“Old” Isn’t a Bad Word: The Beauty of Aging (Gracefully or Not)

“Mrs. Miniver suddenly understood why she was enjoying the forties so much better than she had enjoyed the thirties: it was the difference between August and October, between the heaviness of late summer and the sparkle of early autumn, between the ending of an old phase and the beginning of a fresh one.” ~Jan Struther, Mrs. Miniver

When I was a teenager, my interest in acting and looking older than my actual age was heightened.

Being the youngest, I was always more confident than my brothers and sisters. Their adult lives were more exciting to me. My siblings would strut their stuff to school or college, picking up their bags, packing their lunches and waiting for me to pick them up.

Naturally, I looked forward to my birthday each year, waiting for a sense of “grownup”ness to take me over even as I got giddy at the thought of opening gifts. In reality, I have found that my birthday gifts are wrapped in fear over the years.

In a society that values youth to the point of insanity, reaching that terrible “middle age” seems like a ticket to the circus of Forget-Me Land!

This is why I am writing and reflecting on this. Growing older in most families is actually a positive sign. It’s a symbol of status and respect.

Consider the silverback gorilla as an example: their gray hair gives them authority and allows them to take decisions on behalf of the entire group. Age is a factor in the lives of elephant mothers, wolf leaders and elder dolphins.

These are the reasons why people become obsessed with youthfulness. From creams that remove wrinkles to references like “well-maintained” (as if we were a car!We are repeatedly told that younger people are better.

Growing up has shown me some things and I wish that I could share those with my younger self. However, that’s not possible unless we invent a time machine, so I’ll list them here and you can take what you will.

To begin with, don’t obsess over beauty. Or, rather, you should listen to what society says about beauty.

As a child, my desire to be beautiful was sacrosanct. I underplayed my reading habit, and I acted meek so men would perceive me as “more beautiful.” I have no idea where I received these ideas, but they were debilitating. Although I wanted to look beautiful to attract men’s attention, I didn’t stop to think about the question: Who is this man?

I regret that even though I was rejected day in, day out, I wanted to be picked by someone. After suffering from toxic relationships, and severe damage to my self-esteem I realized the futility of seeking beauty.

My foolish optimism and bullheadedness were the things that really got me through difficult times. It’s surprising that being me, even with my gray hair and slightly crooked teeth and some extra weight, has made it easy for me to make wonderful friendships with both men and women.

Second, the age of an individual is just another number.

My dog doesn’t know how old she is, so she is free to act as she pleases. She is a stoic, jumps onto beds and loves sweets. She can run whenever she likes and as often as her body will allow. It’s easy for her to do all this and more because she doesn’t have that limiting belief called “age.”

Ellen Langer (a Harvard psychologist) conducted an experiment in which elderly people were instructed to pretend that they lived twenty years ago, using a simulation environment. According to some reports, the men involved in this experiment showed improvements in their memory and cognition.

Even if the experiment seems outlandish to you, there’s an important takeaway: How you perceive your age makes a huge difference in how you approach it. Why not be positive about it?

A few months ago I came across a profound quote that left a lasting impression. Do not regret growing older; it’s a privilege denied to many.

It’s so true. I think of my dad, who was a man that fulfilled so many of his hopes and dreams. His openness to new opportunities, warts, and many more years would have been a blessing.

Even though the patient is suffering from a terminal illness or other serious condition, every day that passes can be considered a gift. We don’t have to wait for something like this to feel grateful for our age. Each day we have the opportunity to be grateful for our age.

You don’t have to ‘maintain’ yourself.

You don’t have to look younger.

There are many ways to be thin and overweight.

Don’t hold yourself back from things you love just because you feel older/younger.

Don’t feel the pressure to age gracefully or anything else that society tells you to do. There is no pressure to live a happy, healthy life. Heck, it’s your life, and it’s in chaos that order is born!

Maybe you don’t have a head full of black hair, but so what? You probably sucked your thumb at six, but you don’t do that anymore, do you? It’s the same thing.

Only if you feel uplifted by nostalgia, is it helpful? If it’s taking you on a downward spiral of “how I wish I was that age again!”, then it’s high time you closed that album of old photos. You are sure to see new sunrises or sunsets. Get some cold, frothy coffee to get you started.

There’s nothing that you need to tick off by a certain age. Everybody has their own paths and lessons to share. Learn from the plants and animals. They don’t strive; they just AreThey live happily and they succeed! You can be brave enough to accept your messiness and live a messy life.


Vaidehi has been a mentor, teacher, and writer for many years. Vaidehi enjoys writing and long conversations. She runs her own website at www.alearninghut.com. The Halli Times is her magazine. She aims to revive old habits such as reading and writing.  alearninghut@gmail.com

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