“Hey! I Worked Hard For This Look”: No Shame In Growing Old

Time is a gift to us all and the condition we find our bodies in at the end of our time is not to be disdained but displayed proudly.

The aging transition

I find it somewhat sad and disconcerting that after acquiring abundant wisdom and a sense of well-being as we age how some want to conceal or ignore the physical markings on their bodies it has taken all those years to acquire. Sure, I’d love to always have well-toned muscle tissue, smooth skin and thick hair, but humans are not figures in a wax museum.   We needn’t be ashamed of the more rough and wrinkled countenance that comes with aging.  The wear and tear that frequently starts showing up extensively as we hit our 60’s and beyond are signs that we have weathered what life has thrown at us.

It’s odd how our society values the experience that comes with time but not necessarily the package it comes in.  It isn’t easy for most of us to accept the slow deterioration of our once strong and youthful bodies and even in death some of us it seems are still unwilling to be portrayed as an elder person.

Take for example the photos of those I found here on the obituary pages of my local newspapers.  This seems to be the norm nowadays.  We are seeing fewer pictures of the deceased as they were just a few short years before their death at 60, 70, 80 and older, replaced instead by those taken at a time in their life when they were just married, out of college or beginning their first jobs decades ago.  Do the children of the deceased do this, wanting to view their parents forever young and submitting these photos for everyone else to share in?  Or is this a final request by the people themselves before passing on?   Wanting to be remembered in their youth as if to say the rest of their life has no value.

This isn’t an angry old man’s diatribe against today’s youth.  If I could gain it all back through some concoction or time machine I wouldn’t hesitate to do so.  But we haven’t been dealt such a hand, nor or we likely too.

The journey towards our “senior years” has left us with the effects our efforts have had on our bodies.  Our wrinkled skin, bulging midline, slightly stooped demeanor and thinning gray hair are emblematic of our ability to survive a life where many of our friends, relatives and acquaintances haven’t; either dying from childhood diseases, crime, wars, domestic abuses, highway accidents or some catastrophic event like floods, tornadoes and fire.

We have also survived our own foolish choices that often had physical consequences detrimental to long term health or squandering our time and resources with little consideration for the future.  Somehow we always thought we had time to overcome these misguided actions.

But it is time itself that teaches us if we allow it and with time comes the slow erosion of physical attributes.  Our culture is so obsessed with avoiding this inevitability that we throw good money at commercial products that promise us youthful appearances.  For those who can afford it (and many who really can’t) there are now thousands of cosmetic products and numerous surgical procedures available to postpone the effects of time.  The waste of resources for this vanity too often forgets that diet and exercise, not creams, tummy tucks and face lifts, will ease us into an older age where we can still be active and useful.

Life's experiences are etched into our faces

There’s no denying that I would like to remain forever young but that is an age old fantasy that we all share and one that snake oil salesmen keep exploiting to relieve us of our hard-earned income.   I’m not ashamed of how time has changed my physical appearance.  Looking “hot” and stylish no longer consumes my time and money and I am better for it.  I worry less and my self-esteem is at an all-time high.

Longevity is not something to fear.  It is an award I have earned for successfully reaching an age that often eludes many other people.  On other days, those same obituary pages will also have death notices for people who died long before their time.

I may not be able to read the street sign less than 50 feet away without prescription lenses anymore but I can see the future much clearer than someone who has few life experiences and no sense of history.  Many my age can’t compete with today’s youth on the athletic fields, pools and courts but we can coach and advise them to help them find their strengths in order to be the best they can.

Still an honest mug, even at 63

The package may have withered over time but the contents are still viable and can benefit those who have yet to live life as fully as I have.  The superficiality of a youthful appearance has its time and place in our lives and on occasion I find myself reflecting back on those times.  But when I die I want people to see me for what I have become, and that entails a veneer that exemplifies the journey of a long, experiential life that cannot be completely duplicated by any other human being


23 responses to ““Hey! I Worked Hard For This Look”: No Shame In Growing Old

  1. You’re absolutely right. But I believe it’s still way harder for us women. That’s why cosmetic surgeons and the beauty industry make a killing off of us.

    Totally extraneous here, but you have very beautiful eyes, sir.

    • Yes, sadly Sheryl most cultures expect their women to always remain young and beautiful. It isn’t fair and I don’t see it changing anytime soon. But I take my hat off to those women who buck the system. I have always been a fan of those women who are minimalist when it comes to the use of make-up. I am however, and always will be a sucker for long, full-bodied hair.

      Thanks for the comment on the eyes. They are a gift from my Mom.

  2. OK LB…MEN age gracefully…..Women, on the other hand, suffer from uncontrollable collapsed collagen that starts to resemble melted candle wax…..

    I’m all for character lines….on some other character…. I see nothing wrong with raising my Botox bayonet to fight the cause of not-ready-for-prime -time wrinkles…..what’s wrong with a 37 year old face on a 102 year old body that wears gramma pajama jeans……lol

    Seriously…I tend to agree with you, LB, I think the pressure to remain young looking is way out of control, I chose to remain young at heart…

    P.s. you look great……If this wasn’t a public genre I would reveal my true age…

    • Yes, men have an advantage when it comes to aging by design as a result of the paternalistic culture we evolved from. The natural look is not concealed by cosmetics so as the aging process ensues the change seems slight. Women unfortunately have been put into the position to retain a beautiful and youthful appearance to have any kind of a bargaining tool in male dominated societies and the free markets have exploited this social pressure on women. We need to revive Betty Friedan. With nothing more than a little lipstick she is an appealing woman in this 1995 photo when she was 74.

      “If this wasn’t a public genre I would reveal my true age”

      I’ve seen your picture you posted recently Charly and you have nothing to be embarrassed about.

  3. Men grow distinguished; women get old. It’s a sad fact that is always bombarding women. A man can be experienced in his career after 40, but a woman has to watch over her shoulder at the 20 something that just came in the room. To me aging is aging and it’s pretty much a number. You should be judged on mental attitude not a date on the calendar. I know plenty of 40 year olds that complain and moan like they are 80 and a few 80 year olds that have left me out of breath on the dance floor. That being said, I love my wrinkle cream.

    • It’s unfortunate but it seems only when women reach their late stages in life, beginning around 60, do they finally see no need to pursue keeping themselves “beautiful” and youthful looking. It is the culture you and the other women have to deal with Donna but I for one would like to see that unfair advantage removed from your worries. To me, a charming woman is always beautiful with or without make-up.

  4. HA….you don’t look a day over, say, 61! he he he…..mostly, as I get older, I only miss the things my body parts will not let me do anymore…x-country skiing, mountain climbing, fighting Yetis, exploring pyramids, deep sea diving, bull fighting, bronco busting…… thank goodness I can still bull shit…. sometimes with the best of ’em, too!!

    • “I only miss the things my body parts will not let me do anymore…x-country skiing, mountain climbing, fighting Yetis, exploring pyramids, deep sea diving, bull fighting, bronco busting……”

      That why we have the National Geographic and Discovery channels Jim. 😉

  5. Sad that there is that double standard……I thank the media for forcing women to try and have a certain look……..and this anorexic look or what some call the heroine chic is disgusting….as a woman watcher curves are sexy…..you can exercise daily, eat well and still not recovery your youth…..getting older is something that is unavoidable…I do not care how much silicone you have injected…..60 is 60!

  6. I agree with everything you said. While I too sometimes wish it were otherwise, it is not, and it will not be, so there is nothing to do but get on with it, make the most of each day, and be happy that I’m lucky enough to have lived this long. I do wish I had been wiser in my youth, but don’t we all?

  7. Quakers have a nice saying “That Friend speaks my mind.” It’s a way of getting a feel for a group during consensus decision-making without everyone having to repeat what has been said previously. I’ve noticed the much younger obit pic phenom too and find it unfortunate. We probably underestimate the media’s effect on how people feel about themselves over time. Check out the beautiful header of an excellent blog about aging—http://www.timegoesby.net/.

    • Thanks Hansi. There are some unexpected benefits to age. I spend a lot less on clothes and shoes than in times past. Congratulations on your upcoming birthday. You now qualify for Medicare. Yay!

  8. Yes, while I’m still a “young” 51 (almost 52) I was thinking about this as I was skiing recently. I’ve been taking my two sons (ages 8 and 6) skiing a lot at the local mountain and all this practice has caused me to get faster and better than I’ve ever been. But I started to wonder how long I can still do this, will my body prevent what to me (downhill skiing) is almost a religious experience – motion, beauty, control, and speed? Then last week when I had an appointment at the dentist I ran into a colleague who retired about five years ago, an education professor who is probably around 70. I mentioned how I’m so thrilled my boys ski since I grew up in the plains where skiing was rare. He then told me he still skies at least four times a week, and helps out with giving handicapped people the chance to ski at least once a week. So my goal is to keep skiing!

    • I’d love to ski but I live in Texas and can’t find the time or money to make these trips. There would be no reason to think you can’t continue to ski for years to come provided you stay healthy but I bet your 70-year old friend doesn’t ski the blacks or the moguls often, if at all. If he did I would sure be impressed and in awe of him.

      • Heck, I don’t do the blacks and moguls myself — not due to age but due to the fact that I’m not that good! I grew up in South Dakota and never really skied much except now and then, and not on a real mountain until moving to Maine. My kids already outdo me in terms of skiing! I tend to stick to intermediate trails, and last year at Saddleback (a bigger nearby mountain than our in town one) my son (who on that day turned 8) zipped through a mogul field as I took a side run that went around it and rejoined the trail at the end of the moguls. I don’t think I could take living in the South — I couldn’t stand being without winter.

  9. I, too, want people to see me, the real me for who I am and all that I offer, but we don’t live in that world. Sadly, people are far crueler to women who show their age as though the wrinkles are a disease that they can avoid. And, ageism is still alive and well in this country. My feeling is this – as long as I have to be in the working world, I’ve got to hold back the clock. I shudder to think what it would be like to have to find another job at my age. I doubt I’d even get an interview.

    • You’ll get no argument from me on this social dysfunction Jean. Until it is fixed (if ever) your plight as a woman is as you have stated – “as long as I have to be in the working world, I’ve got to hold back the clock”

      Marketing strategist are already working on men to enhance their careers by cosmetically “holding the clock back.”

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