April 10, 2016

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who’s the Youngest of Them All?

Calvin Lom (do not reuse)

Not me. I look in the mirror and see an old woman—today.

Tomorrow I look in the mirror and see a woman, pushing 70, who is “very well preserved, indeed,” as they say.

Let’s face it. Mirrors lie—depending on how we feel about ourselves. Studies show that women are much less likely to feel satisfied with any image of themselves they see in a mirror, while men are much more likely to look kindly upon the images they see of themselves.

I am old—and most of the time I relish being 68. It’s quite an accomplishment to be as fit and healthy as I am at this age.

But daily, I am bombarded with the images of youth. Young and beautiful women grace the covers of every fashion, fitness and tabloid magazine that, without blinders, I am forced to notice at the check out counter of the supermarket. This country glorifies youth.

And frankly, sometimes that just pisses me off!

The contradictions of aging are endless. While I have no desire to be in my 20s, 30s or 40s again, I don’t want to think of myself as old, or be thought of as old. Not wanting to think of myself as old does not mean that I don’t absolutely love getting Medicare benefits and monthly Social Security checks. When you go from paying almost a thousand dollars a month for health care, to under $300, what’s not to love?

I love being a grandmother and adore my three beautiful, smart, talented granddaughters, but I refuse to be called Grandma. I made up my own name for them to call me before my first grandchild was born—Gammy.

I want them to see me as Gammy, the elder statesperson and wise woman, but I don’t like it when seeing me on the dance floor at a party embarrasses them. I want to be the cool grandmother, the one who can still do the splits and who has a tattoo.

I am the cool grandmother who does the splits and has a tattoo.

I don’t want young people to think of me as some old fogey that they have to modify their language and behavior around. Like when some young person who has an idea of how old I am asks me if I text. Of course I f#!king text, you young whippersnapper, I want to say. I text, tweet and find Snapchat useless, but like Instagram.

Yet I want these young people to have respect for my age and not use foul language in my presence like I wouldn’t have done in the presence of elders when I was young—even though I’m perfectly capable of cursing like a sailor. And I want them to think of me as a fount of wisdom and experience that they can tap into for advice and knowledge.

See what I mean about the contradictions of aging?

I know I’m never going to look like I did or have the body I had when I was in my 20s and 30s, and I’m mostly fine with that. But sometimes with all my biking and working out at the gym, I want to see a miracle when I look in the mirror. I vacillate between wishing I were a man so that I can see what I want to see, and being glad I’m a woman so that I don’t make a fool of myself.

I would like to see images of women in their 50s, 60s and 70s even, whose beauty, style, verve—and well, coolness—I see everyday in my friends. Lyn Slater (pictured above) is the epitome of what I’m talking about. Known as “the accidental icon,” she defies any preconceived notions people have about aging.

My friends and I are all avid cyclists, runners, yogis, tennis players and gym rats. We’re tech and social media savvy. A few of us have tattoos and others are getting them. We love doing Happy Hour together at our favorite bar. We’re still pretty hot, actually.

Funny thing is, old was much younger, years ago. My grandmother was old for a long time before she was even 60. I remember an old woman who was no longer able to work by her mid-fifties because of chronic hypertension, heart disease and diabetes. She was dead before her sixtieth birthday.

I think my own mother was the beginning of the change for me. She was using a personal computer and was online from the early days of dial up, when she was in her 60s. If she were alive today, I’m sure she’d be texting, too.

The rules of engagement have changed for how people my age relate to the rest of the world and how the world relates to us. We’re all trying to navigate the new “old,” and how best to find a balance between the traditional roles of elders and matriarchs and new roles of fully-engaged participants in the world, who are not stuck in the past.

I don’t mind people knowing I’m old, but I don’t want to look old (Ego? Probably.) And I most certainly don’t want to feel old. It is important to me that people think of me the way I think of myself—as vibrant, interesting, and well, cool.


Author: Gayle Fleming

Editor: Nicole Cameron

Image: Calvin Lom 





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