On Aging: One of “Those” Women…

aging

I needed a dress for a wedding. For some, this might seem a perfectly normal thing, but I loathe clothes shopping. Detest. Abhor. Hate with a fiery, red-hot passion. Yet I knew I couldn’t very well show up in the sweat-stained sweater I’d been wearing over my pajamas every day for the past week.

My stomach twisted up like a class F4 tornado, as I pulled into the department store parking lot. I’d gained forty-five pounds in the past year. What had my doctor called it? Oh, yeah, “dramatic weight gain.” You think?

Whether this added heft was due to my full hysterectomy, or my lack of an actual thyroid, or my love of white cake with lemon frosting and sugar sprinkles, I’ll never know. All I knew was that I’d worn a size 4 since I was twenty, except for that two-year period after my divorce when I cinched my 00 cargo pants with a belt.

As I wandered amongst the racks, I looked like every man found shopping on Christmas Eve – lost, forlorn, and hopeless.

I finally found something that didn’t make me want to lose my mind, and I hung three sizes of the same dress over my hand. I had no idea what size I wore now.

I schlumped to the dressing room and prepared myself for my personal descent into the 7th pit of HELL – the trying on of clothes that I loathe shopping for.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall… I look like I’m seven months pregnant. Where’s my child?  The fruit of my womb? Is that a kick? Alas, no… it’s hunger pangs…

Size 6.

Dream on.

Size 8.

No, really… dream on.

Size 10.

Nope.

I grabbed my sweats off the floor, yanked them on, zipped up my hoodie, and went back into the fray for a 12.

It sort of fit if I didn’t breathe too deeply, or expand my rib cage in any normal way, as one does when they actually take in oxygen.

Size 12…

I’m a house.

In all likelihood, I would have been more comfortable in a 14, but there was no way I could handle that. You know, emotionally, and all.

If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m not a girly-girl. Never have been. Hate pink. Hate dresses. Hate frills. I can’t tell you what type of dress I bought that day. Like if it’s a a-line, or b-line, or whatever. It felt like the fifties to me – gray with black and pink flowers. I even bought the fucking pink sweater that came with it. Because… wedding and fluffy, young love.

I felt pretty low for a few days after that shopping excursion. I huddled in my sweats, clutching imaginary cake. I guessed my six-day-a-week workouts for the past two months were really doing wonders for me, as I popped estrogen into my mouth like Milk Duds.

Eventually, I pried my fingers apart, dropped the pretend crumbs, and looked at my new dress. It was kinda pretty, despite the extra fabric. With a surge of hope, I decided I would focus on hair and make-up.

I once again had purpose.

I looked in the mirror and ran my fingers through the hair that had finally grown out after my mid-life crisis pixie cut.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall… is that a gray patch? Nah. No. It looks like a gray patch of newly planted hair seeds. No. That’s not gray. It’s silvery blond.

Because I’ve actually burned plastic into my hair by setting my curling iron too close to the hair dryer before commencing curling, I called a professional and made an appointment. I told her I had bought a “bun thingy” and asked if she could just put it in for me and do something with my bangs, so they didn’t look like that lone Q-Tip that’s been shuffled around in the bottom of a cosmetics bag for the past twenty years.

She hesitated just long enough to make me wonder if the call had been disconnected. “Sure,” she finally said.

Perfect.

Hair?

Check.

Next… make-up. Here’s where the story takes a twist. I’m a PRO at make-up. I have a crazy awesome collection of MAC and brushes galore. I can definitely do make-up. This isn’t a girly-gift. This is art and painting. I’m mother-‘effin-Monet with MAC.

On the day of the wedding, my hair perfectly coiffed and shellacked with about as much Aqua Net as the ozone layer could handle, I was feeling in character when I sat down to paint my face. I set up my little light mirror and pulled out the perfect shades of pink and brown I’d chosen, and began.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall… why does the skin of my neck look like the soft folds of a cowl neck sweater?

You would have thought I was seeing myself for the first time in five years. My face was changed. The version of me that I walked around thinking I was, was gone. My foundation poured into the cracks and wrinkles of my face and set there like concrete; like the dry-cracked mud of the Mojave desert.

It was in that moment that I realized…I was one of “those” women. All this angst over my weight gain, and crinkly neck, and deepening wrinkles… OMGoddess. I was one of those females I’d heard about. The ones who put all sorts of stock in their appearance, then the market crashes, and they lose everything. Or so they think.

And this isn’t to say that I was the Bo Derek supermodel type before either, but I had gotten a fair amount of attention in my life because of how I looked. This reckoning almost shattered my mirror that day. Who will I be without this outward appearance? Who will I be as my hair turns grayer and grayer? Who will I be as I begin to fully embrace the beauty within, and let go of societal expectations of how I should look on the outside?

I’ve spent some time since looking at beautiful photos of Diane Keaton and Helen Mirren. I love their fire, their spunk, and their style. They’re aging gracefully; beautifully. I can draft behind them until I figure out how to embrace this new version of the physical me.

16 replies
  1. Sheila Bergquist says:

    Oh, Melanie, you gave me a much needed laugh for the day. I can relate to this so much it’s ridiculous. I think I’m handling aging fairly well but underneath, all those “my God…what has happened to me?!” feeling are there. I’m now off to get some ice cream, even though I shouldn’t be eating it. But I’m going to anyway because it makes me feel good and to be honest, with all I’ve been going through, that’s more important to me right now than looking good. Thanks for such a great article!

    Reply
    • Melanie Bates says:

      Thank you, Sheila. I hear you, sister. “My God… what has happened to me?” is a common refrain for me, too. I think you raise an amazing point here, too. Yes, eat the ice cream. I know I could lose my forty-five pounds if I went back to my anti-inflammatory diet of chicken, veggies, and nuts. But, oh Lord, it’s just not sustainable. The trick, for me, is to not eat the ice cream everyday, which I’m sometimes wont to do. Well… because as you already know from reading my blog, I’m a full-blown sugar addict LOL.

      Sending hugs, I hope things are settling down for you.
      Melanie

      Reply
  2. Layne says:

    Thanks Melanie. That was a fun read.

    Guess I’m an empathetic mentalpausal male wondering where his hair went, why I should have to pay for years of high altitude sunshine and O-M-G, are those skin growths caused by years of low level gamma and neutron work exposure and are they benign??

    Dad’s summary on aging was simple “you just get older and uglier” but at least he continued to get nicer, classier and retained his larger-than-life presence. I’m hoping for two out of the three.

    Side note–Whit turned 108 yesterday.

    Reply
    • Melanie Bates says:

      This is great, Layne. I sat on my mom’s porch last week and started pointing at all these growths on my neck and under my arms, and asked her what in the hell was happening. They’re as abundant as the stars around the teapot constellation you had pointed out to us.

      Mom: “Oh, those are skin tags. It happens as you get older.”

      Me: “Awesome.”

      I like Whit’s summary on aging. I’m sure you’ll have all three in spades.

      xo
      Melanie

      Reply
  3. Allison Crow says:

    Oh love. I feel you. I have an extra 45 and am 12 when I’ve always been a 6 too. My thyroid is a mess and my desire and energy are shot. I love who I am on the inside but I see my mom in the mirror not me. It has taken me 4 years to learn how to dress my new body and look at myself in the mirror with kindness again. (Eyelash extensions helped). For the past few years I felt like I was in puberty all over again. I’m slowly rising from the misery and declaration into a new acceptance and agreement. I won’t give up my wine or pasta and I certainly am not going to slay my body at boot camp. My friends are mortified that I buy jeans at chicos- but they really do flatter my fluffy belly better. I love you. Thanks for giving me a place to commiserate. I too,am looking more at strong and beautiful inside and out women…. I’m following a few style over 50 women on IG – I’m not there yet …. and like my rambling comment here- I still haven’t sorted out all my feelings about my aging. Even Facebook tags MY MOTHERS name when I post a selfie now?’ Wtf?

    Sigh. And love.
    And headed for some ice cream and wine.
    ❤️❤️❤️

    Reply
    • Melanie Bates says:

      Oh, Allison love, I SO hear you and feel you. I went through a period of about a year trying to figure out what style was even my own nowadays. It didn’t feel like vintage bowling shirts anymore, for sure. LOL. I’m still not sure I’ve found it, though I love me some Diane Keaton. Mostly I just wear hugely baggy flow-y stuff to hide it all. I think I’ve gotta grow into this whole aging deal, and I’m rambling with you. Ooh, and the thyroid thing… Eeek… Mine was removed. I’m sure that can account for some of my added poundage – it can’t all be cake. I love that you’re looking in the mirror with kindness, that’s on my agenda. No question. <3

      Oodles of love while we ramble together.

      Reply
  4. Monica Wilcox says:

    Don’t we spend our lives adjusting to our changing body? It starts when we suddenly go from horizontal to vertical at the age of 1. Then we’re changing so fast we assume buying bigger shoes every 6 months is the norm… until we’re not. Then puberty hits and we really start to wonder who is this person and when will she/he STOP changing. How broad are these hips going to get? Am I going to be hitting my head on hatchback doors forever? Our society celebrates all these physical changes. We celebrate growth but we don’t celebrate aging. We don’t know how to celebrate a changing body at age 40, or 50, or 70. It’s “graceful” or “dignified” but never a continuation.

    As always, I love your vulnerable, honest posts!

    Reply
    • Melanie Bates says:

      That’s beautiful, Monica. And true. I think we quasi-celebrate aging, but we do it in weird ways with black balloons and jokes. I’m going to figure out how to own the crone. I am.

      Love you,
      Melanie

      Reply
  5. Sarah Kappos says:

    Deep breath at the computer. Feeling you my friend, from far away. I am right there in the dressing room with you. I went there and wanted the size 8 to fit too. or at least the 10 for God’s sake. I have had the experience of rapidly swelling from a size 4 to a size 12…which really should have been a 14. I know how disorienting it is. It scared me so much, I carried a deep fear of weight gain for 10 years. I employed a sick and stringent regime to ensure it never happened again. I believe the pendulum has finally stopped swinging and I am not so afraid anymore. Now instead of fear, I carry a kindness for my body. There is so much abundance this body wants to give me, of energy and strength, and I let her. It is only on the other side of honest work that my body can give me all of this goodness. I work for her, and with her. and I thank her. I love you so much Melanie. Honestly. I do. I hope you find your Grace and move with her. You absolutely deserve it.

    Reply
    • Melanie Bates says:

      Ah sister, you always see me so clearly, and I’m ever thankful for that. Bless you, Sarah. And… I will say, I’ve so admired how much you are honoring your body and strength. It shines from you like the brightest lighthouse and I can feel how alive you are. It’s truly inspirational. Love you so much, too, my friend.

      Reply
  6. Tegon says:

    It doesn’t really matter Melanie… the world is the way you make it up. If you’re happy with you the rest of us will be as well. My wife and I have been together for 47 years and she is as beautiful now as the first day we met. When you get this far along no one wants a twenty-something airhead. You want someone that has survived all that life has thrown at you… nothings better than sharing your scares!

    Reply
    • Melanie Bates says:

      Dear Tegon,

      Thank you so much for the kind and wise words, and congratulations on forty-seven years with your beautiful wife. Wow, that’s so lovely. And, I agree, “nothings better than sharing your scares.”

      Big blessings,
      Melanie

      Reply

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