(Originally published 5/04/08)
"But Dr. Michael Alexander Salzhauer, a plastic surgeon from Florida, is a fan of honesty. He has written a children's book, My Beautiful Mommy, that bluntly explains it all.
"Why are you going to look different?" the girl asks.
"Not just different, my dear — prettier!" Mommy responds."
I never thought of myself as a rebel but there’ve been a few moments when my comfort with getting older was brought to my attention as being ‘odd’. One experience in particular comes to mind.
I was trying on flamboyant hats in TJMaxx one afternoon. A teenager was shopping with her mother and they both started talking about how much they loved hats but didn’t dare wear them because they felt silly. But they loved hats anyway. At least on other people. And they liked seeing women dressed to the nines with hats adorning their heads even if they were menopausal. I said, “Well, I just LOVE getting old because there’s nothing as marvelous as a middle-aged woman in a fancy hat.”
The slim-hipped teenager looked at me as if I’d landed a spaceship in the parking lot. “You like getting older?” she asked. She looked at her Mom. Mom didn’t say anything.
“Of course I like getting older,” I said. “Women are beautiful with wrinkles around their eyes and ridges in their cheeks from a lifetime of laughter.” Well, you coulda heard a pin drop and in a discount department store, that’s something to say.
“My mom hates getting old!” the girl blurted, at which point I realized my faux pas using both beautiful and wrinkles in the same sentence.
I replied, “I lived in Europe for a few years. Maybe that’s where I embraced being older with being sexy.” This comment deterred the conversation to life in France and how lucky we were to have lived there which was a nice reprieve from the direction we were headed talking about Old Women and They-Should-Just-Die. Or, “Why don’t they drop out of sight now that their cheeks aren’t rosy and breeding is no longer a status symbol of their worth?”
Yea, I have those kinds of thoughts but keep them to myself most times. I can still chitchat while imagining headlines in the newspaper: Oldish woman creates Panic Attacks in TJMaxx customers.
I really hate hearing women complain about getting older and losing their value in society. You’d think that once we moved out of the baby market and headed towards true sexual emancipation, we could finally love ourselves just for being ourselves and not because of our sex appeal. Besides, who decided wrinkles weren’t sexy? I daresay an older woman knows more about pleasing a man than any spring chicken could learn from watching Cinemax.
One thing for sure, both my daughter and my son know their mama loves getting older as a symbol of wisdom and worth. I’m not afraid of losing my taut skin, perky perkies and creaseless eyes. They served their purpose.
“You are so beautiful!” my children say---much to people’s bewilderment. I’m no beauty by Hollywood standards but I get the impression that what makes mama beautiful is the same beauty those babies saw when gazing into my face three decades ago. I’m glad they still recognize me.
I hope my daughter sees herself in me and knows that she is beautiful too, although neither of us will be walking runways anytime soon. We're two normal women who believe getting older is natural, wonderful, something to look forward to. Which is good because reality is: we get old or we don’t. And if we don't, we aren't gonna care about wrinkles anyway.
So my daughter and I are shopping for jewelry one day and she says (much to the clerk’s astonishment), “Mom! I love that bracelet on your wrist because it shows off your crinkly, soft skin!”
Yes, call us rebels. These days, accepting a woman's aging process is being a rebel. But to me, there is nothing rebellious about going under the knife to fit social demands. If people are uncomfortable seeing an old woman in a fancy hat, they can stuff themselves. I won’t manufacture content by avoiding public discomfort with aging women who think they're hot stuff.
Now all this came up after reading a few articles about a new book titled My beautiful Mother. I can understand someone hating a crooked nose but if every human being fixed the bump in the middle of their nose, I wouldn’t recognize my tribe. A bump in the middle of the nose is better than a DNA test for our family, though my nose is practically bumpless. I do have an outward familial swing to my walk, which is fodder for countless jokes about our Duck-Walking-Bump-Nosed family from the Rocky Mountains.
Maybe it’s just a familial thing but I never thought my Aunts were ugly. I figured the bump on their noses served dual purposes: a genetic marker and an eyeglass holder. They never fidgeted around pushing glasses back on their noses, that’s for sure. I suppose bumps are all about attitude and my family has plenty of that.
My Aunties weren’t exactly keen on gray hair, though. Most of them sported bright red coiffures well into their nineties. Bright red hair, duck feet, bumps holding up rhinestone glasses and more wrinkles than egyptian cotton and wow, they were beautiful to me. I wanted to be just like them.
Truth is: I’d hate going to family reunions with Barbie and Ken look-alikes. I’d feel out of place. Like I needed to change myself. I’d wonder what was most relevant in their lives: how they looked or how they lived? I’d probably feel like chopping, cutting, slicing and dicing any protrusions the world deemed unlovely. What messages would my mother have given me had she fixated on fixing her boobs? That relationships were so shallow that breast-height determined a woman’s shelf life?
You know, in thinking about my childhood, there was nothing that made me feel safer, more connected and secure than my hook-nosed uncles loving bump-nosed aunts and half the family walking with an obvious outward swing to their feet. They were my people. I belonged. And they loved me.
Salzhauer, Michael. My Beautiful Mommy
Packaging Girlhood. My Narcissistic Mommy
Chicago Tribune. Forever Young