My ex-husband called me this once. I was probably in my late 30’s. He said it to be mean. He knew I was struggling with getting older — a bit of an almost 40 mid-life crisis. And I was offended. Seriously offended. Also really hurt. He frequently made comments about women’s bodies and so him classifying me this way stung.
I caught a glimpse of myself in a car window not long after and the reflection plus the shadows and the tinted glass let me really see what I knew to be my old face. I could see where the wrinkles would come and where the hair would turn. I was horrified. Back then, at 38ish, I was horrified at what I might look like in 10 years? 20? I’m not sure why. I don’t think I’ve ever been particularly vain, but also — I know I am in some ways. I’ve been make-up free most of my life. Not because I think I look so great without it but because between the effort involved and the feeling of “stuff” on my face, I just never wanted to do it and opted to just like how I look without it. On the rare occasions that I have put on some make-up in my life, people notice. Like the NOTICE. Like, “Michelle! Oh my God, are you wearing make-up??” to such an alarming degree that I decided I never wanted to call attention like that to my face again. But that has little to do with aging.
But still, I have enjoyed relatively clear skin and a somewhat cute face for most of my life and seeing what will inevitably happen kinda shocked me. Just not ready yet. Certainly not then.
My hair started to turn gray in my 40’s (I almost pretentiously wrote grey there, but opted to not look like a snot in this essay). The first few in my 20’s I just plucked from my head. But then the started to come a little more regularly. My sideburns. The little spot near my cowlick under my bangs. I tried to dye my hair. It looked worse. And then I started to notice older women who were clearly going through what I was going through and dying their hair. And every woman I saw with a hair dye job was going through whatever stage of the gray (almost did it again) growing back that I was. God it was tedious. Just like with make-up, it is a constant effort to which I do not want to devote any time.
So, realizing that my true nature especially when it comes to matters of looks (especially on me) is to just keep it clean and tidy and let it go, was going to have to work for my hair, as well as my face.
So my hair is going gray and I try to keep it tidy (and clean). My face is starting to wrinkle and I try to keep it clean (and moisturized). Now my body is becoming the next area I’ve tried to accept and it’s the part of me I’ve been the hardest on over the years. I have explored every eating disorder known to humans as an option for weight loss and have berated myself because I am a miserable failure at all of them.
I am not a small person. I was a pretty normal sized kid but somewhere in my tweens by genetic code took over and I became a peasant like part Anglican part German part Italian large woman with hips and shoulders that could move — well, lots of children. And they have. And while I was not fat, really, I was “overweight” according to every guide that was every published about a girl’s height to weight ratio. Mine never matched and so I carried the label of overweight for most of my life. No matter how strong I am or how many bags of dog food I can lift, or how many miles I can hike on snowshoes, I will always be overweight in the eyes of “society” and in the eyes of my doctors.
It bothered me forever. It still bothers me. I have never thought that I couldn’t lose at least 10 pounds. At least. I have always worried about it — through 12 pregnancies and 8 births and all that goes with that, I’ve always been on some sort of diet. For the last 35 years…I’ve never been happy with my body.
I’m changing that now. I am just letting my body be what it is. I have a very physical job. I hike. I snowshoe. I run. I swim. I eat as well as my Lupus will let me. I’m drinking way less than I used to. I have indulged in new self care rituals because I am 51 years old now and I want to. I want to stop feeling like being an old woman is going to be a bad thing.
I want to take on my 50’s and 60’s and 70’s and beyond and get some shit done. And I want to write about it. Because I love writing and I’m tired of people who have reviewed my books or whatever dictating how worthy I feel to contribute my voice. I don’t know if anything I write or have ever written will ever really matter, but I do know that I have had an interesting, scary, and immensely fulfilling life so far and I want to keep that going — and I’d like other women who feel stuck or feel like they’re getting to the end — to not feel that way. The kids are growing up. Maybe the husband left. Maybe you’re bored. Maybe you’re done. Whatever it is, I’ve been there — or close. And I do not always feel excited by the next steps but I want to be excited for them, and that’s half the battle.
Crone. I am beginning to like that word. A lot.