My ex-husband called me this once.
I was probably in my late 30s. He said it knowing I was struggling with getting older—a bit of an almost-40 mid-life crisis. And I was offended. Seriously offended.
Also, I was really hurt. He often commented about women’s bodies and so him classifying me this way stung.
I caught a glimpse of myself in a car window not long after and the reflection, plus the shadows and the tinted glass, let me really see what I knew to be my old face. I could see where the wrinkles would come and where the hair would turn.
I was horrified.
Back then, at 38-ish, I was horrified at what I might look like in 10 or 20 years. I’m not sure why though. I don’t think I’ve ever been particularly vain, but also I know I am in some ways.
I’ve been make-up free most of my life. Not because I think I look so great without it but because between the effort involved and the feeling of “stuff” on my face, I just never wanted to do it. So I opted to just like how I look without it. On the rare occasions that I have put on make-up, people notice—like really notice. Like, “Michelle! Oh my God, are you wearing make-up?” It happened at such an alarming degree that I decided I never wanted to call attention like that to my face again. But that has little to do with aging.
Still, I have enjoyed relatively clear skin and a somewhat cute face for most of my life, and seeing what would inevitably happen kinda shocked me. I just wasn’t ready yet. Certainly not then.
My hair started to turn gray in my 40s (I almost pretentiously wrote grey there, but opted to not look like a snot in this essay). The first few that appeared in my 20s, I just plucked from my head. But then they started to come in a little more regularly: my sideburns and the little spot near my cowlick under my bangs.
I tried to dye my hair but it looked worse. Then I started to notice older women who were clearly going through what I was going through and dyeing their hair. And every woman I saw with a hair dye job was going through whatever stage of the gray growing back that I was. God, it was tedious—just like with make-up, it is a constant effort to which I do not want to devote anymore time.
I realized that my true nature, especially when it comes to how I look, is to just keep it clean and tidy and let it go. And this was going to have to work for my hair and my face.
So my hair is going gray and I try to keep it tidy (and clean). My face is starting to wrinkle and I try to keep it clean (and moisturized). Now my body has become the next area I’m trying to accept, and it’s the part of me I’ve been the hardest on over the years. I have explored every eating disorder known to humans as an option for weight loss and have berated myself because I am a miserable failure at all of them.
I am not a small person. I was a pretty normal-sized kid, but somewhere in my tweens by genetic code took over and I became a peasant-like, part Anglican/part German/part Italian large woman with hips and shoulders that could move, well, lots of children. (And they have.) And while I was not fat, really, I was “overweight” according to every guide that was ever published about a girl’s height-to-weight ratio.
Mine never matched and so I carried the label of overweight for most of my life. No matter how strong I am, or how many bags of dog food I can lift, or how many miles I can hike on snowshoes, I will always be overweight in the eyes of “society” and in the eyes of my doctors.
It bothered me forever, and it still bothers me. I’ve always thought I could lose at least 10 pounds. At least. In fact, I’ve worried about it through 12 pregnancies and eight births and all that goes with that. I’ve always been on some sort of diet. And for the last 35 years, I’ve never been happy with my body.
But I’m changing that now. I am choosing to let my body be what it is. I have a physical job. I hike. I snowshoe. I run. I swim. I eat as well as my Lupus will let me. I’m drinking way less than I used to. I have indulged in new self-care rituals because I am 51 years old now and I want to.
I want to stop feeling like being an old woman is going to be a bad thing.
I want to take on my 50s, 60s, 70s, and beyond and get some sh*t done. And I want to write about it. Because I love writing and I’m tired of people who have reviewed my work dictating how worthy I feel to contribute my voice. I don’t know if anything I write or have ever written will ever really matter, but I do know that I’ve had an interesting, scary, and immensely fulfilling life so far and I want to keep that going.
I’d also like other women who may feel stuck or like they’re getting closer to the end to not feel that way. Maybe your kids are growing up. Maybe your husband left. Maybe you’re bored. Maybe you’re done. Whatever it is, I’ve been there—or close. And while I didn’t always feel excited by the next steps, I wanted to be excited for them, and that’s half the battle.
Crone: I am beginning to like that word, a lot.