Aging with Grace
With my 40th birthday one year behind me, aging is often forefront in my mind. Even when I’m not consciously thinking about this new stage, I have found that, since turning forty, this constant theme presents itself.
There’s always a search for mentors and wise women, those who might guide me through this seemingly labyrinthian process. Those who can offer wisdom. Those who can show me what strength, beauty and power in women over 40 looks like. I have found a number of them.
But the biggest lesson I’ve been learning is that, ultimately, the one who should define what this process looks like is me.
And, for me, aging gracefully inevitably brings to mind the relationship I have with my body and appearance. And, mostly, it is positive. Unlike my twenties, when I counted calories and put foods into “good” and “bad” categories, today I have a much deeper understanding of nutrition. Having come through an autoimmune condition will do that. But a large part of it is also the aging process.
I want to have a healthy body so I can live the life I want, for many decades still to come. That intention was nowhere to be seen in my twenties.
But is has been my hair, not nutrition, that has led me into the aging process most gracefully. It happened right around the 40 year mark, which I no longer see as coincidental. I had tremendous anxiety about constantly needing to get my hair colored. I was in the colorist’s chair every three weeks. It was expensive, and I didn’t love that I was dousing my hair in chemicals that frequently.
There’s more to the story, but before I get to it, I want to address the elephant in the room. That is, the anxiety that comes to many in their forties, that surrounds aging.
Research published in the journal Social Science and Medicine found that the concern is nearly universal. It comes to us all, regardless of background, nationality or gender. Called the U curve, it has been studied in various populations around the globe and even in monkeys. And the results are consistent. For a period of time (which could begin in the 40’s, or in the 20’s) people experience these nagging feelings of dissatisfaction.
But there is definitely good news. Not only is this anxiety short-lived, it also can be minimized, through closer examination.
What I first see when I look closer is that it is nearly always linked to cultural expectations. What others, what the community at large, might think of me. (“Will letting my hair go grey mean I am no longer attractive?” “What will people think / say?”)
But there are also other nagging worries: I have not accomplished enough. There seems to be so much I have not done. What helps me move past these feelings and thoughts often begins with the desire to express my truest self to the world. And to further define my dreams. Not the ones others have for me, but the ones I have for myself. Those include connecting more to what my purpose is. To build a business to help others with chronic illness thrive. To grow as a writer.
Cultivating gratitude also helps. Gratitude that I’ve come through illness. Even gratitude that I’m still alive. And hope, that I may live a much longer time still. As one of my favorite writers and fellow recipe creators put it, “Life is long, if you’re lucky.”
Talking about it is also essential. Thankfully, this is a trend for women universally. Research from Cornell University has found that women in their 40’s are “more likely to talk about age, making the best of it.” We are telling our stories, our anxieties, our triumphs. And social media like Facebook and Instagram have become tremendous platforms for community-making and support. When I began growing out my grey, Facebook groups like Going Grey Gorgeously! offered such inspiration, and support.
Deciding to grow out my grey began with my hairdresser. “Why don’t you just try it?” she offered. “You can always change your mind.” And that was the beginning of a wonderful journey.
I’ve had more compliments than I ever expected. And I’ve gotten to both experience the shift (going grey is now more popular than ever) as well as offer encouragement to those who have been thinking about taking the leap.
Ultimately, aging gracefully is a process that needs to be personal, meaningful, and truthful. It is more than physical appearance and the body, although it is so much of that too.
Feeling more at home in our bodies, finding the courage to speak our truth and follow our hearts: these are the unexpected – and often unexpectedly joyful – aspects that we have to discover.