Saturday, November 27, 2010

Aging gracefully (or not)

Somehow, I ended up simultaneously reading two books about women trying to deal with aging. The first, All Over the Map, by Laura Fraser, is a "coming-of-middle-age" tale of travel, food and romance. The other is Growing Up in Old Age, is a more searing look at the "unyielding course of aging", from the vantage point of novelist and poet Margaret Howe Freydberg when she was in her late 80s. I picked the first because I thought it was a travel/food book, and the second because I wanted to gain some insight into the aging process from someone in the trenches. But they have both raised the interesting and disturbing question of what it means for a woman to lose her looks to age.

I thought of myself as attractive when I was in my twenties, but never pretty and certainly not beautiful. My mother's side of the family has blessed me with good skin and an hourglass figure (which didn't seem like such a blessing in high school). Since casual acquaintances seldom seem to recognize me, I tend to think of myself as generic, if not plain. But it is one thing to be plain, or appealing or whatever mildly positive descriptor one might choose, and another to become unattractive, or even ugly. I am ashamed to admit it, but I used to feel vaguely angry when I looked at my mother's sagging chin, or lined face, or drooping eyelids. Now they are mine.

The heroine in All Over the Map is, despite her misgivings, young enough to dress and act seductively. Margaret Howe Freydberg remembers those days, but has moved far beyond them. I am in the middle, wondering if I will detect the line when it is crossed.


Kelly Hogaboom said...

Thanks for touching on an important conversation missing from the mainstream. My own mother and I struggle with these issues. This might not make sense but one thing that bothers me is the constant mantra of looking one's best, looking thin or young or "everyone is beautiful". While I do agree human beings are beautiful in a spiritual and corporeal sense, it seems these cultural messages drown out any room to express our "ugly" or our "plain" - both words I identify with. I'd love to self-express how I find my corporeal form without people being uncomfortable or rushing in with, "Oh no you're not fat!" Or "No you're totally pretty!"

I kind of feel like I never WAS very pretty... and I'm OK with that.

Meg said...

Nine years ago I was 46 and still considered fairly striking (never pretty nor beautiful in the usual sense). But the stresses of health and finances have worn me down and now at 55 I look twenty years older than I do in photos from nine years ago. I've stopped trying, I guess. In a way it has been liberating--there's no concern about looking "attractive" and "kept up" like my mother still does to this day. And I feel sad for younger women, and especially for those my own age, who still look like they're trying too hard. Interesting post, and will have to check out those books.