This article is the second in a three-part series on aging.
For me, this picture is a major departure: it marks the first time that my gray hair frames my face in a photo. Much of my hair is still brown, but the right side is graying much more quickly than the rest. I usually wear my hair up or back, where the gray only shows like a streak on the top of my head. I am sure that I wear my hair that way because I can’t see the gray in the mirror and can live by the myth that others can’t see it either.
Of course, because I’m 5’1” and therefore shorter than most people over the age of 12, almost everyone can see it just fine. In the light of this truth, I decided to let my hair down so that I could see the gray, too. And then I took a photo. In fact, I took several.
Do I look a bit alarmed? I was.
I’m not sure why the gray alarms me. Perhaps it’s evidence of my mortality. Or perhaps it signals my relative lack of social capital in a youth-oriented culture – a youth-oriented culture for which, somewhat ironically, my baby-boomer generation is largely responsible.
Or maybe it’s far less complicated: In my head, I’m 20, and the gray just makes no sense whatsoever.
On the day that I took the pictures of my gray hair, I took many others. Most of them show the other parts of my body I’m in shock over. A few show areas that I just hadn’t wanted to look at. I’m a pretty shy person, but as I age, I’m getting more audacious, so I’ve decided to share some of the photos.
I’ll start with my belly:
I have a particularly unhappy relationship with my belly. You might even call it a war of attrition, in which I attempt to flatten my belly past recognition, and my belly will have none of it. This conflict has gone on for decades. Somewhere along the line, I was told that my belly wasn’t supposed to stick out at all (God forbid I should take up any space!), and this ridiculous piece of indoctrination has taken its time crumbling. So my belly was, perhaps, the hardest thing to photograph.
Once I did, though, I thought, “That belly looks comfy. I think I’ll keep it.”
And then, I thought, “Wow, a baby came out of that belly!”
And then, I thought, “Okay, move on to the next scariest thing.” Which was this part of my body:
Look at those lines around my throat. They look like a multi-strand necklace. Look at them all! They just go on and on. And the facial hair. That’s new. Where did that come from? Menopause? Whenever I look at this photograph, I feel as though I’m looking at my grandmother. How can I be looking at my grandmother? It boggles my mind.
My grandmother, by the way, was an incredibly kind and loving woman. She was beautiful in my eyes. I never held her lines or her facial hair or anything else against her. They didn’t matter to me. Why do mine matter to me? Why do I hold them against myself? Why do I judge them at all? Why is this photo of my throat and chin so difficult for me to look at?
Through the eyes of love, it wasn’t hard to see my grandmother’s face and neck. Not at all. But it’s hard to see mine.
And speaking of my grandmother, I’ve got those wrinkles going on just above my breasts, too, the same as she did.
(Yes. I just said wrinkles and breasts in the same sentence. Sit down and take a deep breath. You’ll be fine.) Here is a photo of said wrinkles (and a pretty impressive tan line):
And while we’re on the subject of breasts, mine are losing the fight against gravity. It’s been going on for awhile, of course. When my kid was six, some of the neighborhood kids had a contest about which mom had the saggiest breasts. (It was one of the more hilarious moments of my kid’s childhood.) I didn’t win, but I was a contender. And that was almost 15 years ago.
More Radical Reads: Why the Words Stick in My Throat: Talking about Aging
I’ve wrestled with whether to show a picture of my breasts. It’s all right for men to show their breasts, but not women? No wonder so many women have distorted body images: we rarely get to see what most other women even look like. On that basis alone, I wanted to include the photo.
And then I realized how beautiful your body starts looking when you stop getting pissed off over the way that nature works. So I decided to show that beauty. It’s not conventional perky beauty, but it’s mine.
More Radical Reads: What? You Mean I Look Like That? Thoughts on Not So Gracefully Aging
It’s just a body, folks.
It gets lined.
It gets wrinkled.
It gets gray.
It means that you don’t last forever, and that it all passes.
It’s a sign that you’ve been blessed to live a long time – in a body that is beautiful because you get to experience life in it.
And there is no greater beauty than that.
This article first appeared on The Body is Not An Apology’s tumblr blog on July 16, 2013.
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[Headline image: The photograph shows an older white woman with flowing gray hair, red lipstick, and dark eyes.]