By Sonja Lewis
The negative hype around a woman’s natural ageing progression — mainly that it is unsightly and uncool — is everywhere: billboards; the media (including social media); the shops; and sadly, in our heads.
Recently, on at least two separate visits to a beauty counter, a sales woman half my age told me about the latest anti-ageing products.
I snatched a glance in a nearby mirror and raised my neck slightly. I saw one, albeit short, rather pronounced line. When I stretched my neck, the line disappeared.
Before I looked away, I couldn’t help noticing the fine lines underneath my eyes. Quickly, I opted for a concealer; a product that has nothing to do with ageing, right? Hurriedly, I took my purchase and left the beauty counter.
Certainly, those in the beauty industry, in cahoots with those in advertising, fashion and media, have a lot to answer for. But the rest of us have to take some ownership, too.
Never mind what the shop assistant thinks. What do you think about ageing? And how it is shaping your experiences?
I have vivid memories of thinking, as a teenager in the 1970s, what middle- and old age might look and feel like: drooping, crushing and, quite frankly, uninspiring. As such, I made a pact with God to get me out of it long before old- age doom set in. After coming of age and seeing that my teenage beliefs weren’t necessarily true, I broke the pact. I hope He heard me.
Fast-forward to turning forty, I received some advice from an older friend on how to avoid at least one of the unwanted consequences of ageing: do not wait until fifty to start using neck cream.
It sounded good to me. Admittedly, I tried one or two handsomely priced products, but couldn’t get with the routine, so I moved on. Perhaps subconsciously, I told my body to let the chips fall where they may.
Ten years later, they are falling, albeit softly, and I’m not at all concerned about the small stuff. I tend to think of ageing from two big perspectives, encompassing both the physical and mental.
From a physical perspective, good genes and a relatively healthy lifestyle have thus far kept my neck and the rest of me agreeable, I think. Who knows what others think! Remember, the encounter with the shop assistant?
Ageing is about being comfortable in your own skin
Moving forward, the physical will change, as it already has, even if only by a degree or two. The key is to understand that ageing is not so much about staying young — which is impossible — but about being comfortable in one’s own skin, whatever one’s age. And that means taking care of oneself, both physically and mentally.
Recently, on a trip to Edinburgh, I noticed a disproportionate number of middle-aged women, not in one go, dressed like teenagers. As I have written before, there is nothing wrong with dressing in what suits you, whatever your age. However, a middle-aged woman dressing in what doesn’t suit — i.e. a short A-line skirt, cropped jacket with bows, and tall boots or flowery trainers — is no more flattering than a little girl dressing in a fur coat (about a month ago, I saw this, too), or high heels and make-up. It’s pretty worrying, isn’t it?
Anyhow, I made eye contact with at least one of these ladies and she was anything but comfortable; a good segue to the mental.
Mental health, though largely in control of our life experiences, often takes a back seat to the physical. But when it is all said and done, no matter what the hype — in the store, on the streets, at home — only you are in control of what is in your head. Full stop.
Many poets and prose writers have likened life, ageing if you will, to the seasons. My favourite is John Keats’ ‘The Human Seasons’. The second line — ‘There are four seasons in the mind of man:’ — rings true to me, as long as I remember that there is good, bad and indifferent in every season, and most importantly, growth.
The Seasons of Ageing
In the spring, a girl blossoms into a young woman, and has to learn to embrace her physical maturation. Sadly, even in the spring there are strong winds, floods, storms, and so on, but we overcome and look forward to summer.
And though this season can be pleasant most of the time, it can be unduly uncomfortable at others. In the prime of womanhood, in one’s thirties and forties, life can get hot. Though families, careers and so on are made, the summer of ageing is often when negative beliefs that have taken root in us become less illusive, and more existent.
Oh, but when autumn comes life begins to mellow. I love it that it’s not so hot anymore, but it isn’t cold either. It’s just the right temperature.
Nonetheless, autumn is perhaps when women see a major increase in physiological ageing and are most prone to internalising the pessimistic concerns about wrinkles, grey hair and the like. The truth is, there is no need for this. There’s nothing like relaxing in the moment to stave off negativity. I’m not saying that going grey gracefully and wearing matronly clothing is relaxing. Even the thought of these stresses me out, but for others, it might feel comfy and cosy, making for a colourful, rather beautiful autumn.
As for winter, I suspect one is ready for it when it sets in. My mother-in-law, who I often mention, embraced this season of her life, by living in the moment. Already well into winter when I met her — about eighty-two — she could still touch her toes and sit akimbo on the floor with me for hours. Sure she had ups and downs like the rest of us, but all I can say is she didn’t believe the hype. To this end, she managed happiness in her own space until she died at ninety-six.
Definitely, she took matters into her own head, never mind what everyone else did.