My birthday is tomorrow and I’m turning 60. (I know, right?!) As a gift to myself, I’ve decided to stop coloring my hair. The whole process is messy and time consuming, and lately, it seems the results last all of five minutes. Still, I’ve waffled on pulling the plug because each time I darken my silvery roots, I see my younger self in the mirror. Miraculously, the march of time is skirted yet again and that’s hard to let go of. But it’s beginning to feel, and let’s be honest–look–less authentic. Like I’m clinging to the past.
I make no judgments either way. My mother never went gray before she died. Nor did my mother-in-law. I know plenty of octogenarians who still color with no plans to stop. For me, though, embracing my natural hair is symbolic of self-acceptance that dates back to my teenage years in the 70s, trying to tame my stubborn curls into Marcia Brady’s smooth tresses. Letting go of this fight to cover my gray means letting go of who I once was without knowing for sure who I’m becoming.
There’s a rising sense of anticipation to explore this new version of myself. Who do I want to be? It’s exciting to consider that, with conscious intent, I can be whomever I decide to be. If I can get over the number, that is. Sixty. Six-zero. Six decades? It sounds old, or at least it did until I was the one seeing less road ahead of me than behind.
The march of time is skirted yet again
They say “age is just a social construct“ and “you’re only as old as you feel.” I’ve long held to the theory as a fitness professional that exercise is the fountain of youth and staying active is key to longevity. And I am fit and healthy and strong—for any age. At the same time, I feel the years in my bones. I see the passage of time on my face. Could it be that aging is both a state of mind and a reality of the body?
There are, too, the cultural influences. As enlightened as I think I am, I’m not immune to the undeniable correlation between a woman’s physical beauty and her worth. And there’s no doubt that what our specific culture defines as beautiful skews young. Very young. Blame post-modern marketing campaigns for searing images of “perfection” into our brains–all in the name of capitalistic profits–but these impressions are deep-seated and often unconscious. Since girlhood, the messages we women receive about our appearance shape how we view our own aging process.
Aging is a reality of the body
I want to see past external trappings and shallow judgments, but you won’t find me tossing out my expensive moisturizing serum that hydrates and regenerates tired skin. It’s not that I expected to stay young forever, but something shifted in my self-perception when I realized I wasn’t turning heads anymore, when I overheard myself referred to as an “older” woman.
Besides, there’s only so much we can do to stave off this process. Entropy, the second law of thermodynamics states that everything is in a state of decline and decay. That’s the irrevocable reality—my body is aging as will every other body on the planet. This flesh and bone phenomenon that grew up to grow four babies, then deftly moved through long days of raising them, that body is tired. But how could it not be after nearly 40 years of mothering?
Yet, it’s astonishing to be witness to my own deterioration. The knee-jerk tendency is to resist the forward thrust of life, even to denial. Part of me wants to “rage against the dying of the light,” as Dylan Thomas wrote. But there is a tradeoff, one in which I believe the gains are actually greater than the losses and which convinces me I wouldn’t want to go back if I could: Maturity. Wisdom. All the years of lived experience with their suffering and brilliance, their unimagined joys and devastating disappointments garners an understanding not obtained otherwise.
Aging is a state of mind
I’m grateful to have learned I am much more than this body, which may be attractive some of the time, but frankly, more often is anything but. I’ve learned I’m also more than what I do, more than my achievements, my productivity, my skills and performances and track records. I’ve learned to look within for my worth rather than rushing around outside myself from one source to the next asking, “Am I good? Please tell me I’m good enough.” I’m definitely more than someone who seeks to please, molding herself into whatever others want and need her to be.
You are enough
It took time to arrive at this conclusion—decades, in fact. At 40, I stopped caring as much what other people thought. At 50, I cared even less. And now, at 60, rather than not caring at all, the focus is on caring most about what I think. Jane Fonda calls this the third act in life, 60 and older, a significant developmental stage, as different from mid-life as adolescence is from childhood. This final act, in which we are freed from social constraints and cultural conformity, is for the ascension of the human spirit.
Lately, I find myself gathering up all my memories, the places, the people, the adventures and challenges that have filled my many, many days and taking a good look. It seems to me now that was only part of it. The profound experience of this life cannot be alchemized until seen clearly, until some sort of meaning is made of it. That seems to be my work of late, reflecting and distilling my past into the simplest and purest understanding.
This is not a light undertaking; surging emotions can overtake me in mere moments. I cry nearly every day whether with grief or gratitude or heart break or exquisite joy. But I’m brought again and again to forgiveness: For those I love, for the world at large, and most of all for myself. It’s then I feel more wise and gentle and kind than ever. Embodying love. I am becoming who I was always meant to be.
Go and live it
If I could go back in time and talk to the 20-year-old me or the 30-year-old, I would say, “Oh, honey. You are enough. Just you, without all your doing. Just be you. When you find the joy, everything–and everyone–else will fall into place. Don’t take it all so seriously.”
Casting forward, I channel my 70-year-old self or even the 80-year-old and wonder at what she might come back to say to me now. “Darlin,’ you think you’re old, but you aren’t. You have been through plenty, yes, but there’s so much more to come, you can’t even imagine. Stop dyeing and stop dying. And go out there and live it.”