published Sunday, February 3rd, 2013

Fortune: Aging gracefully is for quitters


by Mary Fortune

I'm about to turn 41 and I am making some unpleasant discoveries about being a woman who's about to turn 41.

Mostly I'm discovering that there's this whole new set of maintenance rules I have to figure out. I've always been kind of a little hippie/jock/nerd type, and I have very little training in all the girly routines that everyone else seems to inherently know. But now I am almost 41. Now I have to learn.

I used to think I was inattentive to my appearance because I wasn't particularly vain. I never did much of anything with my hair. I took desultory care of my skin. For many years, I didn't even wear make-up. Not even to work. Look at me, not caring one whit.

But it turns out I wasn't some pure spirit who didn't care how I looked. I was just lazy about how I looked because I could be lazy and still look fine. I could get away with it.

Now, though. Now is different. My formerly dewy face is suddenly dry and weirdly wrinkly. My face-maintenance routine to this point has been: Wash twice daily; otherwise ignore. Now I have to learn what to do with dry, aging skin. My eyes are surrounded by weird creases and dark shadows, and my forehead looks like one of the topo maps we used to use to plan our mountain biking trips. Whose face is this, anyway?

And y'all, the gray hair. It's colonizing whole sections of my head. It's proliferating. It's multiplying. I have never colored my hair. Not even highlights. Who has time? Who cares? Well, oh my, I care now.

I used to look at women with gray hair and think how lovely and natural they seemed. How wise and confident and authentic. Now that it's my head, though, all I think when I look at it is NO. Oh mymymynonoNO.

This is somewhat like the way I felt about pregnant women before I was one. I used to think pregnant women looked glorious and kind of transcendent and otherworldly, like they were pregnant with cosmic secrets and maternal power. Then I had my babies and all I could see when I looked at myself was HUGE with a side of FAT.

Anyway, I'm trying to learn some new tricks. Facial moisturizer. Hair color. Concealer. And I'm trying to break some old habits. The biggest habit I have had to unlearn is the judging. Oh, I was a judger. I mercilessly judged women who spent money on Botox and plastic surgery and expensive hair glop and laser skin stuff. I silently found them lacking in character.

What kind of vain, vapid, self-obsessed creature would spend their time and money on such things? Certainly not me. No, I silently swore, gazing into the mirror at my smooth, luminous, judge-y face, never me.

Um. About that.

Meanwhile, I also have to learn where the line is between a little bit of beneficial illusion and the pathetic age-denial that turns people into punch lines. Nothing makes us look older than fighting age just a little too hard. I'm not aiming to look 20. I would settle for 35.

The good news is I am staving off the worst effects of time (for now) with my somewhat ridiculous exercise routine. I run kind of a lot, and I do some yoga and other workouts in between to keep my body from collapsing. But I've had knee and foot and shoulder trouble lately that suggests I will not be forever able to dash and lift and twist away from the aging process. My body is joining my face and my hair in letting me know that time has most assuredly passed, and (if I'm lucky) will only continue to do so.

I guess this is really going to happen, isn't it? I'm really going to be middle-aged. And color my hair. And buy ridiculous face-maintenance glop. And I saw a thing online about discount Botox ...

Feel free to judge. It's OK. Because the best thing about being almost 41 is that I'm officially old enough not to care what anyone else thinks. And that I can live with.

Contact Mary Fortune at thirtytensomething.blogspot.com.

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