Gentle readers, none of us is getting any younger. It’s not exactly a sad truth—I don’t think my youth had all that much to recommend it besides higher energy levels and someone else paying the bills for the first 21 years—but it’s happening, and these days, as I enter my late 30s, I’m seeing some physical evidence I hadn’t been expecting, and facing the reality that everyone around me is getting older too. As a reader request post, I gathered together a few Harpies from our commenter community for a freewheeling kind of roundtable about the aging process and where it’s taken us, and our feminist ideals.
BeckySharper: To start us off on a totally superficial note, I am getting eyebags, y’all. It isn’t surprising—the women on one side of my family have big ol’ eyebags you could haul laundry in. Now, the women on the other side of my family have had everything nipped and tucked. I think they look kind of “off” but that said…they dont’ have eyebags.. I used to scorn the constant surgification, but now I wonder if I been blithely toeing the anti-surgery, “love your body” party line my whole life simply because it was easy for me to do so? Have I still subconciously bought into the idea that ageing makes women ugly and it is better for me to have tight skin? THE PATRIARCHY WORMED ITS WAY INTO MY BRAIN!
Rodriguez: Of course I am convinced the patriarchy has me brainwashed about what I *have* to look like. The thing about that kind of brainwashing is that it’s so hard to see from the inside. Maybe that brainwashing explains why I think I might be a little narcissistic about clothes and hair even were I a man. I’ll never have a way to know, though.
I’m 46. I’ve been coloring my hair like my life depends on it, at least since I was 30. Also, when I have money I do indulge in some cosmetic procedures. I do the dermal filler around my mouth. And I have a dark spot on my cheek I get chemically lightened. Although, last time I did either of those it was 4 years ago, so I suppose I’m not *that* obsessed with it. (or, I never feel like I have money.) So yeah, aging. I’ve been noticing.
veganmarcy: I’m 33 and I don’t fear wrinkles as much as I fear aging/tan spots and gray hair, and while I’m at it, big blotchy blue patches of varicose veins. Basically, whatever my mom has, although overall she looks very good for her age, even moreso since she went vegan. My mother went silver, then gray, than white-haired very young. My gran lived to her 80s and still didn’t have all gray/white hair. Unfortunately it seems I got my mom’s “Celtic DNA” as she calls her going grey so young, and not just her Raynaud’s. Once I got in my late 20s, let alone hit 30, bam. Thick gray hairs poking up EVERYWHERE. Seeing as I have a penchant for hair colors and styles when I’m flush, at first dye jobs just happened to get things covered up without going out of my way to do so. But now that I can’t afford a stylist and have just been too busy and distracted to give a fuck about dealing with it at home, I’m back to occasionally yoinking out the ones that stick straight up outta my scalp like aging-detecting antennae. It’s enough that I can get gray hairs while still having acne, it’s too much. That’s my achilles heel for aging gracefully – gray hairs. I alternate going “fuck caring! fuck everything! fuckityfuckfuck!” with “dammit, I’d like to feel confident enough to get laid sometime this decade.”
MischiefManager: I recently turned 58. Aging is part of my everyday reality. I’m fortunate in 2 ways here: On the very best day I ever had, I was average looking, and I’ve had a life-threatening illness. So I’m less invested in keeping my looks than women who actually have looks to keep (grin) and I am very aware that the alternative to aging is dying.
I have no interest in plastic surgery of any kind. Again, part of that is because I’m not as invested in my looks as I would naturally be if they brought me social rewards. (I really don’t mean to sound snarky here, but I want to be clear that I’m not feeling sorry for myself because I was never a beauty. Whatever nature gives you, enjoy it!). I can understand the fear of losing one’s looks, especially in a society as fixated on youth as ours is. And I am not going to condemn anyone who makes choices different from mine. Feminism includes lots of different behaviors and attitudes. Becky, wanting to feel good about your body does not make you false to feminism. We all need to support each other’s choices in our personal lives. For me, not choosing plastic surgery is the same thing as not getting an implant after my mastectomy. I would feel like a coward if I did those, because I’d feel like I was trying to pretend that something was true that isn’t.
It’s as though nature is helping us detach from our lives as we age. our skin begins to pull away from our muscles, our stories and references are more and more rooted in the past
Rodriguez: That’s what happens during aging at some really high numbers. I’ve been observing at close range for a while now, since my parents are very old and live with me. The only way I can describe it concisely is to say that they are dwindling.
BeckySharper: My parents are in their mid-60s and in good health, but I have noticed the aging process starting to get to them. DaddySharper in particular has aged a great deal in the past few years thanks to stress and family tragedy, and all the sudden has developed a slump-shouldered old-man shuffle and just doesn’t seem to engage the way he used to. Dwindling is a good word for it.
Rodriguez: I just saw an article in NY magazine I think, where the author describes his mother’s terrible health, and what he does with his sister for his mother.
He used that phrase “dwindling”. It struck me as dead – on. He also said something that is most likely pseudo science but it convinced me anyway: that if you have lived a healthy life, and you have access to doctors and money, then you are in fact more likely to dwindle
He called it “a life worth ending”. Ouch!
BeckySharper: I had that experience watching three grandparents die over the last 5 years. They were healthy and very competent…until they weren’t. They llived to be 89, 90 and 90, respectively. But the last few years for all three of them were fairly miserable, with lots of chronic pain and weakening and loss of mobility and dignity (one grandmother died after four traumatic years with Alzheimers, which is every bit as bad as you’ve heard). The thing I took away from it is that there are worse things than dying. Which I realize kind of upends what MM said about not fearing aging because it’s the alternative to dying, but there is also a point at which dying can seem like an excellent alternative to aging.
MischiefManager: This is why we all need living wills and health care powers of attorney.
Rodriguez: OMG no joke. I can’t stress that enough. If anything is worth repeating on Harpyness it’s that. Also, I got power of attorney from my folks on their bank account. They’ve consolidated down to one bank.
BeckySharper: Even though I’m still young, I recently did a living will, and both types of powers of attorney. I have seen some really bad decisions made in my family regarding the care of sick and disabled relatives and I wanted to ensure that the person I want to make healthcare decisions for me is the ONLY person who will make them.
Generally speaking, I feel like it’s a given that women get forced into the caregiving roles for our aging relatives, and being prepared and having some idea of what to expect is the only kind of empowerment we’re ever going to have.
veganmarcy: I live with my retired mom and her hoarding tendencies have been very frustrating and lead to some really terrible yelling cursing arguments which reminded me why I lived so far away for so long. But then again, it’s gotta get done, and if not me helping then who? My brother? (Yeah right, he visits for the holidays and then gets to leave.) And as I remember so well from sorting out stuff after my grandmothers’ deaths…I just keep morbidly thinking better to sort it now than if/when she’s in a home or end of life. Sigh. Life always throws curveballs and other horrendous metaphors.
What curveballs have you been noticing as you age, or when it comes to the aging of your parents and family members? Are there any moments that have surprised you? Are there ways you draw on your female experiences or your feminism to cope? Please tell us in the comments!