How did we get here?

I went to the theatre with some friends recently and the conversation revolved around exercises you can do to keep yourself from falling over when you are going about your daily business. They recommended standing on one leg like a flamingo and spinning around in a circle with your eyes closed to make sure you can keep your balance when the lighting is poor.

“How did we get here?” I thought to myself.

I still cannot believe that I’m old. Not ancient, but definitely grey-haired, a bit creaky and wrinkly enough to be deemed an old lady by the rest of the world.

After the show I complemented my friend on her new hairstyle. After several years of dying her hair, she’s allowed it to turn back to its natural grey colour. She went grey years ago (way before it was fashionable) and I thought it looked fabulous. She kept it like that for three years and then suddenly dyed it brown again. I was so disappointed. It looked much more striking when she was grey. Last week she confessed that she started dying it again after an incident where she was standing at the bar and the barman started taking orders from the (younger) women behind her, ignoring her completely.

It was the last straw in a series of events that made her feel old and invisible, so she went home and changed her hair colour back to one which society thought was more acceptable for a woman in her early fifties. She said that as soon as she re-dyed her hair, she found a new romantic partner, so it was worth it. Now she’s in her late sixties and she no longer cares about what other people think.

We are used to these stories of older women feeling invisible, but to be honest, it’s not something I have experienced as part of being older because I’ve always felt a bit invisible. As an introvert, I’ve been okay with that because I certainly don’t enjoy being the centre of attention, but I also don’t appreciate being ignored because someone thinks I’m irrelevant.

Like most women, I’ve always attempted to do the best I could with what was available, but I’m not very vain, so I didn’t expect to be bothered this much by the signs of ageing. To be honest, it’s caught me unawares. I can cope with reduced flexibility and the propensity to huff when I bend over, but the wrinkles and looking worn out all the time are starting to annoy me.

I tell myself that I just need a good night’s sleep or that the lighting is bad, but I know I’m just getting old. I wonder if I should have invested in some decent night cream about forty years ago. Is it too late to moisturise now?

I’m relatively healthy and able to do nearly everything I could do when I was younger (albeit a bit more slowly), but I still feel bad when I look in the mirror. And then I feel guilty about feeling bad.

Writer Nora Ephron said that it’s your neck that ages you the most.

You can put makeup on your face and concealer under your eyes and dye on your hair, you can shoot collagen and Botox and Restylane into your wrinkles and creases, but short of surgery, there’s not a damn thing you can do about a neck. The neck is a dead giveaway. Our faces are lies, and our necks are the truth.

Nora Ephron

Nora, who wrote the screenplays for When Harry Met Sally, Silkwood and Sleepless in Seattle, wrote a collection of essays called I Feel Bad About My Neck when she was in her mid-sixties. She suggests the following strategy.

If I pass a mirror, I avert my eyes. If I must look into it, I begin by squinting, so that if anything terrible is looking back at me, I am already halfway to closing my eyes to ward off the sight. And if the light is good (which I hope it’s not), I often do what so many women my age do when stuck in front of a mirror: I gently pull the skin of my neck back and stare wistfully at a younger version of myself.

Nora Ephron

I’m not sad about being older, but I feel wistful for my younger self, who doubted herself so much and tried so hard to please other people. Mostly, I’m sad that I didn’t appreciate myself more. I could have worn prettier dresses, higher heels, brighter lipstick. I guess that wasn’t me, but I suspect I could have had a lot more fun and been kinder to myself.

Shortly after Ephron’s essay collection was published, she was diagnosed with leukemia and died at seventy-one, ending a brilliant career. Reading this reminded me that life is short and if you’re lucky enough to be growing older, go out dancing while you still can. Or learn an instrument. Or walk amongst the trees. Love your wrinkly old body and buy yourself some good moisturiser because it’s never too late until it’s too late.

12 thoughts on “How did we get here?

  1. REgarding what I wrote below, I have Blackie book, If Women Rose Rooted, and really liked it. HOwever, might be too out there for some….She’s about to or has just published Hagitude (hate the title) but I can’t yet get it here in the states.

    1. Hagitude (I also hate the title) is out here in September, so I’ll look out for it. Thanks for the recommendation.

  2. I feel the same way you do, on my bad days. So this is why we have to let ourselves enjoy life, and also throw ourselves in to something that might make a difference – there are so many problems and challenges to choose from – and not let ourselves worry too much about the outcome. It seems especially during the pandemic I thought a lot about climate change and social justice, mainly because we couldn’t get away from it in the news – and while I realize there truly might be no hope for a good outcome, that freed me up to actually feel happier about life. Do the best we can, and don’t fret about it. Have you ever read Sharon Blackie? I love her books, although her lifestyle I view as so extremely different from mine. She just embodies passion, and how we older women can reinvent ourselves and make a huge difference in the world. She seems “extreme” to me, if you know what I mean, but I like that, because I can pick and choose from some of her ways of being. I really dislike being treated as invisible – happens a lot here in the USA, but reading someone like Blackie is a shot in the arm and puts those feelings in perspective. Blackie is an acquired taste, and not for everyone. Thanks for writing this and saying what I often feel – you speak for lots of us.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to respond. It makes me feel a lot better to know that other people feel the same way and less guilty about not being grateful for my charmed life. I know many people would love to have my life, including having the freedom to think and express myself. I know I should do something useful instead of complaining, but it’s nice to feel heard.
      I haven’t heard of Sharon Blackie and will rush off to look her up straight away. I read a book a few years ago about leading a bigger life and it made me feel a bit like a failure, so I like your idea of choosing the ideas that work for you, instead of trying to be something you are not.

  3. Watch “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande,” if you can! It’s a delightful movie featuring Emma Thompson and it’s about embracing yourself. On another note, I know a young woman who has been getting regular Botox injections for two years — she’s around 25. For one thing, she can never stop if she wants to maintain that look. And I also want to tell her about the neck thing 🙂

    1. That movie sounds great. Thanks for the recommendation 😀
      I didn’t know you had to keep having Botox once you started. How awful (and expensive). I always thought it was your hands that gave your age away. I remember seeing a movie years ago where a woman had been transformed by having plastic surgery, but she couldn’t disguise her hands and had to wear gloves all the time.

  4. It’s funny that you should write this post because the topic has been very much on my mind recently. I swear I aged 10 years when the decade clicked over at the end of last year and I also wondered about the lack of night cream. My very well lit bathroom and 10x makeup mirror doesn’t help. It is even worse when I went to buy some travel insurance recently and it is at least twice as much as it used to be. Must be a liability to the world now! BTW, can’t shut my eyes at all while standing on one leg let alone do a flamingo.

    1. I have to get up very early most mornings to feed the cat. It’s often still quite dark so I practise standing on one leg while he eats. It’s much harder than when we do it at my exercise class.
      Yes a 10x mirror would be awful!

  5. Lovely sentiments Marg,

    One of my academic heroes, the late Elisabeth Kubler-Rross (the Swiss psychiatrist famous for her ground-breaking work loss and grief), wrote, when she was dying, that she wished she had danced more and eaten more chocolate.

    Well, I have been taking her advice ever since (…. smiley)

    1. That’s very good advice! I’m often torn between wanting to eat well and thinking I should enjoy life while I can.

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