When The Truth Hurts

Of course I have known for a long time that I’m no longer young.  I look in the mirror, I feel the aches and pains, and I have noticed that pretty much everything on my body that could possibly sag, does.  But like most people who are middle aged and older, I still carry around an image in my head of my much younger self and I tend to think that I have the same youthful spirit that I’ve always had.  I like to believe that my aging is limited to physical changes, and in many ways, it is.  But every once in a while, something happens to make me realize that the gap between the way I look at things and the way actual young people look at things is also widening.

I watch a lot of HGTV, and I’ve noticed that most of the young couples who are either shopping for new houses or trying to renovate a house all want one thing: an “open concept” layout with “sight lines” between the living room, kitchen, and dining rooms.  They want to be able to talk to their guests seated in the living room while they are cooking their dinner.  Not me.  I like old-fashioned houses with lots of walls and the privacy they provide, and I definitely don’t want to try to entertain my guests and cook at the same time.  I burn enough food as it is without that added distraction.  It’s not a true dinner party at my house unless the smoke alarm goes off at least once.

IMG_0524These days, I can rarely find dressy shoes I like at a regular shoe store, since they all have at least a three-inch heel.  I’ve always been a bit too klutzy to walk well in high heels, but now they really hurt my feet and I just can’t tolerate them.  I was shopping for for a pair of shoes to wear to my daughter’s wedding next month and came across a nice pair with heels that weren’t too high.  Still, I asked the salesman if they came in an slightly smaller heel.  “Yes, they do,” he answered.  “They’re called flats.”

When I was young, I never minded buying makeup, and sometimes even enjoyed trying new products in the hopes that they would make me look attractive and sophisticated.  Not any more.  It’s embarrassing when I try to buy the foundation powder I prefer and the perky young clerk tells me that I should get a liquid foundation instead, “because the powder can settle into wrinkles and make them more obvious.”  And I really hate it when they recommend products, such as pore minimizers and age-spot faders, that I didn’t even ask for.

IMG_0488A couple of weeks ago, I was flattered to be included in my daughter’s bachelorette party, and enjoyed spending an afternoon at the wineries with her friends.  They had rented a bus for everyone to ride down on, but unfortunately it came equipped with a stereo system so that we could enjoy music during the trip.  Really loud music with a driving bass beat.  The young women were having a wonderful time, often singing along, but the music was giving me a headache and making it hard to hear what anyone was saying to me.  On the trip back, I discovered I was sitting next to the volume button, and discreetly adjusted the decibel level.  And then I remembered how when I was young, my friends and I made fun of our “old” parents for complaining that our music was too loud.  And now I was the old person who was complaining….

I suppose a certain number of attitude adjustments are just a natural part of aging, but it is still a bit depressing at times.  But I guess I just have to look at it as training for what’s to come, because I can only imagine how much fun it’s going to be when I have to start shopping for Depends.

Shopping for the Middle-Aged Woman

My daughter is getting married this fall, which means I’ve got a lot of planning to do in the next few months.  These days, weddings are pretty complicated and the planning can get overwhelming, but until recently, we haven’t hit any major snags.  Things were actually going very smoothly (my daughter is making some very smart choices, thank goodness), right up until the minute I decided that it was time to start shopping for my mother-of-the-bride dress.  And then, at least for me, things came to a grinding halt.

IMG_0047Honestly, I expected this.  My body has always managed to be different sizes in different places, so dresses that fit well are never an easy thing for me to find, and I’m used to a long search whenever I need to buy one.  For me, buying a dress is almost as difficult as buying a swimming suit, and my system is the same:  head into the dressing room with as many as I can carry, and keep trying on until I find one that doesn’t look completely awful.  That goes into the “maybe” pile, and when I get enough dresses (or swimming suits) in the “maybe” pile, I go through them and pick the best of the bunch.  I’ve been doing this for years, and it works for me.

But now that I’m middle aged, it’s become hard even to find a store that caters to someone my age and with my tastes.  The malls are full of small stores that target teens and twenty-somethings, with maybe a Chico’s or a Talbots thrown in almost as an afterthought. There’s usually a department store or two with a small section of clothes for “women”, as opposed to “juniors,” but I’ve never had much luck finding something I actually want to buy.  And when I do find a store for “mature” women, I can’t help but notice that most of the other customers are past retirement age by at least a decade.  Call me vain, but I still don’t always want to wear the same clothes as my mother. (No offense intended, Mom!)

Just once, I wish the people running the stores would realize that there are lots of middle-aged women out there who are still shopping for clothes, regularly heading into the mall with our credit cards and our high hopes.  And that some of us (like me, for instance) have short, somewhat rounded figures that do not look good in the long, flowing fashions that are usually offered to women of a “certain age,” and that still others of us do not like lots of fringe, leopard stripes or sequins.  We want comfortable, nice-looking clothes that flatter our middle-aged bodies and are appropriate for wearing in our normal, everyday lives, as well as the occasional dressy event we may attend.  It doesn’t seem so much to ask.

Meanwhile, the search for my mother-of-the-bride dress continues.  And if anyone has any leads on where I can find a fancy dress that looks good on a middle-aged woman with a small bust line, short legs and ample hips, let me know!  And please, no sequins.  I look better without sparkles.

A Fair Trade

DSC00174I really believe that looking into a mirror and thinking, “who is that old person?” is something that every middle aged person has done at one time or another.  Some of us do it on a regular basis, if not daily.  But the reality is that the older we get, the harder it is to identify with the image we see reflected back at us, especially in a well-lit bathroom mirror that emphasizes all the wrinkles and sags.  Middle age means no longer looking nearly as young as we feel, and knowing that it’s only going to get worse, not better, from here on out.  Talk about depressing!

Luckily, middle age brings other, more positive, changes than just the physical ones.  My body may be aging in all kinds of negative ways, but my sense of self is actually improving.  I have a very good memory of my childhood (which is kind of amazing, since I can barely remember what I had for lunch yesterday), and one thing I know very clearly about my early years is how hard I always worked at “fitting in.”  I paid attention to what the other kids wore, what games they played, and what they thought, and did my best to imitate that so that I wouldn’t be excluded.  Later, as a teenager and young adult, I did pretty much the same thing, doing my best to make sure that I looked and acted as much as possible like everyone else.  It wasn’t always easy, and I certainly didn’t always succeed, but I can honestly say that I spent a lot of time and energy trying to be the person I thought others wanted me to be.

I can’t say exactly when “fitting in” stopped mattering so much to me, because it has been a gradual process, and one that I am still working on.  I’m sure reaching middle age had a lot to do with it, because the issues women deal with in middle age (menopause, empty-nest syndrome, aging parents, etc.) are a constant challenge to our self image.  Somewhere along the line, I have stopped caring so much about what others thought of me, and started caring a lot more who I really am, and who I really want to be.

It’s possible that this change is just a natural part of the aging process, now that I am at a point where I have to make intentional decisions about what I want to do with the years I have left.  Or maybe I’m just a slow learner and it’s taken me this long to learn what is really important in life has nothing to do with conformity, and that the people I actually care about have no problems accepting me just the way I am.  But whatever happened, I’m grateful.  I may not always recognize the old-looking woman who looks back at me from the mirror these days, but I am getting to know the “real me” a little better every day.  And that’s a trade-off I can live with.

Because The Only Constant Is Change

I have to admit that sometimes I get a little discouraged about just how much my body has changed now that I am middle aged.  I’m not nearly as strong as I used to be, and since I walk big, rowdy shelter dogs three times a week, that’s not something I can ignore.  I can’t read normal print without reading glasses, and no matter how carefully I style my hair and put on my make up before an evening out, my double chin is joining me for dinner.

But what I need to remember is that these changes are nothing new, and that my body has actually been changing for my entire life.   Obviously, growing from an infant to an adult involved lots of changes, but it’s not as if I went from having the body of a twenty-year old to the body of a middle-age woman over night.  The process has been slow and gradual, even when I was too busy to pay attention.

I remember the time I got the bright idea to show my young daughter how to do a backward roll, since she had just started taking gymnastic classes at the YMCA.  I squatted down, put my hands palms-up on my shoulders, ducked my head and rolled backwards.  Seconds later, as I was laying flat on my back and wondering if I would ever walk again, I realized that I was past the stage in my life when I could do a backward roll.  I was in my mid-thirties at the time.  My eyesight began to fade in my mid-forties, and the late forties/early fifties brought the joy of menopause.  By my mid fifties, I could no longer lift really heavy things, and eating rich food late at night could lead to very unpleasant consequences.

So although I sometimes may feel a bit ambushed by all the physical changes I have to deal with in my middle age, the truth is that my body has been changing for years, and usually not for the better.  And while I still don’t like all the changes, it does help to realize that coping with with them is nothing new, and that I’ve been doing it successfully for quite awhile now.  I own six sets of reading glasses, spread strategically throughout the house and in my purse.  I’ve bought the discs that let me slide furniture across the floor rather than have to lift it, and I’m discovering that there are all kinds of exercise classes out there for the, shall we say, “maturing” woman.  Because the truth is that this changing body stuff really isn’t anything new, and it’s nothing I can’t handle.  I just need to remember that…..