Woke up feeling kind of hung over this morning, though I didn’t even enjoy any drinks last night. Along with this new, improved internal heating system and hair that magically streaks itself, that’s another new thing about 50 – drink free hangovers. Who’d have thought 50 came with so much new and free awesome-ness?
Years ago, my then 70-year-old mother in law enthusiastically told me, ‘my 30’s and 40’s, they were okay. but let me tell you, my 50’s, 60’s and 70’s – now that’s really living’. I looked at her greying hair and softening body from my 30 something perspective and was to be honest, a little grossed out and afraid. Those years came with visions of polyester leisure suits, support hose, musty perfume, and 50 shades of bitterness.
Aging isn’t something many of us accept easily. Entire industries are built on our inability to let go of the us we were at 20. And there are few examples of how to grow older well, and god forbid, die well. I cringe when I see faces immobilized by botox or people desperately scrambling after their youth. It embarrasses me But do I understand it? Damn right. Wrinkles and grey hair scare me too.
Last week, I came across a cosmetic ad featuring Jane Fonda, who looked nothing short of unreal for her 75 years. And unreal she is, by her own admission; botoxed, nipped, tucked, testosteroned – to maintain her sex drive, and photoshopped. Selling for L’Oreal, an impossible standard of aging in a product ironically called ‘age perfect’. I have nothing against Jane Fonda, I empathize with her very public though ultimately fultile race against time. But I think it’s sad when our self acceptance is so tied to our ever-changing physical bodies.
There are lots of messed up places to seek worth. A woman I know recently achieved milf status. She told me proudly that one of her son’s friends had paid her that compliment. Being called a milf, in my opinion, isn’t a badge of attractiveness. It’s as degrading and objectifiying a word and image as cougar. The most notable cougars being those very unreal, Real Housewives whose ridiculous antics I watch with a kind of sick fascination. I can tell you from experience, that isn’t what being a real housewife is all about. Most of the real housewives I know are intelligent, self-sacrificing women of depth – not sex glorifying, attention seeking, middle-aged women behaving like teenagers. I’m not quite as empathetic toward the Real Housewives as Jane Fonda, apparently.
But even those of us who disdain superficial, misplaced values, can’t help sometimes but feel a twinge of comparison over popularity and perfect appearance. Human nature is a fickle, fickle thing – foraging for worth and happiness in ways that can never provide it.
I’ve been thinking lately about what being ok with myself means. I have a very smart friend who says, ‘good self esteem isn’t the opposite of bad self esteem, self acceptance is the opposite of bad self esteem’ or something close to that. I like that definition. Self acceptance means being able to see ourselves realistically and be ok with it. Not just our external selves, but also our internal selves. Because it’s our internal selves that really make or break our lives.
A few years ago, I dragged myself kicking and screaming to a therapist. I knew I was having a tough time coping but had little insight as to why, and even less about how to fix it. It began an unwinding that has been both the hardest and best thing I’ve ever done. I learned about stuff like cognitive distortions, STOPP therapy, mindfulness and authenticity. And I can say without reservation, those things have more power to affect self acceptance than any 50 dollar injection of Botox or surgical enhancement. It’s internal change that truly makes us happy, settled and real.
Every year at this time, I pull out one of my fave books from when my kids were small, The Velveteen Rabbit – or How Toys Become Real. Kids stories can illustrate important adult ideas in the best ways…