Aging Gracefully

Two nights ago I stayed up to watch the 2014 Oscars, which meant that I knowingly went to bed about five hours before I’d be waking up. My internal clock is rigidly set to wake up at about the same time every morning; the furnace starts running and running and running and running, and when you’re sleeping in between flannel sheets, wearing a flannel sleep shirt, with a wheezing cat curled up next to you to steal your warmth and a husband who might as well be on fire (“DON’T TOUCH ME I’M TOO HOT”), it’s really hard for me to stay asleep once that first sliver of consciousness interrupts my bizarre dreams. And then Eleanor is usually ready to holler for “MAAAAAAAAAAAAAHMMMMMMEEEEEEEEEE” anywhere between 5:00 and 6:30am. Knowing that her siren call is imminent usually prevents any sort of return to restful slumber once I’m awake.

I don’t care much about the Oscars; it’s all about a bunch of movies that I didn’t see (two exceptions this year: “Frozen” and “Gravity”), seeing a bunch of beautiful people putting on a television show that celebrates FIVE BILLION MOVIE TICKETS sold in 2013 alone. That’s a lot of starving children in Africa. But anyway, it was on, and Daniel wanted to watch it, and I enjoy cuddling on the couch with him, and there was popcorn, so I was in. I missed most of Ellen Degeneres’ monologue, which I guess was either hilarious or offensive depending on the person watching it, but that sounds about right for an Oscars’ host. I found the pizza bit quite funny, especially seeing Jennifer Lawrence chowing down on her slice. Can that girl do anything wrong?

Anyway, screen legend Kim Novak and Matthew McConaughey stepped up to the podium to present the nominations for Best Animated Feature. Ms. Novak, who I’ll admit I have never seen in a film and probably wouldn’t know if I stumbled across any of her photos, appeared nervous and stiff, but I was so distracted by the obvious fact that she had resorted to some serious enhancement procedures to conceal her age, I couldn’t really pay attention to what she was saying. “How old IS she?” I asked. “81 years old,” replied Wikipedia. “Wow. WOW.”

Why would a former sex symbol, who must certainly know the limitations of age-defying surgeries and treatments, succumb to such drastic measures to stay young-looking? Why would her doctor(s) prey upon the insecurity she surely must feel to stay youthful? In my opinion, any type of cosmetic procedure designed to mask the inevitable pulls of gravity only draws more attention to the inescapable fact that we aren’t meant to look Forever 21.

So her few minutes of Oscars’ time came and went. I made an insensitive comment on Facebook to someone about Ms. Novak’s appearance, and the show went on, and that was that.

Then I read this article: “Let’s Talk About Kim Novak.”

Oh.

I shouldn’t be surprised that my first reaction towards Ms. Novak’s appearance was judgement. After all, it’s easy for me to say, at age thirty-seven, with some wrinkly bits here and there but mostly still well-preserved, that I would NEVER resort to cosmetic surgery. I’m not a public figure, nor do I ever plan to jump on the modeling/acting bandwagon at any point. (What an absurd thought, being in the public eye…the grocery store, the gym, and church are about as public as I get nowadays.) Easy for me to say never to a nip and a tuck. Yet within seconds, I’m subconsciously thinking about my stretched-out-by-three-big-babies BELLY, which is my absolute least favorite part of my body. I have secretly admitted to myself (whee, not secret anymore!) that if I had the financial means, I would probably get a tummy tuck. Never mind my phobia of hospitals, surgeries, anything medical, really…at times I am so desperate, in my dislike of my poor gut, that I would do pretty much anything to make it Heidi-Klum flat. (She’s had four kids, by the way…how does she do it?)

Do you see what the problem is?

On a consistent basis, I project my own physical insecurities onto other people, without even being aware of it. What happened last night while I was watching Kim Novak struggle to present an award in front of god-knows-how-many people, on television, which is known for its unforgiving lighting, is a normal occurrence for many people. I look in the mirror and I say, “Yuck.” I notice every flaw, every sag, bag, dark circle, protrusion, mark, etc. etc. etc., holding myself up to an absolutely impossible standard that is unfortunately status-quo in our culture, regardless of age or gender. And I did the same thing to an 81-year-old woman, who might do the same thing that I do, and gaze upon her face in the mirror, and say “Yuck.” And then she goes and does something about it, and what’s the result?  Backlash and criticism like you wouldn’t believe.  Would it have been better for her to do nothing, say, to “let herself go,” as we like to put it, implying that sheer laziness is to blame for not at least pretending to keep up one’s youthful appearance?

I am ashamed at my reaction, and humbled to think that I judge external appearances so harshly, but given the inner monologue I berate myself with on a regular basis, I shouldn’t be surprised.

I’d like to age gracefully. I will exercise and eat kale and use vitamin E cream religiously and wear properly-fitting bras and avoid elastic-waist pants like the plague, but that’s not all of it. I struggle daily to find some sliver of the inner glow that comes from being at peace with oneself and knowing what self-love is. It’s not too late to start working on these things, of course, but some days I feel like I’m already halfway through this life’s journey and I’m so far behind.

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