Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Lost Art of Aging Gracefully

In Nora Ephron's best-selling book, 'I Feel Bad About My Neck,' she laments the sorry state of her 60-something neck: "Our faces are lies and our necks are the truth. You have to cut open a redwood tree to see how old it is, but you wouldn't have to if it had a neck," she writes.

The above comes from an article on aging gracefully published on WebMD. All the sites I looked at on this topic (until I got depressed and stopped researching) are based on the assumption that everyone should try as hard as possible to "delay" aging. What does that mean? Time marches on whether we like it or not, yes? So what it really means is, "pretend not to age." Right? Am I missing something here?

If you start with the assumption that aging can be delayed, then it's no wonder all these sites, even the allegedly medical sites, are full of clumsy anecdotes about people who are trying to slam on the brakes, or dig in their heels - and who - OF COURSE - can't. Hence the pathetic stories full of self-loathing awkwardness. There is no grace in that strategy, yet it is promoted, over and over again. What is up with that?

Me? I think aging gracefully is all about accepting the relentless forward moving arrow of time, being OK with that. To me living gracefully at any age requires cultivating qualities that help during every stage of life: an open mind, self compassion laced with humor and light heartedness. I'm not talking about the heavy handed humor of Nora Ephron, oh no. (The article goes on to explain she has used botox and other harsh procedures on her face which probably means she looks really weird. No wonder she's so bitter.)

My question is, where's the line between aging gracefully and "letting yourself go?" In fact, what does it mean to "let yourself go?" A friend suggested it's all about self care - you must eat well and exercise. I think there's a grooming component, too. I'm thinking about people who stop getting nice haircuts, who completely give up on make up (what? not even a little lipstick?) or stop bathing regularly. I think that constitutes "letting yourself go." Also should add, I think people of any age can "let themselves go."

But what do you think? Any theories or opinions?


Whitney Lee said...

I imagine aging gracefully to be accepting the lines that appear as well earned badges of a life fully lived. I know plenty of people who fight tooth and nail to make it appear that they may have laugh lines but not droopy eyes or wrinkles.
Letting oneself go, on the other hand, is much like giving up. It's as you said, forgoing basic grooming procedures because they've decided they shouldn't bother.
I've been all over the attractiveness scale and have discovered that no matter how I look, I always feel better when I've done the whole hair and makeup and jewelry thing. It's a big step up from baggy t-shirts and sweat pants.
Of course, all of this is speaking only to the physical. In my opinion we place far too much emphasis on the outer and not nearly enough on the inner. Aging implies growth of some sort, and I'm sorry to say that far too many people don't bother to seek any sort of growth in their own lives. It's rather frustrating to see potential stunted at young ages merely because people are too lazy or too complacent or too freaking oblivious to seek personal growth.

John Hayes said...

I think you're really onto something here, & I loved what you had to say--it's more of the "third road" idea: not pretending, not letting yourself go--living life as we are, but continuing to live! Really excellent!

Reya Mellicker said...

John, thank you! It's a THIRD ROAD idea. Yes, yes. Yes.

And thanks for your words of wisdom, Whitney. xx

deborah oak said...

At 25, I could stay up all night, put anthing into my body, and the only exercise I did was to party. I stayed lithe and blooming. At 55, it takes daily practice and a mindful health regimen to keep me up and running. And alive.

One essential part of aging gracefully is beginning - sometime in the late 40's - to shift the focus on who you see as beautiful to older women. What I've noticed is that women who do good work - who love their lives - and who have a rich sense of humor - they are GORGEOUS! Lots of light coming out of those eyes! Women who are like this tend to wash their hair and whether they have make up on or not - they do tend to wear things they feel good in. But really, it is imperative as we age, to start to see the beauty in in. The neck might sag, but what about those eyes? What are they full of?

Feeling good about what you do is the best beauty regimen in the world. Period.

ellen abbott said...

Well, I don't wear make-up, haven't since I was about 19 and I don't think it's 'letting myself go'. It's more about accepting myself as a woman in my natural state and finding beauty in that. I mean, men don't have to wear make-up to be considered attractive. Why do women?

But the rest, I agree completely. Our culture puts so much emphasis on youth and beauty equaling relevance that of course most people try to fight the aging process. Which is, as you say, a losing battle and leads to grotescary (is that a word?). Eating right and exercise, living well is where the emphasis should be. Aging gracefully and self acceptance is my goal.

willow said...

This is a topic often discussed at the manor. It's unfortunate that our unforgiving society somehow expects to look like we did when we were 20. Talk about pressure.
On the other hand, throwing in the towel is a sad alturnative. This Libra likes balance. I would like to think I am embracing aging gracefully, but it's easier said than done.

California Girl said...

I love this topic and write about it frequently because I'm OBSESSED by it. While I've not had facelifts, botox or laser treatments, I do have the occasional glycolic peel and I love massage. My frustration stems from what my husband refers to as my "looking in the mirror and expecting to see the young woman (I)once was". It's true.

My mother always told me to age gracefully. She certainly did. Her mother did as well and her mother was a fashion consultant and dept store buyer of couture. Her mother, my chic grandmother, told me to "always buy the classics because they never go out of style."

Lauren Bacall once said she'd never have a face lift because she had "earned every one of (her) wrinkles." I like that attitude even if I stand in front of the mirror sometimes and pull my jowls away from my chin.

My husband gave me that Nora Ephron book for my birthday one year. I found it excrutiatingly funny.

The Bug said...

I'm often surprised by the person I see in the mirror - who is THAT middle-aged chick? I do what I can to keep my skin from feeling dry, but beyond that I'm not putting any effort into looking younger.

I definitely can tell when I'm not eating right or getting enough sleep - my face is puffy & my eyes look tiny. That's an incentive to treat myself well!

Mrsupole said...

I think that everyone just looks at it all wrong. Aging is what is important, because if you are not aging then you are dead. So aging is great. And if one is going to age then one should try to go about it as healthfully as possible. Daily cleaning should be a necessity. Make-up optional, comfortable clothes for the most part, dress up clothes when necessary.

Wrinkles, sminkles, be glad you are still alive to get any.

Laughter and a great sense of humor are what is most important and go a long way towards one enjoying a life of aging.

What you may consider as old today will someday be considered as young.

So just be alive, alive with love, alive with life, alive with family, alive with all your teeth, alive with your memories, alive with friends, alive with the joy and blessings of just being alive.

God bless.

Linda Sue said...

Aging is a given- it is like the saying "how wealthy would you be if you lost all of your money" So superficial like smooth skin and loads of hair- that's what gets the initial attention because that is how humans are- built for breeding. Well beyond the "breeding" stage women seem to mature more gracefully than men because men can breed until their last (sperm) still call the "beauty and youth" shots it seems so when we as aging women, no longer care about that game we are free to nestle into our age comfortably and invisibly...just a thought.

Linda Sue said...

How beautiful would you be if you lost your looks...

Jeninacide said...

I think there is something to "living gracefully" at any age instead of focusing on the aging part. Your body will age more gracefully if you take good care of it through healthy eating, exercise and grooming/bodycare. That is a fact of life. If you continue to live gracefully you will age that way.

ewix said...

You know my opinions on this.
I'm longing to be an old bat.
However, I do like massage, a little make up
nice hair cuts, moderate exercise, food as in lots of it.
I would NEVER have plastic surgery /botox unless I was in an accident of something.
NY is full of peole who have had BAD plastic surgery and they just look horribly sad........and OLD

what is so wrong with being old?

Probably better than dead.

Washing v. important and hair removal......
altogether TMI
love you

Reya Mellicker said...

Thanks to all for these great comments.

Deborah I believe it is deeply cool that the hula hoop is part of your aging gracefully program.

And Ellen I would never think you should START wearing lipstick. But if you once did, then ... why stop?

And yes Linda Sue, we are built to breed, but once that era is over, then are we really completely useless? I think not. But it is confusing!

So much to mull over. I salute you all!

Barbara said...

Breaking my hip last year was a wake-up call to the aging process. But I must say despite reminders that I have a new hip, I have made a determined attempt to put on lipstick every time I go out, get my hair cut, exercise, occasionally buy some nice clothes, take care of my body, and be pleasant to those around me. Whereas 10 years ago, I had submitted myself to frumpiness, was atrophying, and was not terribly happy. Everything you said is so true. We have the power to age gracefully if we will just exercise it!

Nancy said...

I could not have said it better - you are absolutely right. Having grace as we age is the most important thing. Taking care of yourself and working on the inside. Too many people worry about what they look like and not what they act like. There is nothing uglier than a person totally wrapped up in self-motivated desires.

And I felt ripped off by Nora's book - It had about three sentences per page. I like her, but I'll not buy anymore of her books.

Reya Mellicker said...

I'm sure Ephron's book was funny. Liked the adjective "excrutiatingly" to describe it. Actually, that's an adverb.

Her humor is always bitter which is fine, but not my taste. I have a sweet tooth.

Aging gracefully - it's a quest, isn't it? Barbara did turn her life around, proving it's possible for all of us, if we can let go of the idea that aging is "bad."

Mrsupole is right - what's the alternative? I want to do it well, with style. I'm trying.

Mary Ellen said...

There's so much here that I say "absolutely!" to - but not much about aging and having to work. The workplace model is "climbing the ladder" (which is ridiculous, since there's not that much room at the top), and there's not much attention paid to the ramping-down part of the cycle. In this financial slump, it's even harder to even contemplate ramping down - at least, until it's forced on us by a lay-off or a serious health crisis. I never did have a good sense of what was "enough" effort to throw into the job, and I'm trying to finally get the work-life balance in better shape now as I contemplate less than a decade of full-time, hardscrabble, all-consuming professional work left. So - why wait until "retirement" to have a life outside the job?

lakeviewer said...

It's a legitimate question here. We are in a society that celebrates beauty and agelessness. We look with awe and admiration at those women and men who keep looking ten, twenty years younger than their age.

You know what? It's a damn shame! We should put our resources and energies into solving hunger and disease problems around the world.

Nora works in the entertainment industry. She can't help those feelings.

The rest of us can turn off television and live in real time.

Reya Mellicker said...

Right on, Rosaria.

I was just thinking that you can approximate the age of a redwood based on its size.

Tom said...

if i can still walk around in my 60's to 90's and dare i say 100's, i'll be happy...any stray hairs will be a bonus.

in Heinlein's 'A Stranger in a Strange Land' the protagonist Martian found more beauty in a person's wrinkly skin than in characterless smoothness. I guess with age comes beauty. do you grok?

Reya Mellicker said...

Tom? That book was SCI FI!! Smooth skin is certainly more beautiful, definitely. But I like what Deborah Oak said about looking for a different kind of beauty. I'm digging that idea!

Washington Cube said...

Nora Ephron has all sorts of neuroses. She's written obsessing about her breasts, her nose, but never about her wonky eye. Once, during a celebration for a Gloria Steinhem birthday, Gloria was wearing a very sexy, revealing dress. Nora shot her mouth off, "Back fat." I think the writer said Gloria weighed about 110 at the time.

Nora is the kind of woman who will scan you over, nitpick every flaw and rip you to shreds. Read her to laugh, but don't take her to heart.

Ronda Laveen said...

Oh, gosh, where to start? We'll, I'm pretty much on the same page with you on aging. There is a fine line between letting your self go and becoming a science experiement.

I'd rather exercise, eat well, get a massage, take care of my skin, take a sauna than get a tummy tuck, face lift, or Botox and fillers.

But I do try to gain every advantage I can. Having a nice eyebrow waxing can take years of just like that (snaps fingers). And a toner and good moisturizer for the face and hands really helps. I guess I use a common sense approach.

But I think another component of taking care of ones self is humor and intellect. One can roll back the years with a great smile and heartfelt laughter. It is infectious. Stay interested in life and you will be interesting.

@Tom: Stranger in a Strange Land is on my all time favorite book list!

steven said...

well reya i stopped wearing makeup in my early twenties (do you remember when boys who danced to john cale, suicide, screaming blue messiahs, shriekback, king crimson and whomever else wore makeup?!) and accepted my skinny from the waist up but really great legs body. then i didn't think about it until i was in my forties when i was biking and running and walking and then in my fifties when i was still biking and running and walking and noticing that it hurt a bit but the rush was wickedgood and that line about women's eyes - one of your visitors said it - is so true! the women who stay alive and live their lives and are alive have eyes that pull like tractor beams from across a crowded space!!! sweet dc evening for you reya. steven

Reya Mellicker said...

You see, Ronda? I'm interested in changing the mindset that "rolling back the years" is a desireable thing. I want to get to a space where it's OK that time keeps moving on, where I don't have to be ashamed of being my age.

Steven you always make me laugh. And yes, what Deborah Oak says is so true - looking beyond the physical to something more essential, but without denying the years.

GREAT comments. I am thinking hard. Thank you!

Susan said...

You hit one we all think about, Reya.
My mom started dying her hair with the first gray, then after chemo let it come in naturally and was stunned: it was the gorgeous white hair she'd always said she wanted.
My twenty year old is scared to grow old (she did NOT get that from me) and says she feels better when she sees me; thinks she has good genes.

I definitely see a big difference, especially since age fifty, but all in all I'm okay with it. I stopped dying my hair at forty, look better in blue and red than I ever did with black hair, still love my mascara and except for missing my young skin and cussing that I can't eat whatever I want unless I'm willing to accept the consequences, this is probably the best I've ever felt about myself.

It's more about confidence than anything, and it takes the better part of a lifetime for many of us to understand that we're pretty damned great...every single one of us.

Marilynne said...

At 70 I believe that I look the way I'm supposed to look at 70. I eat pretty well, I exercise regularly, and some days I feel older and a lot of days I just feel like me.

I think your criteria for aging well are right on.

Chris Wolf said...

Love John's comment about a "third road". We tend to think in black and white nowadays. Either we're young or we're old. I love living in the gray on the third road...thanks for poetic words, John!

Reya Mellicker said...

Susan and Marilyn, I agree with you both completely!

And yes John is always poetic. Amazing, isn't it?

suzicate said...

Oh, there's a huge difference between letting yourselg go and aging gracefully...and honetly, I think it has more to do with attitude than appearance!

Karen said...

Thank you for this post! The issue has been on my mind lately, as I'm about to have a birthday... and I am irrefutably middle aged now.

Most of the time I feel pretty decrepit, surrounded as I am by hoards of 20-year-olds at my job. But recently, supported by some work I'm doing in my spiritual life, I've started to consider the possibility that I might actually still be attractive... Wow, what an interesting thought THAT has been! I'm uncovering assumptions left and right.

That's just a long way of saying thanks--we don't talk enough about aging *gracefully* and it's worth discussing.

Karen said...

P.S. Now that I've read the comments... what a great conversation! And some of the comments remind me that sex appeal (which is, in part, what we're talking about here) has a lot to do with someone's life force, and that that life force shines through no matter what. So I'll be making sure I keep doing what I love, what helps me express passion on lots of levels... Woohoo!

Daisy said...

One of the things I enjoy about being a senior (72) is the freedom to no longer give a darn about what others think of me! I look in the mirror and enjoy the roadmap of wrinkles. My eyes have become softer along with the rest of me. I think I'm more huggable. I don't get around as well as I used to, but my mind is more open to new ideas and people.

I like what John said ... paraphrased: "Life is all about balance"

Daisy's human, Barbara