What does it mean to be half a century old? With a milestone birthday barreling towards me, I’ve been pondering this quite a bit. My soon-to-be new decade got me thinking. In my youth, I believed I owned my shiny hair, my wrinkle-free flesh, and my metabolism that actually did its job. Little did I know those accouterments of youth were merely mine to borrow for the briefest time.
While I’d never been stop-traffic beautiful, I’d managed to get a few “Woo Baby’s!” screamed from moving cars. One summer I’d even turned quite a few heads as a blond. Of course, those stares may have been more of the what-are-you-thinking-going-platinum-with-those dark-eyebrows variety.
In any case, this gal – at nearly fifty – ain’t what she used to be. There came a day when gray roots sprouted from my head faster than I could dash to the salon, and the high heels I’d once worn daily like a uniform now felt like a medieval form of torture. Suddenly, my all-time favorite songs were classics, store clerks started calling me ma’am, and my workplace filled with colleagues who’d been born years after I’d earned my Bachelor’s degree.
How could this have happened? It seemed just yesterday I was in college and clubbing every weekend with my gal pals. In fact, I recently came across a picture of the taut butt of a hunky stripper from a male review night – a favorite pastime of my girl group back in the day. As I stared at that perfectly sculpted, anonymous bottom, I realized that photograph was thirty years old! What must that rear end look like now?
Years creep up on us all – even that eye candy in the banana hammock. Before you know it, you’re a bit past middle-age and pulling up that saggy behind, those not so-perky-breasts, or that waistband higher than a waistband should ever be.
But while I’d love to recoup my girlhood looks, I’ve learned age offers liberty not always possible in youth. Like the freedom to leave my house without a swipe of eye shadow, the confidence to wear a busy-with-color, skirted, old ladyish bathing suit, or even the savior fair to run into an old boyfriend in the drug store while carrying a basket full of wart-be-gone and anti-fungal foot cream. Okay, that last one might be pushing it, but you get the idea.
Experience has taught me I’m more than the body I’d once fussed over; when I judged every bump and blemish while in my physical prime. The years brought a hard-won sense of self not found in a mirror, along with the knowledge that wrinkles are earned and gray hair is a rite of passage.
That feistiness that caused me to speak my mind, at any cost, gave way to understanding, compassion, and the awareness that silence is often the kindest way to respond. That restlessness and hunger for excitement made room for serenity and the realization that a good book, a cat on the lap, and a cup of coffee is often the best way to spend Saturday night.
Sometime during the past five decades, the beauty of youth had been replaced by wisdom, and perhaps, a different type of allure. Not the fleeting glamour of magazine covers, but the beauty that comes with knowing that kindness always trumps cleverness, that sometimes the most attractive person in the room has the most scars, and that exchanging those heels for a pair of comfy canvass shoes is always a good plan.
Posted in: Essays