Yesterday I brought a dessert to a table of ladies celebrating a birthday. They were a couple of older gals, and I wished the birthday girl a happy 25th, because that’s just what you do. She gave a little laugh and said “oh, honey- I’m 76!”
She barely looked 50, and I wasn’t sucking up when I told her so. Yet instead of hearing my compliment her expression turned hopeless, and she gave an inexplicably apologetic look to her friend. “I’m almost 80. It’s crazy.” She said quietly. We both reassured her it was an accomplishment to be proud of, but she clearly wasn’t buying it. I left the table a little shocked.
I was at dinner with a group of women a few weeks ago and, as an adult (but the youngest there by 25 years or so) I found myself suddenly in a different role than when I was the daughter or niece at the table. “That waiter only started giving us any attention when you sat down!” One of my friends remarked, after another had said something to the effect of “I can’t believe she looks that great without any makeup!”
These women are role models I’ve looked up to my whole life. They’ve beaten cancer, they’ve owned businesses, they’ve run insane distances through the desert and they’ve traveled the world. Yet here they were coveting my eyebrows and the attention of some blushing kid. I didn’t understand how my status, which was backed up by little more than the odd adventure and a spotty working life, could have been so elevated by something none of us could control; youth.
Maybe it’s the possibilities, the strength or health that lend youth its power. Or maybe it’s all just a fabrication of capitalistic media, which recognizes the buying potential of a young, impressionable, sex-driven demographic. In their world, being young is desirable, fashionable, and (lets not forget) extremely lucrative- every ad we see reinforces the point. What is super sad to me is that our elders feel ashamed when the ads no longer apply to them. What happened to wise women?
This is my love letter to old ladies. You created us, you raised us, and if you’ve done it right your lives are rich and full of stories. Share them! Don’t teach me how to do my nails right or keep my skin wrinkle-free; teach me how to be kind and strong when I’m tired. Teach me generosity and courage. Teach me how to be a woman; there are more than enough girls around here.