I recently posted a photo of John and I to Instagram along with the comment that he is aging so much better than I am, which is a really obnoxious caption because it absolutely comes across as a fishing-for-compliments thing although I swear I did not intend it that way. I truly do think he is aging in a ruggedly attractive manner while I am becoming more washed-out and haggard but as some people wisely pointed out in the comments, we as a society tend to view greying hair and deepening character lines as attractive on men but less so on women.

(The comment that says it all: “Men are allowed to age.”)

It’s a complicated time to be a self-conscious middle-aged lady, I think. There is this cultural sea change underway with regards to body image and beauty standards and the role of women and our inherent value and while I am greatly in favor of where things seem to be going I also feel like I was programmed during a different time and it’s hard to realign with these new perspectives.

Does that make any kind of sense? It’s like I want to be fully on board with a better way of thinking but my brain is stuck with an outdated operating system and if I didn’t already feel inferior to the dewy-skinned younger demographic for their collagen levels I definitely envy their wokedness when it comes to not falling for some bullshit socially constructed notion that physical attractiveness is a woman’s most important asset.

There’s sort of a double-whammy lameness to feeling bad about yourself at 44: for one thing, you’re supposed to have reached a kind of fuck-you enlightenment; for another, you’re supposed to be educated and aware of how fucked-up feminine beauty ideals are and therefore not fall prey to their toxic messaging.

I wish I was better at not caring, or I wish that I cared in the right kinds of ways — the modern self-loving ways, the patriarchy-destroying ways — but the truth is I’m still a big old mess of dysfunctional thinking. I have always pursued beauty in all its shallow magazine-bullet-list forms and it is a real struggle to let go of that crap.

It’s hard to let it go, it’s hard to admit it’s been impossible and futile all along, it’s hard to orient myself in more rewarding directions when I also feel like it’s too late for so many things which is another lie but goddamn it is so sneakily believable.

Comments

17 Responses to “Obsolescence”

  1. Vanessa on December 30th, 2018 7:14 pm

    I am just going to throw this out there – yes, there is a true cultural component that does not “allow” aging especially for women, but also men. And yea, some of that culture might be changed with a lot of effort – but at one level, there is a definable biological loss (eyesight, hearing, pretty hair, muscle tone, etc) that must be truly mourned. And we do, truly mourn it. I do anyway, you should see my neck.

  2. Charlene on December 30th, 2018 8:07 pm

    It definitely a man vs woman thing about aging. If we as woman are not buying xyz to slow the aging process it is perceived we do not care about our selves. I’m trying to lean into my lines and a few other things but I’m not enjoying. Add in my autoimmune disease has been a major asshole this year. So, I feel like I’m really looking haggard. I keep telling myself this shall pass. At least I have gotten to the point I dont give a shit what people think.

  3. Donna on December 30th, 2018 8:44 pm

    How do you do that? You take all the things that go ‘round and ‘round in my head and put them out there in black and white where I can see/read them! (And at the age of recently-turned-70, there are lots of things going ‘round and ‘round in there!)

  4. sooboo on December 30th, 2018 9:13 pm

    “I also feel like I was programmed during a different time and it’s hard to realign with these new perspectives.” Yes, girl.

    I let my very gray hair grow out a couple of years ago and I live in Los Angeles where youth culture is everything. I don’t often have regrets but sometimes people assume I’m much older than I am and it doesn’t feel too cute. Or people I haven’t seen in awhile look a little shocked when they see me.

    I could go back to dying it but the secret is sorta out. I try to rock my own style and not someone else’s idea of what it should be. Some days are better than others though. It is nice to see the women coming up behind us pushing harder on self acceptance.

  5. Melissa on December 30th, 2018 10:06 pm

    How are you such a good writer? It’s unreal.

  6. Sara on December 31st, 2018 6:51 am

    im 36 and feel this in my soul. When i was married I accepted aging so much better. It was like, “im in my 30s and have kids and a husband, this is what I SHOULD look like”. But now I’m divorced and I’m expected to compete with all the 20 somethings in the dating field. On top of everything else I’m supposed to be hot now. Ugh. and how the hell am i supposed to do that without at least getting some botox??

  7. Shawna on December 31st, 2018 8:03 am

    I feel this is kinda a social group thing. Or at least it’s as much a social-group-we-choose-to-identify-with thing as a an overall society thing.

    There are the women who have always worn makeup and Spanx and bought into celebrity “looks” and felt that having a pedicure was a kind of social obligation, and there are the women who, well, didn’t. And if you’re in the first camp, you probably mind the aging process more than people in the second camp, even if the second camp isn’t really loving it either. (Speaking as someone who has never worn much makeup and is kind of scandalized at how much money some women spend on their faces, hair and wardrobe, I can confirm that there are definitely aspects of aging that bug me too, even if it’s not enough to prompt me to do more about it than investigate a better nighttime moisturizer.) But how do you tell the people who have always cared more about conforming to an idea of how they “should” look to just stop caring?

    For what it’s worth, I saw that photo, and I think you’re actually aging more gracefully than John. He looks good, but you look more… I don’t know… polished?

  8. angela on December 31st, 2018 10:02 am

    I agree with both Donna and Melissa, you are a wonderful writer and I would also benefit from reading your words about the ’round and ’round. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

  9. Andrea on December 31st, 2018 5:01 pm

    I say, Fuck the “supposed to’s.” We’ve all got to figure out this journey in our own way, on our own timeline. Reprogramming is HARD!

  10. Alison on December 31st, 2018 10:41 pm

    I’m almost 41. This resonates with me completely. I’m not as completely neurotic about my appearance/weight as I was when I was younger, but I still care. So much. And I wish equally as much that I didn’t. That I could just accept my burgeoning jowls and stubborn 10 pounds and get on with everything that really matters in life. And I do, for the most part, but I still care. Enough to do a lot of googling for solutions at least.

  11. JILL on January 1st, 2019 8:17 am

    This:” I also feel like I was programmed during a different time and it’s hard to realign with these new perspectives.” That sentence perfectly describes my inner struggle. And, I also struggle with trying make sure my 18 year old daughter doesn’t fall into the “beauty is all that matters” trap

  12. Kristin on January 1st, 2019 6:14 pm

    Something I’ve been thinking about recently is “it’s easy to condemn ladies getting botox, until you start to get wrinkles yourself!”

  13. Mary Clare on January 2nd, 2019 9:08 am

    You expressed it well! Most of the time, in my head, my body is just perfect and I can call bullshit about body image stuff. Then I’m getting in the shower and catch a glance of my pooch in the mirror and I feel crappy. That stuff seems hardwired in my 42 year old brain. I love the philosophy that Stasia Suvasuck (@stasiasavasuk) espouses on her instagram about embracing your body and dressing to make yourself happy. Hoping to integrate her ideas more and more into my daily life.

  14. Jennifer G on January 2nd, 2019 10:30 am

    This is perfectly written! Do I logically know that my physical appearance is, like, 200th on the list of Most Important Things About Me? Yes! Did I also recently spend a mortgage payment on a laser that promises to tighten up the skin on my face? Also yes! Midlife in this age is weird.

  15. Misguidedmommy on January 2nd, 2019 11:19 am

    I struggle with this too. Actually I have two “complaints.”
    I’m a little jealous of the current generation being raised to eat clean, go to the gym, & lift heavy weights. I was raised in the “diet generation” & the “brisk walk” or “aerobics” generation. Kids now, have no idea how hard it was for me to learn how to eat right (it’s okay to eat fat, carbs, etc, just portion). They have no idea how hard it was for me to join a gym & get a trainer. I am now a personal trainer and I have 15 year old clients, because they are already interested in fitness and weights. I’m jealous. I want that up bringing, not the diet up bringing.

    Now. Onto the other thing. The body positivity movement. I have so many mixed feelings about this. First off, what you said, I’m never going to be okay gaining 15 pounds and shouting that I love my body. I don’t. I do not love the extra weight, it isn’t great, it is unhealthy, and it means I’ve given up on myself. Also this whole fad worries me. Girls are becoming crazy over weight, and unhealthy, but it’s OKAY BECAUSE LOVE YOUR BODY. This worries me. Sure, it might all be fine in their teens, but so was I. I wasn’t fine when I turned 30 and had high cholesterol related to my weight. What’s going to happen when all of these girls end up with high cholesterol & heart disease?

    On one end of the spectrum we have this whole group of uber fit, tan, healthy, girls, who are being shamed by the group of body positive girls. Healthy girls are being made to feel bad now for caring about their health. It’s such a weird dynamic.

    I lost 80 pounds and I was SO HAPPY. I gained 15 pounds making me 130 pounds which is NORMAL. But i’m not happy. I’m not body positive. I’m not okay with my thighs again. Yet I’m surrounded by people telling me it’s okay, thick thighs are in blah blah blah.

    But I don’t want thick thighs. Stop telling me this is okay. If I gain this weight back, I’m back in the doctors office getting a lecture about my cholesterol. It feels like, there is no longer a happy medium.

  16. Robin Danely on January 3rd, 2019 4:26 pm

    OMG “wokedness” — dying!

    I am with you 1000% on all of this — I like to think of showing my bare face as a civic duty, a PSA about what middle-aged-woman skin really looks like, but I also draw my eyebrows in with a pencil most days.

    I don’t think younger women have it any easier, actually. Social media has added a whole new layer of pressure to the performace of being female that is just nuts… I don’t think I would have coped well with that in my 20s.

    Incidentally: it took several generations and a grassroots effort of knocking on doors and pleading with women face-to-face to end the practice of footbinding in China, but it worked!

    And thank you for writing this — it’s so spot-on.

  17. Maureen on May 3rd, 2019 7:25 pm

    So I absolutely don’t want to tread on anyone’s toes, because weight and body image is such a very personal thing-and everyone’s version is their own.

    I want to throw out the thought that girls and women being happy and proud of their bodies, is only a good thing in my book. I went to a doctor’s appointment at least 60 lbs above a “goal weight”, and when I got my test results the nurse said “I need to do what you are doing!”. Everything came up excellent, I was the epitome of health except for what I weighed. So I guess I’m saying-please don’t judge how healthy people are by their weight. Their story is not yours. Not everyone is uncomfortable at a weight you are-lots of us hike, swim, do triathlons when we aren’t at someone’s idea of a goal weight. Our journeys are our own. I am also going to throw out, thin people are not usually shamed like heavier people are. How many times does a woman walking down a street get this “you are too thin, gain some weight!”.

    Sundry, the aging thing is really interesting. In a way, I was lucky, I started getting gray in high school, so I never really associated that with being older. I think I am lucky too, in my family, growing up-I was the “smart one” so I set a high value on that, rather than how I looked, even though I was and am still happy by my own looks. I’m 58-and newsflash-I am not young!! I don’t expect to look young-I enjoyed that when I was that, but I’m not anymore. That is what seems weird to me-people my age not realizing we are on to a new phase of life.

    Anyway, interesting topic and truly makes me feel grateful for the way raised. We were allowed to get old, have gray hair. The thing is, looks fade no matter who you are, and the sooner you can come to peace with that, the better off you will be!

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