We spend millions of dollars each year on cosmetics, creams and plastic surgery to distance ourselves from the notion of age. Billion-dollar industries tell us every day that their special formula will help us look younger or feel younger, and even the advertisements that seem to embrace the idea of aging, show us images of stereotypical beautiful and thin women and men, who most of us didn’t resemble even when we were young. I never thought I would mind wrinkles until recently when I felt compelled to buy eye serum and skin tightening moisturizer and I am only 38.
Why do we pay so much money and time to stay or seem young? Why do we have surgeries, participate in ridiculous harmful diets and take supplements to stave off something that is inevitable? Because our fear of aging is more about being afraid of death and we dance around that fear with all these distractions so we don’t have to face that monster under the bed. As a society, we don’t talk about aging as a celebration of a life well lived, we scrutinize and shame it, if we are talking about it at all.
Why are we afraid of death? Anthropologist Ernst Becker believed that anxiety about death comes from finding the thought of death and dying unacceptable. He argued that everything we do – setting goals, cultivating hobbies and passions, any of the activities we do are all ways in which we attempt to cope with and worry less about our inevitable end. We are afraid of death because of we are often afraid of the unknown. We want to control things and death is often not something we can plan for. We worry about leaving our loved ones. We worry about pain and illness and wearing out. We worry we will no longer be attractive enough to be loved or taken care of. We are afraid we will not matter anymore.
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The fear of aging and death is also ableist. What if you have a mental illness or are diagnosed with a chronic illness? What if you can’t keep up with the activities you used to love and have traded hiking for naps every day? What if your body is constantly changing and is unpredictable AF and doesn’t look like it used to…what then? Does that mean you are no longer valuable or special? Will you be tossed to the curb? That is definitely our fear. When we put all this energy and money in an effort to fight aging we tell the people around us that they are not okay if they can’t fit into that young and beautiful box. However, that box is too small for all the real beauty that comes with acceptance and radical self love.
We can come to peace with aging and death. As we age, our bodies will definitely change. That is something you can’t out run forever, no matter what. But we don’t have to catastrophize every change or ache. We can find new ways to move and embrace our bodies, today, as is. I am much braver than I was when I was younger, especially about trying new things. And illness at an early age taught me that life can change in an instant and we are not promised good health or a body or a mind that work effortlessly. There is peace in knowing that nothing lasts forever, not the good or the bad. I went to a clothing optional yoga class recently and was struck by the differences in the bodies that were present. The participants ages ranged from twenty-something to middle age and we were all regular, everyday people. Some were more fit than others, but none of that mattered. Sharing space with other bodies, who happened to be in various forms of undress was a great lesson that aging can and will be okay.
Aging brings knowledge and stories. It gives us foresight and wisdom. It allows us to make more powerful connections and relationships with loved ones and friends. We will still probably feel some anxiety about leaving those relationships at some point, but it is beautiful to watch people grow and evolve nonetheless. We can help keep loneliness at bay by finding and embracing community around us and befriending people who are older to help desensitize us to the fear that age is a bad thing.
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We can lean into radical self love and make conscious decisions about what products we are willing to support and whether or not it actually matters to us to dye our hair or have less wrinkles in our foreheads. We can wear whatever we want and we can learn to see all bodies, of all ages and abilities as valuable. We can find rituals to celebrate the good things that come with each passing year and we can make peace with the changes and setbacks because we are all in this together and there is something liberating about knowing you are in good company.
[Featured Image: A gray scale photo of a person with light hair. Their eyes are closed and crying. Their hand is on their shoulder. Source: pexels.com]