aging · body image · fashion

On not growing old gracefully


“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.