About fifteen years ago I was at a hotel in Palm Springs at a yoga teacher training. There were dozens of tight little bodies, yoga bodies swarming around the vast patio which was home to several pools and hot tubs. I was sitting on a beach chair reading when a woman, somewhere between 50-60, walked by me. On her average, healthy body, she wore a very simple black tank suit. At the time, as a body-conscious, never good enough, 35-year-old yoga teacher, I thought to myself, “I want to look like that when I’m 50.” But her body wasn’t amazing. She wasn’t that different from me now. It wasn’t that I wanted to look like her when I’m 50, it was that I wanted to be like her. The woman in the simple black tank suit exuded confidence and she was unapologetic about her age, her body, and her place at the pool.
Now I am fifty. It’s been many years since I’ve felt like I was young. I recognize that I will never again be viewed as young. I am getting older, grayer, more wrinkly. I am in a stage of life where I should be grateful and happy for my wellness. I have lost one parent and have friends who have also lost parents, spouses, even children. But still some days I lament my changing body and skin. I waste precious time trying to stay young instead of leaning into the next phase of life.
A few months ago, right after I turned 50, my partner Nancy and I took a vacation to Mexico. We were on a beautiful, very remote island and I was up early. There were only a few people on the beach and it was the perfect moment for a walk. Normally when I walk on the beach I put on a blouse or some shorts but I hadn’t brought anything with me from the hotel room. I was wearing a really simple black tank suit, just like the woman in Palm Springs. I was a strong, able-bodied, fifty- year-old woman. I decided to walk the beach in just my simple black tank suit.
As I meandered, unencumbered by any extra clothes or hat or even sunglasses, I was reminded of my grandmother. Every year we’d go to Florida with my grandparents and my Nana would spend hours each morning trolling the beach for shells. She always wore a simple black tank suit. My Nana was a great companion to me and a fierce ally. I thought Nana was the most beautiful, glamorous woman in the world—whether she was fully dressed in a black turtleneck and white slacks in her fourteenth floor apartment on the Northside of Chicago or in a tank suit on the beach in Sarasota, Florida. As my sisters and I splashed in the ocean waves in front of the condo every morning, like clockwork, we’d see Nana walking towards us, her silhouette with the sun behind her, eyes down towards the sand, bending down periodically to pick up a shell. She’d stroll with her head down until she heard splashing and our voices yelling her name to look at us in the water. Only then would she look up from the beach with her beautiful sun-kissed skin and cat eye sunglasses and smile.
Nana owned that simple black tank suit. Her sixty-year-old body and leathered skin were so beautiful and perfect to me. Like the woman by the pool, it was her presence that embodied the beauty. As a fifty-year-old woman, I now understand that that presence, the ability to embody whatever body we inhabit, is the product of a life lived and the wisdom that comes from all of life’s lessons.
Wisdom comes with age. For me it has come from many struggles and the heartbreaks in my life, the unexpected changes in my body and the painstaking decisions I had to make in my forties that brought me to this new frontier. Somewhere along the way things shifted and I became wiser. I stepped into this wisdom It happens to all of us. My simple black tank suit tells a story of the wise women before me who inspired me to recognize and embody this wisdom when my turn came.