I like to think I'm approaching aging with the same philosophy I approached parenting babies - somewhere in the median between crunch and plastic. I didn't cloth diaper, but I did extended nursing. I vaccinated, but selectively. I did sleep training, but gently and over time. I co slept but not until they were walking and talking, only until they could sleep through the night without nursing. I was too crunchy for the mainstream circles and too mainstream for the crunchy. Like every other aspect of parenting I tried not to judge other people's choices, vowing instead to focus on my own choices and let other people do what worked best for them. I fell to judgment on many occasions, but I tried to keep it under my breath.
As I've crossed over the top of the hill and the aging process has most definitely gained some momentum, I find a precarious lack of control on my balance in the middle. I have long stated - emphatically, I might add - that while everyone has the right to choose for themselves whether they would undergo the knife or the needle to be comfortable with their looks, I personally eschew such dramatic measures. I've even had the dishonor to be proud of myself for my lack of skin care regimen. "Oh sure," I'd laugh, "I have one, if you can call falling asleep in my makeup and never remembering sunscreen a 'regimen'!"
"Oh, I don't color my hair to cover gray," I have been known to say. "I color it because its so fun to be a [insert color here]!"
I humbly assert that these things are far easier to say when one is young.
Menopause, evil-hormone-sucking-she-ninja, entered swiftly and with deadly intent. She stole my sleep with surges of heat and sweat and suddenly the undereye circles I've laughed off since my twenties made me feel disheartened and teary. The drying skin and hair and nails that were merely annoying a decade ago became insurmountable overnight. I started looking in the mirror less and less; this "aging gracefully" thing isn't happening AT ALL as I imagined it would. The "aging" part, hell yes, but without very much of the "graceful."
Several weeks ago SG gifted me with a spa massage and facial package. It was a day of pure bliss, and the crunchy mama inside me crumpled and added the glycolic peel to the package without one ounce of remorse for vanity. I impulsively bought the skin care items the aesthitician suggested, and they really did work and my skin looked and felt better. So much so that as I waltzed through the hair care aisle on a trip to the store I made another impulse buy and threw a reddish haircolor kit a few shades lighter than my own sturdy brown into the cart.
For whatever reason that haircolor job was an unmitigated disaster. It didn't cover my grays, and over the weeks since I've noticed that the grays seem to have gone into unmitigated copulation mode, bursting into existence in numbers heretofore unseen. I even found that the hairs growing in along my part were alarmingly populated with silver.
All the self-assured platitudes have gone right out the window.
I'm not aging gracefully -- I'm just AGING.
I tell myself that its OK to just let my gray hair arrive naturally, but the minute it does I'm hitting the haircolor aisle at the drugstore trying to find the magic solution that doesn't make it look like I'm trying too hard but doesn't give off the suggestion that I'm not trying at all.
I've reached the point at which my self-talk has devolved into an ongoing wrestling match between my crunchy better angel and my inner narcissist. There's a lot of finger pointing and things have been said that can never be taken back, never forgotten. I look in the mirror and words and phrases pop into my consciousness uninvited: "Botox!" "Boob Lift!" "Tummy Tuck!" At one point (or two) I may have even pressed my fingertips against the skin at the end of my eyebrows and swept upward, wondering just how much it costs to get a facelift.
What have I become?
More importantly, when does this stop?
I reassure myself that I "have" to do these things, that I'm still in the workforce, and we all know that the career field can be unkind to women who are growing older while rewarding those who maintain a youthful appearance. But we all know its more than that.
Its not "career-mindedness." Its vanity.
I imagine every woman who has ever fancied herself a rugged individualist and self-appointed icon for young career women everywhere has run into the same, painful brick wall: Its beautiful and admirable and amazing when someone else does it but GOD FORBID it should happen to YOU. Its all great in theory, but when the push comes to shove (or broken capillaries come to nostrils), all bets are off.
This is the time when we start taking selfies carefully, judging the quality of light and the capability of our photo editing software. This is the time when we admonish everyone to "keep it real" while hiding our own true face.
This is the time that I realize that age will catch me no matter how I try to avoid it, and it will not only put to test all of the things I decided I would be when I reached this point in my life, it will reveal many of those things as nothing more than lies I told myself.
This morning I plunked a box of "darkest brown" haircolor on the bathroom vanity after my first cup of morning coffee. Ten minutes plus one shower later, that crappy gray red dye job had swirled its way down the drain and SG met the newest version of his wife. Unfortunately she still has the same set of luggage under her eyes. One hopes, ever so fervently, that the new haircolor makes them somewhat less noticeable.