My time has arrived. This year, I will become a sexagenarian.
Alas, it’s not nearly as exciting as it sounds. There’s no one in my life who can draw you a road map of my age spots. I have tried to think of myself as “a fine wine that improves with age.” That might have some credibility if I had been “corked” all this time, however, life being what it is, you can’t avoid exposure to the elements, much less the deterioration of your aging innards and functioning.
Physically, it’s been downhill.
My sister recently remarked that I must have inherited our mother’s apple shape, whereas she is more of a pear shape. That’s actually not the case at all, it’s just that my bulging belly now outdoes my other problem areas. I can’t kid myself that my paler hair is highlighting left over from my last visit to the hairdresser—it’s gray, as in salt and pepper. I don’t have so much a double chin as a double jaw, a solid pouch that snuck up on me and keeps growing. I found a long dress in my closet that I used to wear in my thirties. When I put it on, it reached the floor. I am getting both shorter and fatter!
These distressing physical changes seem to be fueling a second mid-life crisis. I had one when I turned forty. I took a course in modeling for women my age and attempted to find work as a model. I landed two jobs. The first was as a hair model in a convention show for professionals in the beauty industry. They found it necessary to color my hair a shocking shade of red which I maintained for a year, to the horror of my long-suffering hairdresser.
The second job was a print ad for a realty company that appeared in the Boston Sunday Globe. In the ad, I portrayed a zany realtor having a tea party in a library with a collection of taxi-dermed animals. The ad read “Know your agent” –as in, don’t get stuck with a nut job. Years later, I came to the conclusion, to my chagrin, that I got the job because in the picture of me that was sent to the client, I had a slightly crazed expression on my face because I was smiling tensely, as I leaned against a tree and tried to look fetching and pert in my leather mini-skirt. Apparently, what came across was not sex appeal, but that I was not playing with a full deck. That’s just what they were looking for.
During the same period, I had some success getting age-appropriate roles in student films, for instance, as Jack the Ripper’s mother. These were not paying jobs and I didn’t have much competition in my age group—most of the women I came across were stage mothers accompanying their daughters. Still, I got a nice feeling of having been chosen to be filmed, and it did something for my ego.
Now twenty years later, I feel constantly reminded that I’m not in my prime. What I see in the mirror is far from my idealized self-image. This has sparked a certain desperation for a sense of validation amid younger people.
One day I searched for a basic shower cap at CVS. The only option that wasn’t sized to accommodate a bouffant hairstyle was pink and white polka dotted with a white satin bow embellished with a giant rhinestone that you might find appropriate for a starlet no older than twenty. I cringe every time I put it on.
I also notice that my retail therapy, always an important means of coping, is affected by this dire need to feel young. Recently I spent a morning in TJ Maxx scouting out anything to freshen my look. As always, I averted my gaze from the big-ticket items like handbags and shoes, because instead of quelling my appetite, the higher the price, the more exciting and compelling the purchase seems to be. Once I get started with them, I only gain momentum.
I gave myself a mental high-five as I joined the check-out line, because I’d pared my “score” down to three tops, two pairs of pants and two skirts—it could have been worse. But, as is their plan, temptation abounds on the shelves lining the queue. That day, one section held cosmetics. I saw a package of lip gloss in the mauve tone I used to favor, marked “Pink Doll.” On the box was a plump, pouting mouth holding a tube of gloss labeled “Paris Hilton”. I had a moment of glee and thought “Oh goody! I’m in. Surely this item will make me appear half my age.” I seized the box. By the time I reached the next display, my regression was complete. On it was a small package on which was printed “BABY” in large lime green letters. It turned out to be lip balm by Maybelline in one of those too-cute dispensers, (pink, of course), labeled “Baby Lips Lip Balm.” I snatched it from the shelf. For $1.99, it was worth a shot.
I remember a George Booth cartoon in The New Yorker decades ago, which depicts one elderly, decrepit woman saying to another, as they sit in undershirts in a sparse kitchen lighted by a naked bulb, “Let’s go downtown and turn a few heads!” If only!
Even at my gym, where the clients are mostly middle-aged, I belong to the senior set. The trainer, a dewy twenty-seven, replies tactfully to our age-related woes that “With age comes wisdom and humor.” One day I retorted sourly “After a few years of that, dementia sets in.”
As a friend of my mother said once, “Old age is not for the faint of heart.” What lies ahead takes strength and endurance. I suppose it builds character, but, frankly, at this point, I’m good with that.
On the upside, I do feel more entitled, after working full-time for over thirty years, to enjoy life and make time for fun. But what’s “fun” if you feel like a dinosaur? Does anyone else still have a flip phone, a walkman and find Facebook challenging?
I’ll have to seek out kindred spirits from the Paleolithic Age, who are too old for the career scene but not old enough for the senior center. I only hope I can buff up my “sparkling personality”, or rather my “intangible assets”, to overcome what I lack in physical appeal. But I’m not ditching the lip gloss just yet! And there’s always the diet I’ll start tomorrow.