According to this Oprah article, there's a lot. Evidently, we women are all burdened by burning questions about errant hair growth that we can't express without deep embarrassment. We choke on fears about peeing our pants. We are taxed by unexpressed inquiries about less than fully lubricated sex. And so, woefully uninformed, we go hurtling forth into the terrifying realms of old age without knowing what we are getting into.
What a depressing revelation to discover that all our concerns and inquiries about getting older center around such small and superficial afflictions! Don't get me wrong, knowledge is power and we certainly can all benefit from being better informed about any and every experience waiting down the pike...It's just that it saddens me to think women of a certain age are spending their precious time thinking -- not about whether they have secured the legacy they have always dreamed of -- but of whether they should get threaded or waxed.
It perplexes me to think that women entering into menopausal and post-menopausal age are concerned, not with the kind of role models they are or have been to their daughters and granddaughters, but with whether or not they are shrinking, ever so slightly. And, what saddens me more than all of that, is the idea that as we advance in age, after having endured decades of menstrual cycles, pregnancies and births, broken relationships and hardships, family traumas, sexual abuse and stirrup pants, we would be embarrassed to ask whatever questions we may have – so embarrassed, in fact, that Oprah had to intuit our need to know and publish and article so we wouldn't have to lower ourselves by uttering phrases like “vaginal dryness” or “hot flash.”
Now, I understand that we all, at every age, have vain concerns. There is nothing new or wrong with a sense of trepidation about aging. It certainly must be hard to see one's body change in alarming new ways and to feel out of control of certain functions we once all took for granted. But, is aging really such a profoundly confusing and mysterious process? It really is the one thing we all do, one way or another. Some of us do it kicking and screaming, some of us do it with grace, some of us do it only a little and then give up the ghost in the face of the daunting task, and others become pros just by virtue of investing all the time we are given to it.
Sure, aging is something that may inspire fear in us, especially when we are younger. But as we grow older, the job half done, we eventually see that we have “miles to go before we sleep” and we just keep on keeping on, right?...Right?
The truth is, whatever questions we may have, be they about crepey skin or a sense of self, we can never really know what surprises aging has in store for us until we do it.
Many of us try to pretend we are not doing it. The Hollywood way is to stave off (at least outwardly) signs of aging for as long as possible. Inject your face to keep it from forming wrinkles. Work your body at the gym to keep skin from sagging and muscle from inevitable atrophy. Dress youthfully so as to fool observers into thinking you are just out of college, in spite of your dyed hair and daily Boniva habit.
Others embrace aging as a mundane inevitability in spite of our increasing longevity as a species. People in their 30s talk of being old despite the fact that they will likely live another 60 years. People in their 40s complain of back pain and put it down to the aging process in spite of the fact that their cells continue to reproduce and foster new growth. People in their 20s panic about childbearing because soon they will likely be barren despite an increasing population of mothers over 40. And on it goes.
In the end, I think we are ridiculous. We love to look at our mortality, but it seems deep thinking and philosophy have gone out of vogue. So, we need another reason to mention the eventuality of our own deaths. Our souls are starved for connection and deeper fulfillment and we cope with this sense of lack by acknowledging all that is scary and wrong about losing our youth.
We continue to associate all that is positive about life with youth and conveniently forget the aching discomfort and insecurity of being young. We resist the awkward memories of growing up, learning maturity, making mistakes and all the rest of the life education that leads to “old age.”
As we age, that is, as we get smarter, richer, calmer and more secure, our bodies cease to be as outwardly compelling to ourselves and others. This could be seen as a gift and not a curse that we get as part of our preparation to leave this absurd physical plane where everything important seems to be physical. Getting older reminds us that this materialistic version of reality is not empirically true. Once we finally figure out that all of life has been a game played on a field of appearances, we finally, when we are old, get to let all that go.
So, who cares how many hairs we have in our collective chin? And is our dignity really based on how perky our breasts still are at our age? Are our relationships based on how cute we look or how resilient our skin is? No. And that, I believe, is the point.
We have, by aging, done all the work and made all the sacrifices necessary to move away from such inane and overly simplified views of ourselves and our lives. We have, by going through all of these changes, learned that we are more than the sum of our parts and have more to offer and gain in this world than a well preserved body. So perhaps all that is left to do is embrace the horror and enjoy the peace that comes with a well earned old age.
But, hell, what do I know? Ask me again in ten years.