Finding that silver hair gave me mixed emotions, but I kind of wish that I hadn't pulled it out at all. It's sort of beautiful. Really. But it got me thinking again. How do I want to age, or do I want to age at all?
(For the record, I'm all for eating healthily and making good choices for your body... and I say that as I sit at my desk and shove half a bag of sea salt & balsamic vinegar kettle chips down my throat.)
In short, your life must forever be centered around making yourself as healthy, fit, beautiful, and young as you can for as long as you live. How exhausting.
But here's the "beautiful" catch: you're not allowed to age. You should look like you're in your 20s or early 30s in order to be deemed successful. You're getting up there in age, you say? Well, don't tell me how old you really are, and don't show the world how old you look.
If you start to put on a little bit of weight, it's definitely not the work of your slowing metabolism; you didn't focus on your food or exercise habits like you should have. If your skin isn't flawless, you're not wearing the right makeup and you haven't been using the correct anti-aging skin products. If you have wrinkles, you spent too much time in the sun without the proper amount/strength of sunscreen - shame on you. If your hairs go gray or the color starts to fade, you have to dye it - and now. Your figure, face, and health are not perfect? That means you didn't try hard enough; that means you're not good enough.
Sorry, I'm not buying it. And I'm definitely not subscribing to that edict, either.
Heaven forbid you look your age. Heaven forbid you be human.
The fact is, we as a society place little-to-no value on the beauty of aging. Other cultures revere its elderly citizens because they are wise, have lived long and full lives, have knowledge and understanding and compassion that we lack. Modern Western civilization, and America in particular, pushes for the beauty of youth and the lie of perfection. We're a culture that focuses on achieving the ideal in every sense of the word, and there's a lot that is lost when that happens.
There's a sort of beauty that comes from those wrinkles, those scars, those imperfections that make a person unique. Instead of seeking to highlight the existing beauty in a person, we demand that they change everything that isn't up to par and ignore the beauty that is already there. We do this in so many different areas, too - not just exterior beauty. No wonder there is so much emptiness and hurt in our culture.
Heck, we can't even allow the youth to be their age. More now than ever, the young ladies and gentlemen in our society are pressured to grow up extremely early, to look older and more mature younger than ever. The world of social media, of glamorized reality television and YouTube tutorials, has shown them how to look and act like they're in their 20s before they've even learned how to drive or apply for their first job. If they take major stock in that stuff, we're in a little bit of trouble. I saw it every single day as a teacher. I can't help but look back to my own high school years and compare, but good heavens - none of us looked like we were anywhere close to approaching adulthood... nor should we have. We still looked young and slightly awkward. Not these kids; they're freaking stunning. Half of my sophomore girls looked like they could be mistaken for a college student when they couldn't even drive, which absolutely terrifies me on the safety/sexual predator front. So they're supposed to look like they're in their 20s as soon as possible, and then they're supposed to stay looking that way for as long as possible.
Why can't teenagers just look like teenagers? What's so wrong with that?
What's so bad about looking your age?
I'm smack dab in the middle of my 28th year.
I've been blessed with really good genes in the face-aging area (I'll say nothing for now about the metabolism and McIver-woman figure I received).
I'm also relatively short at 5 feet, 4.5 inches (although I have a sneaky suspicion that I might be slowly shrinking).
For what seems like forever, I've had to combat my age. I've always looked young, and it has bothered me for years. While I have always considered myself to be mature for my age (thankfully that gap is closing - hallelujah for adulthood!), I looked far younger than I acted or felt. People telling me all the time that I don't look as old as I am got... well, it got old.
And now I'm starting to look my age. It's a weird reality, but I'm trying to embrace it. I've longed for my 30th birthday because this late-twenties thing is just strange. You're technically in your twenties. That sounds so young, but you are miles away from the person you were when you were 21. But the social stigma of arriving at a new decade can kind of get at you if you aren't ready to push against it.
Like I mentioned earlier, moving has impacted my beauty routine quite a bit. I've taken this weird phase in my life to try an experiment - I plan on letting my roots grow out completely and seeing what my hair actually looks like. People always ask me what my natural color is. While I say that it's an ashy version of my current color, I don't really know for certain. I've dyed my hair since I was a sophomore in high school. I've dyed it for twelve years. I'm also trying to wear less makeup - less foundation, less eyeliner, less eyeshadow, less everything. It takes a long time to apply, it's expensive, lots of makeup doesn't look good on wrinkles, and it makes me feel frumpy when I've minimized my makeup, or terribly ugly when I don't have it on at all. That's not how I want to view myself.
Let me say this: there is nothing wrong with wearing makeup or dying your hair. Hello, I've been doing it for everrrrrrrr, and it was awesome. It's just that I look up to women who don't subscribe to the ways of our fickle society and its ideas about beauty, who find their worth in more than what is on their external surfaces. I want to be more like that. More authentically myself.
As weird as this sounds, I've thought about how I want to look when I get older, and I have to say that my mom (and essentially her mother and grandmother) serves as my example. She has always been a bit of a tomboy and has never subscribed to the idea that she must look a certain way in order to be happy and successful. Thank goodness.
When you don't allow yourself to age gracefully, there are all sorts of weird issues that come up that shouldn't really be issues - that didn't used to be issues. We're supposed to try super hard to look as young as we can for as long as we can because that's what society says is best. Then, one day, we are magically transformed into an old woman with gray hair and wrinkles and a walker because we're actually ancient. How in the world is one supposed to age gracefully when you're focused on not growing old at all?
What I don't want to happen is this: I do not want to dye my hair for the rest of my life; I do not want to take my dyed hair and transition it into gray; I do not want to get frustrated about my foundation caking in my wrinkles and desperately bother women who work at cosmetic counters to fix my problem; I do not want to struggle with finding my beauty as I age (more than I already will) because I haven't allowed myself to embrace those changes and age gracefully.
As a woman who hopes to have children one day, I want to start working on this part of my life now, for so many reasons.
I want to see myself as beautiful when I look in the mirror with a toddler in my arms, bags under my eyes, hair a mess on my head, and makeup nowhere on my face.
I want to see the hair on my head the way it was meant to be, to see those salt and pepper slivers and regard them as badges of days well-lived and stressful times I've overcome.
I want to look at the lines on my face and know that oodles of joy and laughter went into making those.
I want to look at my daughters and nieces and tell them that they are beautiful and they don't have to be artificial to prove it. Nothing they can add or take away will change that. Their worth comes from their creator, and they will never value themselves if they do not first know and believe that they are truly valued.
I want those precious girls to look at me and know that I mean it because I live it.
I want my daughters to experience the joy of getting all dolled up now and then, to experience that extra bounce in their step for those special occasions. There's something uniquely energizing about that, but it doesn't happen if you're dressed/made up to the nines every day.
I want my daughters to focus on fashioning their character, on improving their minds, on being terrifyingly beautiful souls.
I want my daughters to view other women as beautiful and be able to tell them so. There's not enough of that in our world. Too much of our womanhood is focused on competing with and putting down other women, and I don't want them to think that's okay.
I want my sons and nephews to see that women are beautiful when they are authentically and uniquely themselves, that the allure of superficial beauty is shallow and short-lived.
I want those boys to see that women are beautiful. Period. Not a piece of meat, not a work of art, not a prize to be won, not a conquest to be achieved, not a child bearer, not a house keeper, not a slave to man and society at large to be disposed of when they've lost their lustre. They are beautiful human beings with beautiful souls to match.
I want my boys to one day seek a woman who runs after and puts stock into the important things in life, not the superficial and the fleeting.
I want to embrace my age, no matter the number. I've worked hard and endured many things to get to this point, and for that I am not ashamed. The Lord has blessed me with life and I want to take joy in that - it is not a blessing to be taken for granted.
I want to embrace beauty in all its stages. In all my ages. It all its different forms.