I have never ever minded any of the birthdays I’ve had in my life. I have truly enjoyed all of my “ages.” Each year has brought incredible gifts, experiences, and memories. That said, I confess this year feels different. (Interesting. My fingers accidentally started typing “fears” instead of “feels.” Talk about a Freudian slip!!)
In this culture, women are usually disinclined to mention their age, and for good reason. Women in the latter half of a century are most definitely undervalued and, quite often, disrespected. If a woman tends to not “age gracefully” — i.e., if she puts on a few pounds or develops a few wrinkles or has the misfortune of losing some hair, she can be subject to ridicule or, arguably worse, being ignored.
This is not true in all parts of the world. One of my friends, an ample-bodied, gray-haired, beautiful woman, noticed that she was practically worshiped as she walked about in India. She was treated with an enormous amount of respect, almost bordering on reverence. (She concedes that, sadly, they may have also consciously or unconsciously admired her lighter skin.) My friend, Randy, a man, reports that older people are treated with great respect in Asian cultures. As he has had white hair for decades now, it has been a joy for him to feel so valued, and it is one of the reasons he moved to Vietnam. In African communities, the matriarchs of the family tend to be treated with great respect by their children and relatives. Unfortunately, none of this is true in America.
I’m sure I don’t have to elaborate on the fact that women get paid less than men for comparable work, get promoted less often, and less often hold places of power or leadership. I’m sure I don’t have to mention the fact that older actresses–even exceptional ones–have fewer good roles to play as they age, or that young and beautiful women vamp at us from countless billboards and ads.
It’s not always easy being a woman of a certain age in the U.S.A.
But f*ck it. I’m turning 60 next month. And I am deciding right now not to hide that. I have had amazing experiences in my life. I have gained a lot of knowledge and wisdom. If you don’t consider me beautiful or valuable or worthy, maybe that’s your problem. Maybe that’s your loss.
In spite of the bravado, I have to confess it’s still a struggle sometimes to accept some changes in how I’m treated. For instance, I’ve noticed that I cringe whenever some young person addresses me as “ma’am”. It makes me “feel old.” And yet, I remind myself, it’s a term of respect. It’s certainly better than being called “bitch” or “yo, old lady!” I need to claim ma’am as a badge of honor. I’ve earned it.
About four years ago I participated in a sweat lodge. I’ve been to many in my life, but this was the first one in this particular community. I was quite surprised when, at a certain point, I was asked if I wanted to offer a prayer. People there barely knew me, so why would they single me out that way? Then I noticed they asked another woman to offer a prayer as well. She had long gray hair; I had short graying hair. Ahhh. They were honoring me for being an elder. I decided to feel honored instead of insulted.
All that said, let me inform you all that I don’t plan on playing the part of an old lady any time soon. Or ever, in fact. You won’t ever hear me say “I’m getting old.” I refuse to buy into the commonly accepted “fact” that our bodies change as we accumulate years. If my body slows down, it’s because I have not been eating well or moving enough or doing physical labor or exercise, or because I’m not living the life I want to live, or because I’m believing what the doctors and practically everyone else in this culture believes. You will, no doubt, think I am nuts for talking this way (i.e., It’s reality, Cindy. Get real!), but I tell you our bodies hear what we think!!! If we say, “I feel so old,” our bodies will act old. If we think, “Oh, my arthritis is acting up,” you better believe your body will play the part. Conversely, if you are exceptionally healthy, if you meditate a lot or dance or swim a lot; if you are happy, if you are following your dreams, chances are good you will look years younger than your chronological age.
I intend to stay juicy. I will love sex and soulful connection and dance and nature and children and dogs and wind and sun and ocean and snow and communion with the Divine until the day I die.
So yeah, I’m gonna be 60. But don’t you dare call me old–not because there’s anything wrong with it, but because it’s a label that does not serve me or any of us. I intend to be a radiant force of love all the days of my life. So there!