For as long as I can remember, I’ve associated aging with physical and mental decline, depression, illness, and isolation. Not shockingly, I have amassed plenty of evidence to support this not-so-fabulous belief system. Most impactfully, when my father turned seventy he fell into a severe depression. He was one of the most robust, energetic, vital people I have ever known, and watching him lose his will to live only intensified my fear of growing old.
As I write this, just after my 45th birthday, I’ve decided that the best gift I can give myself is to transform and improve my relationship with getting older. Shockingly (or not!) when I googled “how to improve your relationship with aging,” all that came up was how to care for your elders or your aging partner. When I googled “how to feel better about aging” I was hit with ads for anti-aging creams, filler, and Botox. Deep sigh. I realized it was up to me to do the research and write the article I wanted to read myself.
Clearly this is a complicated and loaded topic, and one I am just starting to explore, but here’s what I’ve come up with so far:
Shift the Narrative
I don’t know about you, but it’s very easy for my brain to come up with reasons to dread aging. So today, for the first time, I wrote down some of the benefits of getting older:
- I take better care of my mind and body
- I’m more confident
- I take bigger risks
- I ask for what I’m worth
- I’m less preoccupied with what other people think of me
I was shocked at how many I came up with in just a few minutes. Try it for yourself by filling in the blank: “The great thing about getting older is…”
Ask Better Questions
To get better answers you have to ask better questions. Here are some I’ve been asking myself:
- What might improve in my life as I get older?
- What am I looking forward to?
- What do I still want to do, see, learn, and explore?
- How can I contribute more?
- What kind of role model do I want to be for my daughters?
Redefine Your Beauty Ideals
In our youth obsessed culture women still seem to disappear as they get older. Movies, magazines, and even social media feeds continue to almost exclusively featuring the young. Thankfully, I’ve discovered some trailblazers who are working to promote healthy, authentic, and beautiful images of older women. Just one example is the book And Bloom: The Art of Aging Unapologetically, which shares portraits and interviews of more than 100 women from 40 – 100 years old who are embracing their natural beauty, wisdom, vitality, and power. Author Denise Boomkens also shares stunning portraits of women over forty on her popular Instagram feed. I also discovered the work of Ari Seth Cohen, creator of Advanced Style, a project devoted to capturing the sartorial savvy of the senior set. You can check out Ari’s book, documentary, and photography right here.
When there are so many voices telling us we need to slow or halt the aging process, it’s so refreshing to identify people who are claiming, sharing and celebrating aging. More of this, please!
Look for New Role Models
In my quest to find new role models and inspiration I realized that while they may not be found in the magazines I read or the shows I watch, they are all around me. My own mother fully embraced her love of writing in her mid-seventies, and is now getting her exquisite poetry published. My god-mother, Judith, continues to teach, write, and travel in her late eighties. My mother-in-law, Susan, survived lung cancer, reads voraciously, and has the most active social life of anyone I know. My colleague, Ellen, just launched an online program designed to demystify menopause and help women feel more empowered throughout the aging process. My bonus mother-in-law, Patricia, launched a business in her seventies called The Third Act, focused on helping women to reinvent their lives in retirement. My great-great uncle Norman, who just died peacefully at 105, gardened and rode on his tractor until the very end!! Need a new role model for a new season in your life? Just look around you – they’re everywhere.
Read All About It
A few book recs that I plan to check out: The first is by Louise Aronson, MD, UCSF Gerontologist, called Elderhood, which has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. The second comes out this week – The Inside Story: The Surprising Pleasures of Living in an Aging Body, by Dr. Susan Sands. “This book is not about trying to look fifty when you’re seventy or thirty when you’re fifty,” writes Dr. Sands, “It’s about forging a healthier relationship with your actual maturing body―a relationship of respect, appreciation, tenderness, and yes, even love.”
At the end of the day, aging is a privilege that not everyone gets to experience. To be here, healthy, alive, and still have years ahead of me to watch my kids grown up, form new relationships, create, learn, and explore – what a tremendous gift.
I’d love to know: Have you discovered positive influences, role models, resources, or inspiration on the topic of aging? Maybe you’ve discovered your own insight or wisdom? Please share in the comments below.
Photography Credit: Jonahs Bie