Monday, March 30, 2009

What is Age Really?

Last week at the groovy health food store in town, the check out clerk asked me, “So… do you get a senior discount?” I stared at her, quizzically. She stared back. I continued to stare. “It’s 55,” she said, this time, with a little bit of doubt in her voice. I continued to look at her then said, “Well, I’m 40… Maybe I’m not getting enough sleep.” I didn’t say this meanly, just kind of astonished. All my life, I’ve had what they call a baby’s face and people always guessed me as being younger. Over the years, and wrinkles, people have come closer to guessing my age. I do love it though when people exclaim, “wait, you’re 40, but your skin….” It’s for the most part, minus 2 deep creases on the forehead, wrinkle free and very, very rosey.

I wasn’t wearing makeup, my dark lines more pronounced. After hearing I was 40 the clerk said, “Well, you look young… it’s the gray hair. Some people go gray early.” I bit back saying, “How could you know, when so many people dye their hair?” But there were others in line and not the time, I felt, to delve into the topic. I joked that maybe I should take the discount. “Don’t be offended,” the clerk pleaded. I assured her I wasn’t. Then in the car, I checked myself out in the car mirror. “I do look awful,” I thought. With my hair pulled back, the gray streaked stood out prominently. And the brown sweater did nothing for me either.

The question was, why do I, and I’m not alone, equate looking old as looking, well, crappy?!

As I drove home I briefly thought, maybe I should go back to dying my hair. I had to catch myself. Purposefully, a year and a half ago, still living in L.A., I bravely said, “I’m going to stop dying my hair and get ok with my gray.” Gray hair began speckling my hair since age 24 and I’ve been paranoid about it ever since. And working in the youth-driven Entertainment Industry, stoked this paranoia. I never wanted to go to an interview with my gray roots showing, especially in my mid-thirties. “I can’t wait to have gray hair,” said a twenty-something co-worker once. “I wonder if you’d say that if like me you went gray at your age,” I snorted. “Well, I can’t wait, I think it’s beautiful.” Beautiful? Hrumph. Now I know what Krista was talking about. Now that I see as something pretty and sparkly. But the clerk’s comments did catch me a little. Do I really look 55?

What does 55 or even 40 really look like these days? We see actresses touting 40 who look so – young… Meaning, smooth foreheads, no gray, and toned bodies. I often look at those smooth foreheads wondering, what’s their secret? Do they not stress like I do or is that Botox…

I told a pal about the clerk’s comment. “What? Why would she say that?!,” he responded as if he were defending my honor. “Well, I tried to remember all the times I stuck my foot in my mouth,” I responded, having reasoned that out already in the car. We discussed how you can’t tell age these days and he shared how he went through a hair dying phase. “What, really?,” I said astounded. He’s one of the most self-assured, grounded people I know. Like me, paranoid about his gray and working with younger men, he fell for the trap. Then one day he realized that he was at the age when gray meant mature. Just the other day, though, he checked out the gray hair of the other men in the office wondering, if they are at the same age, where’s their gray. He realized they must be hiding it under dye. Wow.

What is it that we are all hiding from? Can we change to a society where it’s ok to be gray and not just for the senior discount? Not feel worn out and useless? That we aren’t too old to stay in the game?

I still moisturize my skin ritualistically, trying to abate the wrinkles. They’re coming though. I hope when they come, I’ll be mature enough to handle them.

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