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Getting Older Without a Role Model September 25, 2007

Posted by Amy in Uncategorized.
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I watched the movie Away From Me last night, and I realized, watching it, how rarely we see older people on screen just living their lives–without plastic surgery or major makeup or hair dye. Julie Christie stars in it, and she’s as beautiful now, with snowy hair and a deeply-lined face, as ever.

I’m 36. My body is the body of a woman who has carried two babies to full-term and spent a full year in the first trimester of back-to-back pregnancies (the first ended in a miscarriage). It’s the body of a woman who spent six years breastfeeding.

It’s the body of a reader, of someone who thinks exercise is a brisk walk. It’s also the body of a woman who reached my full height and current bra size at age 12.

I’ve been finding gray hairs lately, and the crow’s feet I had at 20, due to fair skin, sun exposure, and a dislike (which I’ve overcome) of sunglasses, are more and more apparent. I get “ma’am” from the grocery store clerks on a regular basis, and my eighteen-year-old students don’t need to be convinced, as they did when I started teaching at 23, that I’m an adult.

And mostly, I love this. For years, I’ve gazed at silver-haired women at Trader Joe’s, looking forward to the day when I would join their ranks. (Side note: Why is it only Trader Joe’s where I see older women I’d like to look like someday? Never at Savemart or Target.)

But I’m a little lost right now. I’ve had moments of feeling invisible. I’m not used to it–it happened without my noticing. I had to get used to visual attention in the sixth grade, when I was wearing a DD bra and had long blond hair. I was just a kid, but I suddenly received the attention of teens and adults. I hated it for a long time, and then I got used to it.

Then I had kids, and any attention paid to me in public tended to be aimed at my children. This was mostly wonderful, as I’m shy, and having children seemed to provide this bridge to conversation with all kinds of people.

But now my children are all in school, and the person I see in the mirror is plumper, with shorter, darker hair and a few more lines. It’s taking some getting used to, and it surprises me that this is so. I wonder if my lack of role models plays a part; after all, both my mother and grandmother have had multiple plastic surgeries, from breast augmentation after motherhood to facelifts and eye work. My mother is 22 years older than me, but right now, she and I look like we’re close to the same age. My grandmother is 80 and looks 60, maybe. Neither have gray hair. I love them, and I know some of the complex reasons why they have spent so much time and money on looking young. I don’t envy them the experiences and emotions behind those surgeries and hair appointment. But I just want someone to look up to, you know? Someone to show me how to grow older honestly and gracefully.

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