I was looking in the mirror this morning and in the bright morning light I saw an especially long eyebrow hair. It was shocking for both its coarseness and length. How had it grown so long? But the worst part was that it stood way up north on my forehead, like Newfoundland is to the United States, a whole Canadian province in-between. It was hardly even an eyebrow hair at all.
It made me think about the last time my mother visited and my seven-year-old son asked her why she had so many whiskers on her chinny-chin-chin. Because she did. Long whiskers had grown there unseen, uncommented on by anyone because who is going to look at her scarred and wrinkled skin now that she is in her late seventies, living among similarly aged, sight-impaired people?
Both these things seemed slightly shocking familial evidence of how our bodies change and fail us as we grow older.
This past summer I noticed that when I bend over in my mom-kini my skin wrinkles like crepe piling in on itself in teeny tiny creases. And last week standing in front of the mirror, I noticed how the weight within my body has settled somewhat underneath my skin. While I've inherited just enough skinny genes and competitive spirit to keep me relatively fit, there just is no holding back the passage of time.
I look at my two daughters ages seven and five, at the luster of their skin, the thick glorious silk of their waist length hair. We talk all the time about how their bodies will change over time and they'll get hair on strange parts of their bodies and what will happen to the eggs they don't use, and how they'll one day get breasts. They nod solemnly, proud to be let into the secrets of future womanhood. And so for myself and for their futures, I try always to speak of aging in positive terms.
I am turning 45 this month, and I am painfully aware that it is a large move away from something. Something I have been marching away from both slowly, and all at once, all these years.
Today I looked at the latest issue of Vanity Fair. It's their 22nd annual Oscar extravaganza and thus features a panoply of Hollywood stars.
As always, while looking at Vanity Fair or any magazine featuring beautiful people, I can't help but hold myself up in comparison to these beauties. But the wonder of this cover (besides the fact that of 13 women it only features three women of color, and only those three African-American women are left to represent all women of color, which is a shame much larger and pervasive than I can deal with here) was that it featured saucy, dew-skinned Jennifer Lawrence, and the lovely Cate Blanchett, as well as the iconic Jane Fonda, still devastatingly sexy Helen Mirren, and quirky Diane Keaton, all aging and ageless.
On the cover they are layered one over the other, a mass of female power toppled onto one another. And inside they are stripped down or wrapped up, one by one, close up or full length, inscrutable or laid bare.
They are gorgeous. They are strong. They are sexy and commanding. They are our pasts and future.
As I sat typing this, searching for the meaning in all these age thoughts, my seven-year-old daughter, the one who once said, “I hope you don't get F-A-T,” (as if spelling it would soften the comment so out of character with how we talk about bodies here in Casa del Groeber) picked up the Vanity Fair. She unscrolled the cover, carefully scrutinizing each woman.
“Look at this, Mama,” she said.
“They're lovely, aren't they?” I prompted.
“They're old. They're old and they're lovely,” she replied. Which I guess to a seven-year-old is true, but still.
And I cannot decide if this is a step forward or a step back. Is it so bad to be old, to be growing older? Perhaps the observation that someone is old should be considered a crown of glory, a thing of beauty, rather than a slight. Is it so terrible to have the lives we've lived show up, whether in the scars on my mother's face for having survived devastating skin cancer, or the wrinkles at the corners of Diane Keaton's eyes for all the laughter she's had, all the truths she's peered at through those unashamedly nearsighted eyes?
Must I long to be Jennifer Lawrence for her brash youth or Lupita Nyong'o for her smooth skin, sparkling eyes? Or should I desire instead to change the world with my wisdom like Jane Fonda, shift perceptions like Charlotte Rampling, or redefine my own sexiness, my new (old) beauty like all these powerful women?
Perhaps the answer is both – and rather than or. I should hold onto the things that keep me young inside, like hopes and dreams, being brash and taking chances. I'm only turning 45 after all.
And I should also seek to grow into this crepe skin that was born into the world during the Vietnam war, these veined hands that have typed reams, swaddled four children, buried a parent and a sibling, painted the world.
I ought to cherish the laugh lines around the corners of my eyes, the creases on my forehead that tell you I have looked out across the horizon and have seen tremendous things, and that I aspire to accomplish such great things, still. (Although never stray whiskers in unseemly places. Not ever.)
Happy 45th birthday to me. And happy whatever birthday to you, too, whatever gorgeous age you are.