Thursday, June 7, 2012
What is “age appropriate?” Why are we encouraged (and occasionally nagged) to co-ordinate our actions, lifestyles, state of mind, mode of dress, makeup, hairstyles, etc., with a specific, chronological period of time?
It began when I was a child. “No!” my mother said. “You can’t read Peyton Place. You’re too young.” So I stole it out of her nightstand drawer while she was at work and read it anyway. She was wrong. I found it to be quite entertaining, and delightfully trashy…although a few of the more graphic sex scenes didn’t make sense until a few years later…
At fourteen, I took my hard earned babysitting money to Goldsmith’s to make my first “unsupervised” clothing purchase. I came home with a little black dress. Mom said black was “too mature” for a girl my age…but she let me keep it because I adamantly refused to take it back. I mean…it had a white collar…and it made me feel glamorous and sophisticated…
When I was nineteen, I took off for New York City (from Memphis, TN) to “blow my life’s savings.” (Really? I had about $200) At the bus station, I was told that I needed to “grow up and settle down…that going all the way to New York just to look at paintings in museums was frivolous and irresponsible…and that riding a bus for twenty six hours to a big city was dangerous (actually suicidal) for a naïve, young girl.” That one was really confusing, as I was being asked to act like a mature adult, while being told that I was too young to embark on such an adventure. So what was I? Grown up? Child? I didn’t care…I just wanted to see Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. I stood in front of that painting for hours…tears of joy running down my cheeks…in another little black dress…like Holly Golightly at Tiffany’s…heaven…
These days, I’m still experiencing ambiguous and conflicting messages, some from complete strangers, regarding my age appropriate appearance and lifestyle…or rather my absence of age appropriate appearance and lifestyle. While most people at sixty are comfortably ensconced in the “acquisition stage,” I’m getting rid of stuff. Not that I ever had much stuff to begin with, because I’ve spent most of my adult life (and my money) on fabulous adventures. Hoarding and saving for old age never made sense to me.
Most people don’t understand my retirement plan…to live in a vintage Airstream…to read and write and paint, overlooking a lake, a river, an ocean…to drink coffee and trade stories with quirky strangers in diners...to cook burgers on a big green egg…to never wear real shoes again. I don’t want to spend my golden years dusting off knick-knacks and mowing the grass. But they’re still telling me to “grow up.” …to “act my age.” My response is, “I am acting my age…in my head and in my heart.”
And then, there’s my appearance. I don’t dye my hair. It’s silver…to my waist…and I like it that way. People tell me, “you need to color your hair…the gray makes you look old.” But those same people say, “you need to stop trying to look like a teenager and cut your hair into a more “age appropriate” style.” So which is it? Do I look too old…or too young? Laughable really, since most of this sage advice comes from individuals who are dyed, stretched, injected, and sucked within an inch of their lives in a vain attempt to look twenty years younger. Seriously?
My philosophy? There is a right way and a wrong way for everyone. But what’s right for one person is probably wrong for another. Why can’t we just accept, and relish, the fact that we are all fascinating, fabulous, and unique individuals? If being able to check the age appropriate box is important, then please, do it! If riding a scooter with gray braids flying sounds like fun, then hit the road! If living in a nice house in the ’burbs is your life’s ambition, go for it! If you want pink plastic flamingos in your flower beds, by all means, put them there. And if you want to dye your hair the color it was in high school, or have your boobs lifted to where they were in high school, then I whole-heartedly support your efforts! I just want to wash my silver hair and roll down the car windows to let it dry in the breeze. I want to see my laugh lines and belly fat as signs of a life well lived. My point? We are free to be you and me. Why would we want to be anyone else?
Posted by Carol McNeill at 9:30 AM