Today, as I turn 56, I'd like to say a few words about getting old. Many Boomers have taken on the laudable project of making their contemporaries feel OK about getting old. We get plenty of health advice and are told that we can have a sex life after 40 or even 50. All this is good.
But, as in any large movement, there are unrealistic extremes. Menopause needn't be feared, and perhaps it has been over-pathologized, but it can be troublesome for some of us. Some women seem to believe that anything menopausal should be endured, otherwise we are ruining the celebration of our later years. At one point my hot flashes were so intense that my glasses fogged up. That made it rather difficult to sleep; I went with medication.
In a recent interview Jane Fonda said, "I don't feel comfortable about having had plastic surgery. But I got tired of catching my reflection and seeing that I looked so tired when that wasn't at all how I felt."* I wish that, instead of this defensive tone, she had simply said, "I had the surgery because I wanted it. What's that to you?" The interviewer's questions weren't recorded, but criticism is implied. One of my favorite health gurus, Christiane Northrup, advises women who have decided to get cosmetic surgery to keep it secret because, "You'd be amazed at the number of judgments your friends may have concerning cosmetic surgery,..Some of your friends won't think you're very spiritually evolved, for instance, if you want to remove the bags under your eyes. Frankly, how you look is none of their business."** To Fonda's credit, she has admitted, in the past, to discomfort with becoming an old broad.
When I read that interview I immediately remembered a friend from the 90s, a man, who was always bragging about how age was "just a number" to him, blah, blah, blah. Then one day told me he was getting the eye-bag operation because his eyes made him look tired, while in reality he was energetic as all get out. His eyes lied. (I want to emphasize that he gave me this explanation unsolicited. If I looked disgusted, it was because I knew he wanted to date women 20 years his junior. Age was more than "just a number" in that respect.) So Fonda's "excuse" was not new. Then he hinted that he needed somebody to look after him for a few days after going under the knife, but I didn't oblige. His lecturing had got my goat, so I let that old goat arrange for his own care.
One of the undisputed advantages of aging is that, if you've been paying attention, you may be a lot smarter and than you were as a young pup. If you've also learned from experience, you might even become a more complicated, interesting person. So why do some people praise "young attitudes" in older people? Young attitudes are only appropriate for young people; in old people they are pathetic!
In conclusion, I'd like to encourage everybody to think positively about aging. But realize that when you've been young in an age of youth-worship, going over the hill can be traumatic. If some age-related rot is bothering you, don't be ashamed to change it, if you can. And don't annoy me with fake justifications!
*More, December 2010/January 2011, page 24.
**Christiane Northrup, The Wisdom of Menopause, page 384