Recently, I was standing in a crowded NYC subway car when a woman in her 40’s who was seated, said to me:
“Would you like to have my seat?”
A knife in my back could not have been more of shock to my system than this question. I was wearing jeans, sneakers, and a J. Crew sweater. My roots were recently done, I had a bag picked out by my 28 year old daughter. In other words, there was nothing to give away my age except that must have looked my age!
I smiled at her as I said, “Oh, no thanks, I’m totally fine,” although I desperately wanted to ask, “is it those little lines around my mouth? Did I seem unsteady on my feet? Did you notice hair growing in places where none should be?” Instead, I just checked to make sure that my husband who was standing nearby, didn’t see the interaction. I didn’t want him to think it was time to get one of those electric seats on a track to carry me up the staircase to the second floor of our house.
Maybe I was particularly sensitive to this moment because just the week before I was paying for my groceries at the supermarket. The checker looked at me and smiled as she handed me the receipt and I noticed that it included a discount of 10%.
“What’s that for, I asked? She directed me to a sign that read:
SENIOR TUESDAYS 10% DISCOUNT
I pretended to be so pleased about this but scurried out of there shoving aside the young man who was about to ask me if I needed help to my car. This incident came after a younger friend of mine said that she wished I would be more positive about my body image because women her age were all about body positivity and she said, “it’s a shame for you to look at yourself and only see an older woman with saddle bag hips which isn’t who you are.” True or not, it was nice of her to say but it’s hard because when I look in the mirror I see something that is either fading, bulging or shriveling. So between my unasked for discount and the exchange on the subway, I was feeling kind of vulnerable and it set back my body positivity work.
For example, I was looking at my toes the other day, and I focused on the toes that are adjacent to the little pinky toes. Maybe you spend your time more productively, but on that day this constituted my afternoon activity. Looking at them was a revelation that sent me spiraling.
I used to have perfect toes. I can brag about that because it was the singular part of my anatomy that I was proud of. You had to have seen my toes in their heyday to really appreciate what I’m saying. They were straight with just-so sized toenails. But the truly admirable aspect of my toes is that they went from big to little arranged in perfect proportion, much as the keys on a xylophone. People would actually comment on my toes. They’d exclaim, “you have beautiful feet” but what they were really noticing were those dreamily proportioned toes. The feet were fine, but the toes were a standout.
But now I notice that several of those toes are turned under obscuring the nails as if they were now hiding from the world much like Garbo did when she knew she didn’t look the way people remembered her. I no longer get complimented on my feet for the same reason as I’m offered the 10% Tuesday senior discount. Age.
I am not happy about this. I’ve never been one to depend on my looks for advancement or opportunity. Let me clear. I would have if I could. But for me the physical was a neutral. It didn’t get me anything special but it didn’t hinder me either. But youth. Yes, youth was a real bonus for me, an ally who helped me infiltrate some exciting worlds and brought me some heady experiences. My young toes nestled happily inside 4” high heels and played footsies with some memorable young men. I loved youth. I was even one of those people who appreciated it while I had it. It was not wasted on me. I went from being the youngest in my world, to being an appropriate age, to looking young for my age, to……finally just being my age.
It’s inevitable. I know this. I give aging a hard time when it makes sense. I hike, I walk the dog, I lift a few pounds of weight in addition to the ones that have made a permanent home on my body. I’m working hard to put aside the whining and the pining for times past. I’ll probably even give away the size small bikini I wore when I was 20 that I saved dreaming I would wear it again and then, in later years, saved to show my kids that once upon a time that was your mother.
The point of all of this is that I’m wondering if it isn’t time to start wearing sleeveless tops again and embrace the fact that no one is mistaking me anymore for being younger than I am. A good friend said to me, “I just beat two rounds of cancer, I’m in my own house with my husband, it’s 90 degrees and I’m wearing a shirt with sleeves that cover all of my upper arms and I’m dying of the heat. I don’t even want my husband to look at my flabby arms. This is nuts,” she said, “this is the moment I go sleeveless!” And she found a tank top that was probably put away to be used as a rag and put it on.
I’m really taking to heart what my old friend is doing and what my young friend has suggested I do: defy my age and knock that finger wagging devil off my shoulder who judges every roll and wrinkle on this body that has served me so well. It birthed three children, it carries me through my travels, it gives me pleasure albeit with the occasional aches and pains. When I think about it, it really is a beauty. So, yeah lady, the next time you see me on the subway I’ll happily take that seat because I’ve earned being comfortable. You’ll recognize me. I’ll be the one wearing the open toe shoes and a sleeveless tee shirt that says: Senior Tuesdays 10% off.