about. You can read more about the problem of personal identity here.

So, dying at, or around, 90 gives me 80 or so years past the age of ten. Counting after the age of 10 then, it’s 38 done, 42 to go. Fingers crossed. Knock on wood. Etc.

I’m also at the halfway mark in my career. I began as an assistant professor at 28 and ending at 68 sounds good. And here I am at 48.

And, here’s the best bit, lots of the hard work is done. I’m a full professor. (Professors move from the rank of assistant, associate, to full.) Kids are successful and happy, in their teen years and beyond. So the stressful, hard working of getting tenure and coping with toddlers is behind me.

So I’m going to have fun. I love my job, love teaching and love research and writing. Great friends. Great family. And as you know from reading this blog, lots of enjoyable and rewarding physical activities. Fun times and adventures ahead.

And unlike young me, I no longer fret over being taken seriously in the profession and in life.

Young me wasn’t ever that concerned about what people thought about how I looked, I explained why in a blog post on body positivity and the queer community. But older me could care even less.

As I get older, I’m happier there are fewer rules but the judging of women’s bodies, clothing, and choices doesn’t go away. Feminists should see a connection between the patrolling of young women’s clothes–think of slut shaming–and the policing of older women’s choices.

There are rules, I’m finding out, about what older women shouldn’t wear: no sleeveless shirts, short shorts, mini skirts, bikinis, and more. Mutton dressed up as lamb, blah, blah, blah.

There are ways we shouldn’t do our hair: not long, no pig tails, no bangs, no wild colours.

A friend recently decreed that she was now too old to paint patterns on her nails. Patterned nails, not my thing at any age, turn out to be for the young.

Who knew? It’s a minefield of inappropriateness.

I’m not going to tread carefully.

I’m the sort of person who sees a rule and then wants to break it. Think wild flowers and clotheslines and fat cats in neighborhoods which prescribe standards about such things.

For years I wanted a tattoo but then wondered if I’d regret it as I aged. I’m older now and I have three tattoos and I don’t worry about that particular regret.But I am annoyed by people who think that my new ink, fresh plumage (thanks Ivan for that expression) are inappropriate for someone my age.

My mother recently dyed a section of her striking white hair purple and she was surprised that her new steak of colour met with disapproval from some of her acquaintances.

Another friend had a fun and incongruous, harmless, but out of character relationship. It appalled her kids. They said she ought to act her age.

I think this is all rubbish and we should recognize it as such.

We should say goodbye to the idea of growing old gracefully. Women’s bodies and behaviors don’t need to be graceful. We can be as wild and unruly as we choose.

What does this mean for fitness? I’m not going to worry about which physical activities are dignified or age appropriate.

I saw a great post on Facebook the other day about a woman who took up mountain biking for the first time in her mid seventies. I love some of the older women doing Crossfit. I hope to be running obstacle course adventure races, trying out surfing, maybe some climbing in the years ahead. Perhaps fencing. But never bingo.

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21 thoughts on “On not growing old gracefully

  1. I would have thought that your plan is exactly a plan to “age gracefully.” I guess I don’t know what aging gracefully means. I feel like it means living your life to its fullest no matter what age you are, not fighting against the inevitable march of time (by cosmetic surgery and what have you) but not over-thinking it either (like, exactly as you say, not thinking that if I’m over 40 I can’t wear a bikini anymore — my bikinis are smaller today than they were when I was a teenager!). I agree that bingo is giving in. But I wouldn’t necessarily associate bingo with aging gracefully.

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    1. Well, I guess I’d never consider cosmetic surgery on principled grounds and also financial ones. A week long bike trip or a refresh of the botox? That’s an easy decision.

      But what I’m getting at are all the rules about what’s appropriate for older women. You can’t wear anything that is associated with youth, or do anything that makes you look less than dignified. That’s rubbish.

      I always wonder in cycling and in other sports too, where are the older women? There’s young women and lots of old dudes but almost no older women. One of the women, quite a bit older, on our bike tour didn’t want to wear fitted bike shorts. I’m too old for that, she said. Nonsense.

      So it’s those rules I’m against and those sorts of lines I plan to step over and ignore.

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  2. There was a gorgeous older lady at my gym a few weeks ago with a brilliant blue shock dyed into her silver white hair. I complimented her on it (because it really was striking and pretty AND because my new year’s resolution this year was to say out loud the positive things I generally just keep inside my head…spread the joy/counteract the negativity), and she smiled, said thank you, and also told me that “now that I’m older and I can do whatever the hell I want, I’m doing it all!” I want to be like her when I grow up 🙂

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  3. It took me until I was 50 to find a sport I was good at–girevoy (kettlebell) sport. I’ve always done a lot of running (I’m a terrible runner), I’m a pretty good cyclist, and I’ve lifted weights since I was in my 20s, but I seem to have hit the sweet spot with kettlebells. Girevoy sport combines both strength and endurance, which I like, and I’ve even started to compete (and done pretty well). So far I’m enjoying being in my 50s (I’ll be 52 this summer). I think that people age when they stop trying new things. I bought a unicycle when I was in my 40s, and my teenage son and I started slacklining last summer. BTW, fencing is fun, but it helps to be fast.

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  4. Reblogged this on Not a Yoga Mum and commented:
    I’m grateful for posts like this that ask us to think differently about aging, especially women and aging. I’m 37, and I’m still occasionally asked for ID. I work at a university, and I sometimes get mistaken for a student. A couple of years ago, a facilities dude at my university mistook me for not for a university student, but for one of the grade 6 (aka 11 year old!) students I was accompanying on a field trip. His response, so typical in these scenarios, was to say “Take it as a compliment!” Screw that. It’s not a compliment, it’s infantilizing, this inability of society to see women as grown ups. But beyond that, it implies – and completely takes for granted – that aging is bad, and looking your age is some kind of failure. I know this is easy to say from the position of a relatively young person, but I’m committed to – at the very least – not reproducing this ageism in my speech or actions. Just as I don’t compliment or criticize people based on their body size, I won’t compliment or criticize anyone according to how their perceived age matches or doesn’t match their clothes, skin, hair, tattoos, piercings, or whatever.

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