Getting Old And Loving It

I turn 36 in a few weeks, and I’m excited.

Aging is cool. It’s the ultimate affirmation of having “made it.”

I have written about loving my first gray hair as a political act, because the whole you’re-old-you’re-done message sucks. It is a privilege to age. I’ve long thought women get prettier as we age; there is something sculptural about the way lines cut a face.

36 feels significant to me because this is literally twice the age at which I thought I might never have another birthday. Today, half my life ago, would have been about the first morning I would ever wake up in the middle of the night to flashlights making sure I wasn’t killing myself, going to the bathroom in front of someone so I couldn’t vomit, and taking a shower observed after my razor was retrieved from the locked cabinet in the back.

You see, both my 18th and 19th birthdays were spent in the hospital because I had been starving myself to death. I think about all the destructive things I did, and all the ways I tormented myself with what I thought was my fatness and unacceptability.

I’m not ashamed that this happened. I’m appalled that society does this to people every day, that gender roles suck as much as they do, that it’s hip to brag about how “good” or “bad” you were with your food or your exercise, that size 00 is a now a thing — like literally, now the size for women to strive for is less than nothing.

I’m significantly larger now than I was before that eating disorder started. And you know what? I am fucking alive and fighting.

As I get ready to go into my later thirties, I’m proud to be alive. I think about loving all of my “imperfections” — including my wrinkles, crows feet, gray hair, C-section scar, cellulite, varicose veins, shoulder scars, and especially the laugh lines.

I remember what it felt like to laugh and cry this hard, to get these lines on my face. The condition of my forehead is intimately related to the number of occasions I’ve had to raise an eyebrow at total bullshit. My stomach and thighs! After so many battles, I am soft, triumphant, and strong enough to run a steep hill.

Loving yourself and your body as it is is truly revolutionary. I’ve spent half of my life on the other side of rock bottom; long enough to learn that the kind of lady I want to be SCREAMS HER AGE, has a belly roll and acknowledges it, and encourages others to do the same.

Loving My First Gray Hair Is Political

Yesterday I got my first gray hair. It’s beautiful and light, hugging the soft space to the side of my forehead. I love it.

I have been waiting for this day. I am 35. Gray hair was going to happen. Years ago I made a conscious decision to continue loving myself as I grow older. This is an act of self-preservation, and defiance.

This is about my feminism — hatred of women is intimately tied in with dangerous, racist, and unrealistic expectations of beauty that we are expected to internalize. We must reject that as much as we can (real talk: this can be a day-by-day thing, and feeling like crap about your looks doesn’t mean you don’t get to be a feminist).

This is personal — I almost died of anorexia. Gray hair is a victory! I am fortunate I made it to my 18th, 19th, and 20th birthdays. I am both grateful and proud I did, because damn that was a lot of work. My personal interest extends beyond having overcome nearly lethal negative self-talk related to my appearance; I’ve reached an age where too many peers have died for no good reason. I’m lucky to get old.

This is about parenting, too — my daughter deserves the example of a woman who dares to look like herself and love herself.

As a social justice activist and organizer, I struggle with the decision to write posts like this sometimes. Today yet another video has surfaced of a Black person losing their life to police violence; his name was Sam DuBose. Racism is one of the most pressing issues of our time.

And so, I ask myself:

Is it indulgent to be introspective about the first freaking gray hair on my head at a time when people are dying, when politicians fail to acknowledge that Black lives matter, when terrorists are targeting abortion providers because they dare to help women?

I struggle with this question, and yet this post speaks for itself: Here I am, writing. My firm belief is that self-love is radical. You cannot fight effectively for equality, dignity, or justice when you are unable to treat yourself with respect. You cannot find the courage to accept difference in others if you’re unwilling to accommodate difference for yourself. Loving yourself is not ego or dominance (those are rooted in insecurity, after all); loving yourself is about compassion. Best part? Inner compassion is compassion, and both are contagious.

So, when I embrace my gray hair, what I am also saying is that we should embrace ourselves and one another as we are. We must treat our fragile lives with respect and love, and break every convention necessary.

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Aging In Place

The truth is that older women are more beautiful than conventional wisdom would have you admit. Time makes the contours of a face more pronounced. For many, it becomes easier to grow the gorgeous lumps defining the marble statues of idealized women in museums. Veins on hands begin to tell stories with or without a pen.

Most of all it’s the sheer fucking luckiness of having made it, of being alive, that makes older people, and especially older women, more beautiful.

This is convenient for me to say at age 34, when I have become an unmistakable target of the drug store creams to fix the nature. It is growing increasingly clear on Facebook — where pictures replace shared experiences as the currency of relationships — that some of my age peers have begun to use plastic surgery. Seeing this is a struggle.

Like everyone else, I have grown up in a culture where we devalue women who don’t live up to impossible ideals, and then dismiss the women who take extraordinary measures to do so as shallow. Aging presents one of these most classic damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenarios, and from a modern feminist point of view that honors the individual lived experiences of women rather than attempting however earnestly to provide a blueprint that everyone must follow to sidestep oppression, I think I’m not supposed to care about another woman’s plastic surgery. And really, as it pertains to that other woman, I don’t. Making value judgements about someone else’s beauty regimen is one bad jam.

The struggle comes in elsewhere. Like everyone else, I have grown up in a culture where women are encouraged to compare themselves to one another in superficial ways. So seeing all this plastic surgery makes me wonder: Yes, I’m comfortable aging in place today, but will I be tomorrow? I would like to think that when gray hair comes I’ll embrace it. But I say that a time when my appearance gives me no real reason to fear being written off as yesterday’s news. So I am sitting with this ambivalence and uncertainty and honoring it.

The longer we live, the more we know people who have died. If you have made it to a point when aging is considered a concern for your age group, it means that you are supremely fortunate. I wonder why that keeps getting lost, especially for women, and what we can do about it.