Saturday, January 12, 2019

Looking Good for its own sake (aka Growing Older Gracefully)

There's a meme going around on social media right now asking people to post their first picture on the platform, and then a more recent photo. For many, that means photos that reflect a 10 year age gap. The title of this social experiment is "How hard has aging hit you?"

I was impressed at all the people who immediately bought into this I'm-just-as-great-now-as-I-was-then side-by-side aesthetic comparison. And yes, they most certainly are (at least everyone brave enough to post). Though, what what would you say if someone posted a picture of themselves 10 years ago and the most recent photo is far less flattering (for any reason including that the photo itself was taken from a bad angle)? Then again, what if the earlier photo is terrible and the newer photo is STELLAR? Then they can say "Suck it aging, I hit YOU!"

More power to everyone that is posting. But for me, I recoiled in horror at the mere title, that seems to imply that aging is supposed to suck the life out of you, and if it doesn't you are "looking good for your age" or "gifted with good looks" or "defying the aging process." But, hear me out, what. if. you. are. not? What if you are just weathering life naturally, and trying to "stay young" or "get younger" or "get better with age" is an uphill struggle, and actually takes time and emotional energy (too much) away from the enjoyment of your daily experiences?

Frankly, I don't want to buy into the "look good for my age” crap. If I look good, it's should be "You look good," not "for my age" any more than it would be “for a white girl” or “for someone that doesn’t dye her hair” or “for an older mom” or even “for a Jew." (Yes I've heard "You don't have that big of a nose for a Jew.") Qualifying how we look by chronology or other demographic category without taking into account what our personal experiences have been seems (is?) reductive, vain, shallow, and dismissive of some of our better qualities. Asking us to post suitable pictures for voluntary scrutiny speaks too heavily to requesting sociological approval to which I don’t want to fall any more dependent than I already have. The world is cruel enough.

I'm well aware that loved ones and friends will (and SHOULD IMHO) say you look great. There are the "keeping it real" ones though that will say things like "You shouldn't make a face like that, it wrinkles your forehead" (yes, that happened, the implication being that at my age I hardly need to add wrinkles to my countenance).

But if your son woke you up at five AM saying he couldn't sleep, and even though you teach 15 yoga classes a week, you still feel tired and at 52, and there are wrinkles and bags under the eyes, and saggy skin, and graying hair, maybe you just don't feel like comparing what life was like for you 10 year ago even before you had kids. Posting a picture of then vs. now might not be the ego-boost a nap or even a good brisk walk could be.

Then, there are folks that have had a frustrating, tiresome, gawd-awful past 10 years. I think whomever wrote "Let's see how hard aging has hit you" was laughing at their own cleverness too hard to consider that some people will wish to heaven above that the past 10 years hadn't dealt them such a stressful set of circumstances, hadn't brought  sadness, or illness, or even death.

Perhaps, maybe this is the conspiracy theorist in my talking, that the badly worded meme, and the viral nature by which it has garnered attention speak to something more sinister after all. Not bad intentions on the part of shaming people for aging, but actually to cull more data for facial recognition software. I'll leave that one out for the technology experts to debate.

As for me, I’ve survived the past 10 years and that’s more than i could have EVER asked for. My auto-immune disease that dragged me down on and off for 10 years remitted. I had a child nine years ago, at 43 years old. Life gave me a few unpleasant side swipes, but so far I have handled it. So forgive me if I don’t want to wax nostalgic about the days gone by where I had less gray hair or fewer wrinkles, more or less body fat, and far fewer huge circles under my eyes. I don’t and couldn't look the same, and I don't want to resent the changes that are happening that it seems the beauty industry and popular society think I should.

I want to celebrate and learn to more gracefully embrace the changes that mean I am surviving and ripening. I'll keep doing yoga, and in the spirit of support and love I will make sure to tell everyone that does post a picture that they look like they FEEL amazing and I'm glad they are around so they CAN post and keep posting pictures.

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