At the Crossroads of Aging

Part Two: Embracing Aging

By Nicole Christina

You can find Nicole’s first piece on At the Crossroads of Aging in our August 2017 issue.

There’s an exciting new cultural trend you may have noticed — older women are speaking up and claiming their power.

This is no surprise. The size of the 50-plus population is expected to more than double in the next 35 years. This is a profound demographic shift in the U.S., and there is strength in numbers. We all have an interest in transforming this chapter of life — sometimes referred to as “The Third Chapter” — into a time of satisfaction, pleasure and well-being.

And we have more power than we think to do it.

It’s no longer unusual to see Facebook posts about people running marathons well into their 80s, as well as teaching yoga, traveling and generally doing exciting things. No longer are the years after 50 seen as a time for winding down and waiting for the inevitable decline.

“Compression of mortality”is the new goal — to reduce the amount of time between illness and death. More life, less illness.

It follows that women are taking more responsibility for their own health. We’re also taking matters into our own hands, and turning to more “alternative” paths to stay vibrant and well. Yoga is no longer esoteric and fringy. Even in Syracuse, we have many choices of studios and styles. Meditation, acupuncture and herbal remedies are all seeping into the mainstream. Case in point: it’s hard to go anywhere these days without seeing a display for essential oils.

Women are also embracing a new definition of beauty as they age. Attempting to conform to the idealized, youthful version takes much more time, work and money than it used to. Like Sisyphus and his boulder, the gray roots just keeping coming back. No amount of makeup can cover the fact that 55 does not look like 35. Fighting aging is a losing battle, and can look pretty unsettling as well.

There’s immense freedom in letting go of resisting your age, and making peace with where you are. Consider the popularity of Positive Aging spokeswoman and former model, Cindy Joseph. She encourages celebrating your age and not trying to cover up lines and sags with makeup. Rather, she encourages some minimal enhancements.

The Facebook Group “Growing Grey Gracefully” offers women a forum in which to talk about their ambivalence about gray hair.

It’s often a place to share the freedom of choosing to give up hair color. It’s a warm, welcoming and honest group of women coming to terms with aging together.

Many women are seeing the years after 50 with new eyes. We’re asking ourselves what we would like to do with this newfound freedom from family duties, and — for some of the more fortunate — job duties, as well.

It’s a time of excitement and opportunity, if approached positively. Even if our kids have not yet launched, or have launched and returned, we are reassessing our need to be so intimately involved with their meal preparation and other motherly responsibilities. This is a time ripe for self-discovery. When I ask my clients what they would like to do with their new free time, some are stumped. They’re so used to thinking about the needs of their families and employers. It can be an awkward process if you haven’t had the luxury of pursuing your own pleasures. I’ll often ask, “What did you like to do as a kid?” That can spark some ideas.

Of course, embracing aging isn’t always easy, or without painful adjustment. There are the inevitable losses that come with the territory — aging and dying parents, ill friends and families.

But it’s really OK to pass the 50-year mark. There’s no shame in looking it. When I’m with my tennis ladies and we’re all wearing our tennis skorts, no one has smooth, tight skin anymore. It’s a mess of veins, scars and stretch marks — the kind of skin that says it’s been around awhile. Truly, no one cares. We’re just out to have fun.

We’re all going the same place. Let’s just remember to celebrate our time along the way. SWM

Nicole Christina, LCSW, is a Syracuse-based psychotherapist and author, and creator of the web-course Greying and Grateful; Thriving at Middle Age and Beyond. You can find out more at NicoleChristina.com.

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