Then stop selling me anti-aging cream.
Too late, I realize it’s an automated call. I get them all the time. We all do.
For some reason, I stay on the line. The woman comes on and starts reading from her script, “Hello, we are calling to let you know about an incredible product from WebWellness and Health (I made up the name) that will help you rejuvenate your life and regain your youthful appearance. We have a great anti-aging cream…”
I cut her off, saying this:
“I’m so glad you called. And I know you’re just doing your job, but you’re the one who called me, so here it is: I’m in my sixties, and I do not want to change how I look and feel. Granted, I’m not anything like I was when I was twenty, but I’m not supposed to be. Aging is not a problem. It’s a fact.
“I am not interested in your anti-aging cream any more than a proud black woman would be interested in anti-black cream.”
The telemarketer and I parted friends, but long after hanging up I realized how strongly I feel about this issue. I am sick of being targeted for products that aim to make me look younger. The underlying message is: “It’s wrong to be old,” and it’s insidious. Our whole culture seems to have bought into it.
A clear example of this can be found in any waiting room with magazines. Someone opens to a page with pictures of a brunette 85-year-old star glittering at the world through the constraints of her weird smooth face, and they say, “Oh my God, doesn’t she look fantastic!” This always pisses me off.
No. She does not look fantastic. She looks wealthy and artificial. She looks like they hid all her badges of honor, and now she can’t live in either world. She’s neither youthful nor dignified. She’s mortified by her natural passage into old age. She drank the Koolaid, and we’re all supposed to say, “Yum, delicious!”
When companies market their anti-aging products to me, it’s like summiting Mount Everest only to hear someone whisper, “Psst! Buy this stuff and no one will have to know what you went through to get this high up.” Like I should be ashamed.
I’m not buying it.
Make no mistake, that doesn’t mean I don’t succumb from time to time. I get it. I look in the mirror, too, and sometimes balk at the jarring image confronting me. Who is that? The permanent frowning eleven where my third eye should be, the disappearing eyebrows, the crows feet, the long lines on either side of my mouth, and the shorter ones congregating above my upper lip.
The other day, a woman offered me her seat on the subway. Grateful, I thought to myself, “How kind of her. But why on earth did she think I needed to sit down?” The mirror answers it for me. She was giving her seat to the elderly.
You can complain till the cows come home about how our culture doesn’t value people of a certain age, but that does nothing to deepen this conversation. Sometimes it’s more helpful to come to a complete stop and ask yourself, “What do you want?” Do this now. Play with your imagination. Money is no object, and they can make anything happen. What do you want?
Here’s what I want.
When we see that face, that someone more than middle-aged — you know the one, she disappeared so fast into the background you didn’t even see she was there — I want to live in a world where we notice her essence, not her lack of perfection. I want us to always remember she’s facing challenges we know nothing about. I want to live in a world where our tenderness toward her holds hands with our encouragement of her strength.
And I want to live in a world where our elders are baked into the fabric of it, not exiled out to its frayed edges. A world that knows what there is to value in what they have to offer.
As a more than middle-aged woman myself, I hunger for the world to treat me this way. And I am luckier than most. I was dealt a nice hand. I have financial security, my mother’s genes gave me a fast metabolism, and my father gave me his creativity. So I don’t fade into the background quite so quickly. But, more and more, I feel my irrelevance when I walk through a crowd. So, like I say, I get it.
But articulating what I want from the world has made clear what I must give. Can I make a practice of really seeing the older people that show up in my day? My 93-year-old mother-in-law, for instance? Can I practice being open to her essence, and setting aside her imperfections? Can I expand my awareness so that her innate value pulsates in my own heart? Can I do this for all the elders who walk by me, on any given day?
You can only have what you’re willing to give. That’s one of the things I’ve learned on this mountain.
What are we willing to give in order to have the world we want?