On being an ageing woman
This is the 18th essay in the #26essays2017 challenge that I’ve set for myself this year. I’m doing this because I’m the first to admit I’ve become a lazy writer: allowing guest posts and series and cross-posting to make up the bulk of content on The Diane Lee Project across 2016. The brave, fearless writing that readers admired and respected me for has all but disappeared. This year—2017—will be different. I’m reclaiming my voice—my write like a motherfucker voice!
There’s nothing wrong with old age. ~ The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
One of my favourite movies is The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. For those of you who haven’t seen the film, it’s based on an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story (which I’ve never read and probably should) that traces the life of Benjamin Button, who was born old, and gets progressively younger. I find the movie deeply philosophical and moving in the way it deals with questions of age and ageing.
I was never one to rely on my looks to get me anywhere in life, mainly because I’ve not really had them to start with. I don’t consider myself ugly — far from it — but I am not beautiful. I am, on a good day, quite attractive. In my younger years, I had no trouble attracting men. My late teens and twenties were, in fact, spent quite promiscuously. There was something about me that men found rather fascinating. I think (but I can’t confirm) that I was a curious mix of vulnerability and strength, of resilience and uncertainty. I wasn’t skinny, but I wasn’t overweight; I had large breasts (and still do) and slim hips (which aren’t quite so slim anymore).
I’ve always had a big personality, despite the awful childhood that almost beat it out of me. Speaking up and out often resulted in being hit with whatever my mother could get her hands on: shoe, hand, wooden spoon. Funny how as an adult I am proud of my ability not to be cowed by anything very much. My big personality has always been my major draw card, and I haven’t worried too much about my graying hair, lines and wrinkles, the heading south of my body, despite diet and exercise. And four of my five tattoos — and counting — have been inked into my body after the age of 52.
I thought I had accepted that I was almost officially middle-aged, and had talked myself into the idea that ageing is a privilege. Not everyone gets to grow old. I even call myself an old lady, although I was kind of joking, and am pleased when people say: You’re not old!
The lines and wrinkles that are now an enduring and defining part of my face are evidence that time is marching away from me.
I had accepted my ageing… up until the last few months, that is.
Now, I am painfully aware that I am not young. I am, in fact, sliding solidly into old age.
I am aware that men look at — ogle, even — young women, even when they are involved in a rigorous conversation with me. Eyes slide sideways to take in a lithe form as she passes by.
I am aware that I am, essentially, invisible. I am overlooked and bypassed and ignored in bars and queues, and I protest with a: Hey! I was here first! and proceed to tell off the person who dared overlook and bypass and ignore me.
I am aware that menopause is descending on me at a rapid rate of knots, and with biological imperatives removed, I am a less than ideal mate, especially for the (slightly) younger men I prefer. Some would say these men are relieved, but that urge to procreate is strong, even if sex does not result in offspring.
I am aware that, as much as I profess to be comfortable in my skin, the truth is I am not. The lines and wrinkles that are now an enduring and defining part of my face are evidence that time is marching away from me. I am closer to my death now than I ever was, fate notwithstanding.
I am aware that when I am out with my much younger (and gorgeous) friends, I am thought of — by others, strangers — as their mother. Of course, I should be flattered that others, strangers, would think my genes are that good, but the superficial, snap judgement that my age is equivalent to motherhood is something I object to.
I am aware that the beautiful, younger men who cross my path daily in Vietnam will never find me attractive or appealing in the superficial way that I sometimes desire. In that “I would like to take you into my bed, strip you naked and have my way with you” way that occurred regularly 20 or 30 years ago.
(Although I recently met a beautiful Vietnamese man around my age who is very keen to take me into his bed, strip me naked and have his way with me. And not in a superficial way either, which is a much, much better.)
How do I reconcile ageing and invisibility? Ageing and judgmental stereotyping? Ageing and the inevitability of death?
I have no answer to these questions, at least not yet, but surely the answer partly lies in the idea that age is not synonymous with being old.
And old is not what I am.
Or will ever be.
Photo taken by me in on a ferry in Kerala, India in 2015.