I recently read an article in Harper’s Bazaar magazine called “What Does it Mean to Age Gracefully?” written by Lauren Mechling. All about how the pandemic has affected our view of the aging process, what we think about aging, and what we plan to do about it, if anything. Mechling writes: “Women are taking advantage of the moment to reconsider and refine long-held ideas about aging.” Like the idea of aging gracefully. Whatever that means.
The “moment” Mechling is referring to is, of course, the long weeks and sometimes months when we’ve been stuck in lock-down with no access to a hairdresser to cover those grey roots and make us look and feel like our old selves again, and nowhere to go even if we did look like our old selves. I’ve written about the decision to go grey ad nauseam on the blog since last March. Because, as the weeks and months of lock-down rolled by last spring, I faced the increasingly unavoidable truth that when my natural roots grew out I would be 100% white-haired. And so I wondered and debated with myself about how being white-haired would affect me, and my self-image. Would it make me look older? Feel older? Would it change how others saw me? And how much did I care about all that?
When the process started, I didn’t mind being almost 64, and then turning 64, but I really did not see myself as 64 and white-haired. So as my hair grew and the swath of white became wider and wider, I tried to cover it up with a comb-over, and lots and lots of hats. In May, after three months of no hair intervention, I began to push my hair back with my hands to see what the white roots looked like against my face. And I was ambivalent.
By June I had decided to just go with the flow… or the grow, as the case may be. I played with make-up to better suit my almost colourless look, and avoided certain tops in my closet. In the meantime, I started a Pinterest board called What to Do with My White Hair. That was the best medicine for what was ailing me. When I looked in the mirror each morning at my blonde-brownish-white mess, I’d think how great Emma Thompson looked when she went all white, and I’d feel a bit better. One reader commented on a blog post that she finally made up her mind to colour or not when she was sitting in the stylist’s chair. I figured that when my July hair appointment rolled around, I too would know what I wanted.
And I did. By the time I was sitting in Carmen’s chair in early July, I was ready to embrace the white. In fact, I couldn’t wait to see what my new hair would look like. On my first two appointments Carmen simply gave me a cut. For a while I was white with brownish-blonde on the tips. Then I was all white. Then she added some low-lights to give a bit of definition to the front. And I loved it. I felt as if my new hair gave me permission to go a bit more louche in my style, to not be so obsessed with neatness, with being polished and put together. Just as my sister had predicted, going grey (or white) was freeing. I did not feel older. And I did not feel as if I looked older.
I have no idea whether others saw me any differently or not. My friends all said they liked the new look, but whether they were just being kind or not, I don’t know. I found I didn’t worry about what other people saw. I loved the fresh white. And the new softer texture. I enjoyed just pushing my hand through my hair, and not having to worry if it was stuck up in the air afterwards because of my coarse curl and the product I had used to tame the curl. I stopped using my straightening iron and smoothing gel most of the time. Because my hair naturally grows back off my face, drying and styling my hair now took less than five minutes.
I use different products now. A purple shampoo to enhance the white, a soft leave-in styling spray, and a final spritz of another styling spray which I work in with my hands to help the top and back go more “piecey” instead of fluffy. Going natural with colour and more natural with style doesn’t mean I’m letting my hair have its own way completely.
I’ve changed my make-up routine slightly. I started wearing a pink cream blush, and I apply a bit of bronzer under it, and a whisk of highlighter afterwards. But I’m using pretty much the same eyebrow and eyeshadow and liner products that I used before I went white. And I have not embraced a “bold lip” as so many, many experts suggest. A bold lip is so not me. And I think it can be aging. Plus I don’t like a heavily lipsticked mouth. As Wendy from York, so aptly pointed out in a comment a few years ago, it can make one look a bit like Norma Desmond. And Norma Desmond is not what I’m going for. Ha.
So if I’m not going for a Norma Desmond look, what exactly am I going for? I don’t know… exactly. Now that my white hair is no longer a novelty, I’ve begun to wonder if this is the look I want forever and ever. And the truth is I don’t know. Forever is a long time. I know that I’m happy with what I have now. Maybe I will add back some colour at some point. Or not. I’ll probably change up the style in the next year or so. Or not. I’ll know when I’m ready for a change.
For years and years. For decades, actually, I was afraid of letting my grey/white hair grow out. I was staunchly in favour of colouring my hair, considering it part of not “letting myself go.” Like exercising and eating well, it was part of my trying to be my best self. Thanks to the pandemic and lock-down, I was forced to go without professional hair attention from Carmen for almost five months. At first I suffered from severe Carmen separation anxiety. Ha. Fear of what I would look like when I was all natural. And then all of a sudden that fear fell away. And I was excited by the unfolding change. By the prospect of a new me.
But let’s get back to the idea of aging gracefully, shall we? What does aging gracefully actually mean, anyway? Does it mean giving up the fear of getting older? Or is it giving up the fear of looking older? Does it mean giving up all those things we’ve been doing to look better, and letting nature take its course? Passively giving in to the inevitable? Or is it giving up caring whether others (friends, family, society) see us as old or not?
In her Harper’s Bazaar article, Lauren Mechling says that when the lock-down began she’d “been a regular in the [colourist’s] chair for so long [she] had no idea what lay beneath.” Like me, like many of us, she began to question the value of covering up her grey hair. As she says: “Why did it seem like there were only two options: fighting one’s age or fully surrendering to it?” And, I would add, which of these choices can be considered aging gracefully? The battle? Complete capitulation? Or neither?
What struck such a chord with me in Mechling’s own story is that her epiphany was so close to my own. She says she doesn’t think about what her choice to go grey says about her age. But what the fact that she made such a choice says. “Now that my greys read as a feature and not a glitch, I’m warming to the new normal, a middle ground where a woman can inhabit her age without apology — and make whatever tweaks she sees fit.”
You see, going grey was a choice for her. And for me. That’s not passive capitulation. It’s not giving up either. It’s just choosing our battles. Choosing where to put our energies.
And I’m not going to call it aging gracefully. I hate that term. It smacks of peaceful, languid retirement, of comfortable slippers and shuffleboard, and all the stereotypes that are such an anathema to us. I could accept the phrase “aging with grace.” Or growing older with grace. But only if I look at it from Hemingway’s perspective. If, like Hemingway, I define courage as the ability to show grace under pressure. And if grace means the ability to make something which takes effort look effortless, as some sources have it.
So to follow that thought, aging, growing older, and making that process look easy is an act of courage. Not whingeing about growing old, not making a big palaver about wrinkles or grey hair. Just doing our best, despite all the social pressure to be one way or another. Just trying to be our best self, no matter how we define that. No matter how we achieve what our best self is. That’s aging with grace.
At least in my books.
What say you, my wise friends? How would you define aging with grace? And has the pandemic taught you anything new about that?
Linking up with Catherine and #IWillWearWhatILike.
81 thoughts on “Aging Gracefully During a Pandemic”
I have no grey to go to…..just “hair coloured hair” as my family calls it…..sort of a taupe/beige/dark blonde. So, until it looks “off” with my skin colour I will continue to do blonde highlights. My Grandfather had the most fabulous pure white hair….so white it kind of glowed. I always hoped I would get that but no luck on that so far “sigh”.
I suspect that none of us know what aging should look like because we will do it differently than the generation before us and there is no template
My grandfather had pure white thick hair that literally seemed to spring up from his head. But I was always convinced that I would go yellowish like my grandmother whose red-headed colouring I have. So I was really surprised that I went white. You are so right … there is no template for how we should be as we grow older. That is really freeing, I think.
I had a birthday yesterday, so another tick in the “aging gracefully” column. Despite being a southern California native, I wasn’t much for the sun as a teenager (laying out in the backyard – boooooring!), which has paid off somewhat handsomely all these decades later. My husband very sweetly tells me how great I look, and does compare how I look with my mother at around the same age (she was 61 when we got married, so loads of pictures from the wedding for comparison). To riff off of Lauren’s idea, we have a different template – pretty sure my mom never wore sunscreen, and she let her hair go grey in her 40s, while I’m still hitting the colourist’s chair at 63. I too had a long gap during lockdown, and was truly curious as to whether my roots were my mom’s gorgeous silver – alas, I’m still at a pretty awful salt-and-pepper stage, much to my surprise (I started greying pretty early, so thought I’d be further along in the process!), so for the time being, I’ll remain a blonde.
To me, “aging with grace” is all about being comfortable in my skin, and for me, that means taking care of that skin, along with regular exercise, eating well, and trying new things, whether those new things are new recipes, or new skills, or a new language. I come from long-lived stock, so it’s quite possible I’ve got another 30 years left (3 of my 4 grandparents lived into their mid-90s), and I’d love those years to have as much quality as I can bring to them.
Yep. Me too. My mum is 93 and my grandmother lived up into her nineties as well. Here’s hoping that gene didn’t skip a generation. Like you, I focus a lot on skincare. And I’m grateful that I worked however briefly in my early twenties at a cosmetics counter in a department store. I learned so much about how to care for my skin in those two years. With white hair swept off my face…it’s all about the skin. No hiding. Ha.
Like you , & I suspect many others , I became grey by default . I was happy being a dyed brunette though lighter than originally . I was slightly irritated by all the pics of grey haired women looking glamorous as most of them were more middle aged than my age. I saw plenty of women in real life who did not have the glossy ,groomed locks that were on the internet . Yet here I am grey . Not white like you , more silver with some white streaks . It came about by lockdown but hasn’t been helped by lockdowns . With only three trims in nearly a year I lost my way style wise . I think I know what style I want now but I might not remember by the end of this lockdown – March ? Perhaps it makes me feel older but it’s not a problem . Perhaps that means I am accepting this stage of my life . Perhaps that is freeing . I find myself not thinking so much about clothes now too – that may be just lockdown . It’s a tricky balance between not giving up & clinging on desperately . I still don’t want to be a Norma Desmond .
By the way , the navy Mack arrived , very nice but they had sent a chocolate bar gift too which had been attacked by rodents on the journey . Mice or rats . So it was smeared with chocolate & heaven knows what else . So back it went.
I liked your hair in the photo I saw, Wendy. I find myself thinking about clothes just as much, but mostly because of the blog. I spend my days in sweats and turtlenecks most of the time. I can’t bring myself to wear my better clothes around the house. That must have been so disappointing about your coat. Hopefully you’ll get your money back and something more for your trouble. Like all those Canadian guys back in the sixties and seventies who supposedly were given a free case of beer from the brewery when they found a mouse in a bottle of beer they’d bought. That old urban legend spawned all kinds of excitement with the young male beer drinkers when I was in university. Free beer. Ha.
I see a few women around here, of our age or older, who use temporary color, like the stuff you might put on for a Halloween costume, to match their hair with their clothes: purple, red, green. The ones who do it invariably look great–the outfits are daring and artsy and they radiate attitude.
As I’m about to turn 60, I see aging in other places than my hair. I tripped while running and dislocated my elbow–a worse injury than a break because I probably will never get back full use. It takes half an hour to warm it up to use at all in the morning, and I wonder whether I’ll regress when physical therapy stops. Meanwhile, my knee goes out (probably from running). This time last year I thought of myself as an athletic, younger-than-my-calendar-age person. All of a sudden, I can’t lift anything or go up stairs. Like an old lady.
At the same time, I’m kind of grateful for masks for covering up newly appearing wrinkles and hairs. What with bangs, glasses and masks, the wrinkles are mostly camouflaged.
You sound like me! I was a serious athlete in my day and although that was many years ago now it is strong part of my identity .
My back has given me grieve over the years but two mo this ago I had a horrendous spasm ( on a busy street) and finally got an X-ray done.
I was shocked to learn that I have osteoarthritis in my spine! I have never had anything wrong in my life. The pain is now a constant dull ache but I am terrified of having another spasm.
I don’t know what to do. Like going grey which is something I am also considering I don’t know whether to accept never running again or giving it a go when I can. I don’t want to make the arthritis worse. I always had 65 as my goal and I feel,if I give up I will just age rapidly. I,worry about putting on weight something I have near had to think about.
Such small things in the grand scheme of life but I don’t know what the year ahead will be like. For the first time in my life I am feeling old. Waaahhh.
My sister has osteoarthritis as well. And so does my mum. They are still motoring when they can, as much as they can. But I know it is not fun. Pain is really wearing.
I used to run too. But my knees packed it in when I was in my forties. I had physio, and then was fitted with orthotics for my shoes to correct my severe pronation. I tried running with the new orthotics, but while my corrected gait helped my knees, my hips, not used to the new position I had placed them in by using the orthotics, soon began to give me bother. That’s when Hubby suggested I try something different before I messed up my hips. He said that keeping moving was the important thing, and there were other ways to do that than running. I didn’t want to hear it at the time, but he was right.
I still miss running. But my body doesn’t. 🙂
Yesterday, my new sunglasses arrived. I love them, all cat-eyed as they are. So that is the look for this spring and summer. Which is, by way of intro, my way of defining that gad-awful phrase of growing old gracefully, very much a game of two halves. One view is the societal dictat – grow old gracefully eg peacefully, no raging, no standing out, fade into background and wear pastel. The other is the personal – put away the leather skirt, red lippy, tone it all down but always be absolutely spot-on neat and tidy, no ugly signs of age. Neither do for me, in exactly the same way cultural dictats never suited me as I was growing up and older. If I might comment on the hair, not only is it enviably stunning but it completes you and the whole picture is harmonious. Adapting to new colouring is vital, I believe, and you can tell the reluctant agers because, despite all the changes to hair and skin, they continue to wear shades and tones they have always worn and there is a mis-match. I often see people doing this and think to myself: she enjoyed the 80s, then…The joy of acceptance is the possibility of adaptation of all things. Hair, clothes, out-worn ideas, old fears. Glad you raised this.
It’s always good to take a long hard look in the mirror every once in a while, isn’t it? And put away those bits that don’t do us any favours anymore. I’m still trying to accept my new colouring. Especially first thing in the morning. Ackk. Who IS that old lady in the mirror?
I also let my hair go white- about ten years ago. I got tired of not only spending a lot of money , but also a lot of time in the chair. I actually went through the growing out process twice. Never again! I get compliments on my white hair quite frequently. I’m even asked if it is natural. It has become my signature. During the pandemic I decided to go from vey short to a bob. I’m not quite there- but will be soon.
White hair rocks!
The first time I visited Carmen for only a cut I thought she had made a mistake about the bill. The extra money in my bank account was a pleasant surprise that I had not thought about.
I really like your pandemic hair, and see it as a subtle rather than drastic change in your look. The changes you’ve made to makeup and clothing compliment your new look. So flattering!
I ended my Saturday afternoon hair coloring sessions when my son started high school a few years ago, mainly because I’d come to resent the amount of time it required when I could be doing something more interesting. And the expense! Private school tuition will do that! My brunette hair is now more salt and pepper, and I always admire those with beautiful silver locks like yours. I think you should stick with the change!
I always enjoyed going to the hairdresser. Catching up with everyone who worked there. Drinking tea while my colour set. Hubby said that it was more of an outing for me than a chore. But then again I loved the people at my salon, so that made a difference.
I’ve been having problems with Pinterest but was able to get to your board. Some great styles you’ve collected. I’m thinking of going short!!! Makes me sweat thinking about it. But I’ve had hair loss with my meds and my thick hair has thinned. I’ve had only one trim since the pandemic started. I think I may be due for a dramatic change???? Could you share the products you use..especially how to get the “piecey” look.
I’ve noticed that no only with the grey hair boom but also long grey hair has taken over. A sign of total freedom from old norms. But it’s so refreshing to see stylish short grey hair too.
I’ve akways used the products that Carmen uses on my hair. When she worked in an Aveda salon I used Aveda. Now that she’s on her own she uses Goldwell products. I use their purple shampoo. A spray on product called Creative Texture:Texturizer before drying, and a few spritzes of a styling product called Creative Texture:Unlimitor (which is a spray wax) to create the piecey effect. Your hair looks gorgeous long, and I’m assuming it will look gorgeous short. Hard for you to NOT look gorgeous, my friend. 🙂
At 70 I am content to let nature takes its course. However, that doesn’t mean I let all the air out of myself and flutter around like a deflated balloon until I sink sagging to the floor in a wrinkly heap. My hair turned silver at least a decade ago. Never tempted to colour it. Granted, I’m fortunate that the texture and colour of my hair is soft, so that was just luck on my part. As for the rest of me, I eat healthily, exercise moderately (okay, lazily), stay out of the sun and have semi-annual doctor and dental visits. While I have had some medical issues, nothing is dire at the moment. My skin is in fairly good shape–again, more likely due to my gene pool rather than adherence to any regular skin care regimen on my part (that lazy factor again). I do use a high SPF moisturizer most days and sometimes remember to slather on cream at night. Makeup never gets much beyond a swish of blush and a lip gloss. Is that aging gracefully? Or is that simply aging relatively thoughtlessly?
I think that aging gracefully is whatever you want it to be. Sounds like you have that nailed, Mary. 🙂
You look fabulous. Period. You’ve got great genes and great style. That photo of you in the new grey dress is proof. I think you’ll be aging just fine for a long time to come. (Thanks for the makeup and hair care tips.) Call it graceful or not. You’ve got a handle on it. Go for it!
Thanks so much, Lizette. 🙂
I stopped coloring my hair seven years ago, when I left an office job to work at home. I found a group of women online who were transitioning and very supportive. As my gray appeared, it was exciting and my hair stylist helped me with some blending. I’ve been completely natural for about five years and find myself questioning the decision and yearning for color again. I’m wondering if it’s just COVID life fatigue. I have my first salon appointment in six months tomorrow. It’s booked for a cut only. Perhaps this is all I really need. P.S. I love a good red lip on others.
When my hair was growing out last spring and I moaned about it in a post, a reader said that maybe it was as much the cut (or lack thereof) that bothered me. And she was right. Once I had a fresh cut I was fine with the colour… or lack thereof. I think I was just sick of looking like crap when I looked in the mirror. By the time I’m writing this you will have already had your hair appointment. How did it go?
Norma Desmond, exactly, that is why I have gone from richer colours to a refreshing pinkish plum or just a mid pink. I think too light is also an ager. I have been narrowing down my massed of tubes to just a half dozen and wear them around home lately. I think the lighter touch goes so much better with the lighter hair on myself. The hair is not what I was hoping for by this age (65) with the white only in the front and a steely silver on the rest, but I try to have fun with it and stay as youthful as possible. Aging gracefully to me means a positive attitude when possible and not constantly complaining of health issues even to perfect strangers. My opinion is that you look stunning in the white hair and wardrobe that you have chosen to wear with it. Of course the fact that your skin looks so great helps to keep up the ageless look as well. Aging gracefully to me is also not what a ‘shall remain nameless’ friend is doing, by wearing her daughters clothes and dieting to the point of starvation. A bit of padding under the skin is a help to keep the scaffolding plump. I feel if you can be happy in your own skin it shows in the way others percieve you, and you look ageless. Also a love of clothes and skin care and makeup keeps the mind young. Another fun post to keep us thinking and fresh.
Thanks, Diane. You are so right. Positive attitude is important. Some days that’s easy… and on others it’s hard work.
It’s significant, I think, that it is women who are the targets of this “ageing gracefully” prescriptive. The adage is certainly not applied to men in equal measure. Men are not asked or encouraged to grow old gracefully.
It is a proverbial silver-lining of this horrendous pandemic that once women stopped being able to change the colour and style of our hair due to the cancellation of salon visits, this revelation of the truth (ie. I’m 62 and have grey hair) occurred. To me, ageing well (regardless of chronological age) involves the increased ability to confront ourselves and our motivations; to see clearly who we are and what we value; and to refuse to waste this precious life on illusions.
Trying to mask or defy ageing has made us reluctant to look at what’s truly there. And because we were forced to look, we have new-found courage to exercise more choice in how we define beauty, self-acceptance and a meaningful life. So I guess, for me anyway, I prefer “age consciously” over gracefully.
I know! That always rankles. But I know that my Hubby and his friends talk about how they are trying to maintain fitness now that they are older. I know they rage about getting older. But I also know they don’t worry about how they look. At least my husband doesn’t.
One of the realizations I had back when my hair was growing out was just what you are saying. I’m sixty-four whether I have white hair or artificially coloured hair. So I’d better just get on with things. That felt good actually. I wrote a post about it.. the unexpected benefits of going grey.
I am 74 and still have long dark brown hair so I have never had to make the fateful decision. It doesn’t necessarily make me feel more youthful, but I value it and I worry that when the inevitable happens I will find it quite hard to re-adjust!
My brother had almost no grey hair, a few strands that you could count, when he turned seventy. All of his sisters were jealous. 🙂
I try not to complain about the CHANGES but I do like to talk about them!
Do you know STYLE CRONE’s blog?She did what you did with the hair and loves it too!Maybe do a search on her Blog or write her for the link!I think you will enjoy it as it was a couple of years ago.
KEEP SMILING and BEING KIND and try new cosmetics from time to time as it makes one feel better thats what I have been doing this past year.I like sharing the changes as well………as MOST people do not talk about hair loss and all the other STUFF!
Oh, me too. I talk about all the changes with the girls when we’re walking. I will check out that blog, Contessa. Thanks for suggesting her.
Sue, you look fabulous, you are aging with grace. I am still coloring my hair at home myself…mixed results, all but the white streak in the front. My covid streak! My husband does not want me to go all grey…I think that speaks to his aging more than mine. I think under all that home dyed hair I am fairly salt and pepper…but when I decide to ‘let go’ I will start at my covid streak. Aging is not for the faint hearted…arthritis is tough!
Thanks, Heather. My hubby didn’t think I should go grey at first either. Then he changed his mind. Arthritis.. you are so right about that. My mum struggles every day.
I’ve always liked the term “aging with grace” but I also love the concept of “inhabiting her age without apology.” As for hair, I’m 68 and mine has gradually been transitioning to grey for at least 20 years! Though I often wish that it would finish the process more quickly, I long ago chose to embrace what my son’s friend once called my “silver highlights” and keep it natural.
I thought that was a great line from the Bazaar article, about inhabiting our age without apology. It really struck a chord with me as well.
First off, I think your gray looks fabulous – more edgy and brave – which some might associate with being more youthful. Second, I think aging with grace is learning to be comfortable with your natural color and curl and body shape. I still color my hair a bit because “all gray” would not look good with my skin tone, but I’ve migrated from harsh bleach and dyes to more natural colors. And during Covid, I’ve completely stopped using heat on my crazy-curly hair. I used to blow it dry over a round brush to try and get it straight and then use a flat iron, and the end result was split ends. Since I’ve been letting it dry naturally with a little bit of curl enhancer (a product I never thought I’d buy!), it has gotten healthier and thicker. And I save a boatload of time to spend on more enjoyable pursuits. For me, that’s aging gracefully.
Thanks, Cynthia. I used to beat my curly hair into submission every morning as well. Why do us curly-haired people so often hate our curls? Once we give up and let go a bit, life is much easier, and looks better.
LOVE your white hair! It is striking and beautiful. If my hair could look like that I’d do it in a nanosecond. Sadly, at 66 I’m still hiding a not-very-attractive shade of grey under blonde highlights. You ROCK the white!
Thanks, Lindsey. No one was more surprised than I was that I liked my natural hair.
Love your new self. I’ve spent 78 1/2 years reinventing myself and my work….
Love your blog!!!! thank you.
Thanks, Barbara. Reinvention is wonderful isn’t it?
Interesting thoughts on this topic by all. For me age has never come into it. I have spent all my life changing my style, whether hair, clothes or make up. It’s what I do! I think we all evolve and grow and why should we expect to stop.
You know what they say ‘ a change is as good as a rest’. Stay safe x
I have always been a change junkie too. But going white was one change I had to be forced into to realize that I liked it.
Reading this post– and some of the comments– reminds me of a short story by Edna Ferber from 1922 entitled “The Sudden Sixties”. “Hannah Winter was sixty all of a sudden, as women of sixty are.” The story goes on with the heroine, Hannah, rushing along Chicago’s busy streets to get to an appointment. She swerves quickly to avoid the “strangely familiar” , but decidedly older (than herself, at least), woman coming towards her, blocking her way, and smacks–BAM!!– into a full length panel mirror set into the “marble wall at the end of the alley” (Chicago in the 20’s and all the lovely and heavily mirrored Art Deco architectural detail). Smacks right into herself, at 60, in the mirror. I think this example could possibly be applied at any point in the “aging” process. I am not a fan of the “I’m 60 but I look 40” people…I mean, how is a person supposed to look at any given age?? But, I’ve expereinced this sudden “looking in the mirror” and seeing a “strangely famililar” looking, but older, woman. I really like the old adage that “age is just a state of mind”. And, so is aging gracefully. Great to adjust routines and self-expectations regarding the physical, and certainly healthy. But, perhaps a shift in societal expectations, as well as self expectations, regarding looks will occur when we emerge, blinking, into the light after this is finally over.
Sorry regarding the keying errors, I don’t have my reading glasses with me, ha ha!!
Also, and I must apologize for my error, dear Hannah was rushing along Peacock Alley, Chicago, circa appx. 1922. Busy, but not on street level. Ah, memory. Not like it used to be. Went back and read this short story again after years and it had the exact same effect it had on me in my 20’s at the first reading! Those “sudden sixties”! HaHa and now I’ll stop…love this blog post, really gets a lot of conversation going!
Love your comment Janice . So true
Oh, that is a wonderful story, Janice. I wrote a post about turning sixty, four years ago, all about how life is lived in chunks (at least for me.) All of a sudden I find myself hurled into a new phase, and it is always jarring. I wish I’d known about that Ferber story. I love your last line too… “when we emerge blinking into the light” after COVID. I wonder how many of us will just go back to the old normal, and how many will feel changed irrevocably.
You are the age you are.
You announce the age you are.
You look the age you are.
You can’t change the age you are.
You look beautiful at the age you are.
You have hit the mark to present yourself well at the age you are.
You have contributing factors, besides hair, that reveal the age you are: facial lines, less-youthful neck and hands. Maybe a secret longer list?
Accept the age you are (and will become) with gratitude and calmness.
The rest of us will be traveling along the same road, monitoring our own changes as they come. How about we do what we can to be the best we can be—at whatever age we are? To me, that is the epitome of accepting the inevitable with wisdom, grace, and good humor.
Yep. I agree. I think that is what I was trying to express in my post. Just get on with things and be the best we can be, however we define that.
As someone who has been at this aging thing at least a decade more than most of the commenters here (78), I’m the bearer of the good(?) news that hair color and wrinkles will probably be of minor concern for most women as the years accumulate. Maybe the COVID will have just accelerated that realization?
As an “old woman” who happily adopts that truth, I’ve left behind any illusions that I’m “youthful”—even when I’m labeled that way by much younger women. In their eyes, the “youthfulness” they perceive is a sign I’m “aging gracefully”, but, to me, it’s an indication they still have no idea about what lies ahead.
Aging is a tricky business—everything is fine until it’s not. Your body, not your face, determines what you will be able to do. The real test for “aging gracefully” is, as Annie G says, adaptability—and adaptability always involves choices and trade offs. The “graceful” part just means that you walk a narrow line between what your body dictates and what others would prefer to see. Other “old women” see beneath my surface and compliment me on how well I am doing with an severely arthritic hip, while younger women compliment me on my smooth skin. The first choice involves choosing to endure constant pain and discomfort, accompanied by regular doses of Tylenol, while the second compliment comes from a combination of genetics and drugstore moisturizer. Yet, social media focuses on the second as an indication of my “aging gracefully”. Easy choices are elevated, and hard ones are kept hidden, to maintain an image of “successful” aging.
The kicker is that, more and more, I’m refusing to judge women who are not “aging well” using this distorted lens. I suspect, in many cases, their circumstances and their bodies may not provide them with the privileged choices I have been allowed to make. Besides, if “aging gracefully” is just about camouflage, why bother? If I’m going to hang around for another decade as an “old woman”, I think I owe myself and those around me more than just a good-looking shell.
Love this!! I’m 66 and realize that I have been fortunate to be able to afford the skin care and health care options of my choice. And will continue to do so as long as physically possible. Maybe beyond. Outside, fine. Age related health issues are a reality. Few in the “beauty media” seem willing to address the “invisible” realities of aging, it seems. Society doesn’t really want to do so. All the focus is on the outside. The “skin-deep”. Health, socio-economic factors, genetics, so much is involved with the “outside”, and also forms the “inside”. And the physical realities of health. The women I admire are those who have fought the hardest battles and are more beautiful at 60, 70, 80, 90, inside and outside, then anyone younger. More beautiful and have aged more gracefully than all the Chers/Christie Brinkleys/et al. Because graceful aging is certainly not skin deep. Marilyn, this is beautifully written.
Or, I should say “aged with grace”.
I’m glad you mentioned “what your body dictates.” As one who has lived with chronic pain for many years, I get what you’re saying. I also know the world of the “spooner”
– when you look perfectly fine and vibrant, but inside you are struggling and in pain. You learn to wear the necessary mask to survive.
And I couldn’t agree more that we focus so much on appearance that we discount not only what is taking place in terms of physical health going on beneath the skin, but mental health as well. And, we neglect too much of the beauty we can get to know in a person with time – the essence of who we are. Our character, our values, our humor, our generosity, our good minds, our dreams, our creativity, our skills, our talents and capabilities that we continue to bring to the fore.
Unfortunately, society (American society) doesn’t seem to care so much about that list above in “assessing” its women.
Some years back, I became very close to the mother of the man I was involved with for many years. She was French, well into her 80s, and she became a sort of stand-in mother to me despite her advancing Alzheimer’s. Her hands and skin showed her age, her silver hair as well, and yet her humor was contagious! She also always dressed – and I mean dressed impeccably – as though she were going out shopping on the finest Parisian street. That was her retention of something fundamental to her about her femininity, whatever her age. While she may not have been operating in the 2000s, we also shared countless hours laughing like girls looking at fashion magazines, playing word games in French, talking about events from the 1970s and 80s and 90s, sharing recipes, drinking (!!!) – she was 5 feet tall and weighed 100 pounds and she could drink me (and my sons) and her son, my gentleman friend, under the table — and I wouldn’t have traded the years that I had with her for anything.
She was, for me, the epitome of a beautiful spirit. I know that as I age, I only hope that I will retain that sort of appreciation of small things and be able to share it somehow in some way with someone else. Yet even as I say that, I know that I need to recognize something about my face. I don’t mind the wrinkles very much. I’m coming to accept that I am heavier. And I learned years ago how to live with certain types and amounts of physical pain. But the wimpy gray hair against the color of my skin? It’s so horrible that I literally can’t bear it. At least, not at the moment. I sound stupid saying it, but it’s true.
That was so well said, Marilyn. Thank-you for that. Lately there have been many articles on-line and in magazines about older women aging well. In particular about a couple of models in the UK, one of whom is in her nineties. I think it’s great that older women are featured. Good for them to be so lucky with their genes. And not to take anything away from them, but what about those who have not been so lucky. My mum, as I frequently mention on the blog, is in her nineties. She has terrible arthritis, is in pain most of the time, and is increasingly frail. She sounds wonderful on the phone, strong of voice, witty, engaged, but really life is not wonderful for her. She jokes with her care-givers (her girls as she calls them) and does her daily exercises… most days, she says… and keeps on keeping on. My sister and I always say we hope we too have inherited her courage.
I love these comments!
Edgy and Brave is what I aspire to. It takes acceptance and confidence for both qualities to mature.
And I thank Janice for the phrase “the sudden sixties”. Exactly my experience…
Thank you to Marilyn for the line, “your body, not your face, determines what you will be able to do”.
I am trying to persist at the level of athleticism I had in my 40’s and finding life outdoors more invigorating and exciting and social now that I finally have the time to do it.
Thank you for a great discussion, ladies!
I love your new white hair pushed off your face, Sue. It looks so hip and cooly younger to accept what is happening anyway.
Weren’t Marilyn and Janice’s comments wonderful? Lots of wise women represented here. 🙂
What a wonderful thought provoking post! I too had a silver stripe emerge this spring, and it seemed to grow as fast as the tulips in the front flowerbed. Prior to the pandemic, I would have my color appointment every 4 weeks, as the grey roots quickly reappeared under what ever shade of brown, brownish red, or brownish blonde I had painted on my head the month before. It seemed the color never turned out as I had hoped, and would always fade, and the highlights would glow brassy. I recall being at a faculty meeting after school one afternoon, and gazing around at the backs of several middle aged heads that looked much like my own. It seemed unless one went all blond, the brown dye kind of morphed into a common middle aged shade.
So after spending everyday of spring in a pony tail, I began to wonder what my hair would look like if it were all white, like the first two inches had become. I scoured the internet for pictures and articles on transitioning to grey. In order to keep their hair length, some women chose the multi-year, two tone grow out option, some can’t wait and have all of their hair bleached and stripped and grey toned. After some deliberation, I decided to go from shoulder length hair to a short pixie, no grow out period, no transition color, cold turkey. I hadn’t had short hair since I was 12, and I didn’t really like it then. This new look, however, is unbelievably freeing. I hadn’t realized the time it took me each morning to comb through my dry, over processed hair, blow dry it, and sometimes curl it. Now it’s buff with a towel, and tousle with a dab of styling cream, and done! In addition, I have discovered that I appreciate my face more – it was before most often partially covered up or overshadowed by my hair. I am fortunate to have inherited my father’s soft white hair, which is now growing in with gentle waves. Last week at a scheduled hair appointment – it seemed so strange not seeing my stylist Heather every four weeks – as we had not seen each other since well before the holidays. I decided to postpone the grow out and embrace the pixie, with some longer waves on top.
In this major appearance altering decision, I had given some thought to whether going full grey would make me look older- and would that really matter? I am 52, and that won’t change whether my hair is white or brassy brown. I realized it’s not about how old I look, it is about how I feel about how I look. The pandemic helped in getting some perspective – my goal is to be healthy and stay healthy and enjoy life. Having no painful tangles, a faster get ready time on work days, extra money in my pocket each month, and no more scalp exposure to chemicals and dyes is a good thing.
Going back to work this fall was interesting, as many of my colleagues and students did not recognize me at first, or second glance – especially when also wearing a mask. All in all, almost every initial reaction was followed by a compliment, so that was nice. One of my students thought I dyed my hair white!
I took me some time to adjust to my own reflection in the mirror….even 6 months in, I sometimes think, oh there’s the new me, then I smile when I think it is just the natural me that has always been there.
Thank you again for your post, it is good to know how others think about some of our own issues and choices.
You experience is so similar to mine, Nell. Thanks for sharing. Except of course that I didn’t have to go back to work. I love that one of your students asked if you had dyed your hair white. I had something similar happen at a drugstore cosmetics counter. The very young cosmetician and I were chatting about this cream and that cream, when she commented on my hair. I laughed and said how big a surprise it had been that I liked my white hair. And she gasped and said, “It’s natural?” Ha. That made me laugh out loud.
First, I have to say that I think you look fantastic with your hair the way it is now. It’s quite beautiful on you. And thank you for explaining the process you went through. Very interesting.
Second, I would like to say that I have been fighting this battle with myself over the past few years and especially these past 11 months of Covid. Unfortunately, with my coloring – dark eyes and (originally) very dark hair – I look dreadful. After nearly 3 months without touching the roots at a good salon (which I’ve done for the past 7 years or so), I felt despondent! Not only could I know longer recognize my life, but I could no longer recognize the face that was looking back at me. And I truly do look at least 10 years older with gray hair than I do with my original natural color.
After begging someone I knew at a salon to occasionally make deliveries of my formula, I have been able to periodically take care of those routes which allows me to at least – for three or four weeks every few months – recognize myself! I have improved somewhat at painting my own hair, but not that much, so I do the best I can when I can, and in between I try to avoid mirrors. No kidding. The gray depresses me beyond measure.
I do like that you talked about how your make up is changing. That makes sense and must, in a way, be fun! Isn’t playing with new colors fun?
A third point, and I wonder if this is more specific to the US than other countries or a matter of “it depends.” The issue of age discrimination when you are looking for work. And as an independent worker, I am always “looking for work.” Ageism is a reality, and very much so in hiring even when you are a freelancer, contractor or engage in work as a consultant. Assumptions are made based on the appearance of age, and those assumptions tend to be negative. Younger prospects are always preferred. Therefore, purely as a critical element in remaining competitive, as a critical element in marketability and trying to make a living, NOT looking 10 years older with gray hair when you are in your 50s or 60s, as in my case, is a must. A must for financial survival.
One more note but also around marketability, just a matter of a different market: the possibility of dating. As a single woman, I certainly haven’t done any dating in the past year, and for that matter in the past nearly four years. There again, at least in the US, if you are a woman in your 50s much less in your 60s, the older you look the harder it is going to be even to finagle a conversation.
Funny… when I was in my early to mid 50s I occasionally went to France on a writing assignment. Usually a brief trip. Usually Paris. Nonetheless, in addition to being registered on dating sites in the US I was also registered on a dating site in France. That generally enabled me to have a lunch date or dinner date, which was great! Much to my delight, relative to the men that I met and whose company I enjoyed casually, there was so little emphasis put on my age and far less emphasis put on my appearance. So much more was about conversation, chemistry in person, humor, savoring a good wine and a good meal together, and so on. Would gray hair have made a difference? I have no idea. But certainly, cultural acceptance of a broader range of looks, and cultural acceptance and appreciation of age differ significantly from country to country.
Thanks, DA. Your pandemic experience has been so much more difficult and fraught with worry than mine has. I hope the end is in sight for you soon.
What a community of female sages you have gathered around your blog, Sue! I so appreciate the wisdom and experience expressed here.
To me, “aging gracefully” means “embracing changes” that comes with age/time. Whether a drier complexion, white/gray hair, aching joints, weight gain, etc., I hope to accept and learn about them. Perhaps a new skin balm, a new style, exercise, new recipes, etc. can help me to be at my best…for my age. All this requires “learning new things” which is the essence of embracing change! Keeping things as they are and stagnating, in my humble opinion, ages oneself even more rapidly.
I am not afraid of aging. I will be 72 in a few months. Though I am thankful to have no large health challenges at this time, my husband has had more than his fair share. Coming alongside of him and watching his struggles has taught me a few life lessons.
With faith, the help of a caring doctor, and a sense of humor, I am thankful and feel very blessed.
Thanks for initiating this contemplative conversation. It’s been really fruitful and productive for me.
I am so glad that this post has resonated for you, Charlene. And I’m thankful for all the wonderful comments. My Hubby has had several health challenges in the past few years as well. And that has taught me a lot. As well as trying to make my mum’s life have as much quality as possible… which is more difficult this year since I can’t see her in person. But still we do what we can.
I raise a glass, or a cup of tea to all these amazing women. These comments should should be required reading for all women over the age of….fill in the blank.
We are all trying to do the best we can with what physical attributes, and physical abilities we have, as we go forward into our later ages and stages of life.
About your hair, I think you look FANTASTIC…
Thanks, Ali. Wonderful comments this week… you are correct.
66 here, and going for “current,” “edgy,” and “I want to sit by her.” After a foray into seeing what the underlying color was 10 years ago (white!) that ended when I was applying for a job, I resumed coloring to my natural red with blond highlights. But then at 64 I had a therapy session with a 96 year old client who had just come from the salon sporting an improbable shade of red hair. It caused me to realize that at some point (before 96!), I would need to transition. When? I resolved to complete it before 65. It took five months and having a pixie helped. (Though now I have a stacked bob. What instructions do you give your stylist?) I did join a Facebook group having to do with going gray, and that was a huge help. The group is run by a Canadian makeup artist, and (though skeptical at first), I have found her recommended products (and instructional YouTubes) to work well. Brighter lip colors are hugely helpful, as is eyeliner in the right (and not the wrong) places, and blush placement. It has been surprising that I can now wear different colors, like fuchsia. I also resonate to the commenters who are noticing arthritic changes. This is new for me and it does put all the rest into perspective. Sue, I love your blog! I too live in the country and walk daily with my husband!
Thanks, Pat. I didn’t and don’t actually give Carmen any instructions. We did talk about my decision to keep the white. The lowlights were her idea. And I always show her my hair Pinterest board and we mull over various looks. I am always too afraid to be adamant about what she should do, since she knows my hair and what it will do and not do better than I do. I’ve been going to her since 2003. I’m finding the exploration of colour with respect to makeup and clothes quite fun.
I know you’ll think I’m crazy, but I think you look both younger and more modern with the white hair! Would that I could join you, but I only have a scattering of white in my mouse brown roots- but it gives me something to to look forward to because you look marvelous! And the hair I DO have coming in is shimmery white… I await the future with bated breath!
And I had to laugh- I don’t think I’ll take Hemingway’s take on growing older- though I did take your point. He DID off himself because he couldn’t handle getting older and infirm, right?
Ah, thanks so much, Lauren. I love that you are awaiting the future with excitement. 🙂
P.S. You are right… Hemingway did commit suicide when he became increasingly frail. But was also bipolar, at least that’s what latter day analysts say. I read an article once that suggested if lithium treatment had been a thing back in 1961, life might have turned out differently for him. And he was a bit of a jerk in his personal life. I wasn’t actually looking at his take on getting older just applying his idea of courage to my idea of getting older. I love many of the themes and ideas that are presented in his early work, mostly the short stories. 🙂
I think you silver hair is beautiful and your skin tones with it perfectly. Unfortunately mine is a dull mouse brown with some gray streaks and a few pure white ones at the front. Like most of you, the hairdresser was not on the visiting list for most of last year due to both lockdowns and health issues. I would love to go silver as my mother did and it looked wonderful, especially as she had beautiful skin and bright blue eyes.
Growing old with grace to me means accepting what comes as we age be that extra white hairs, a few more wrinkles or the odd joint that rebels when moved. Do I resent them? Sometimes. But perhaps we need to accept them as our badges of a life well lived, experiences had and perhaps our senior status in life.
“Badges of life well lived” is a good way to look at the signs of aging, Kenzie. That’s how I look at my crow’s feet etc etc. Although I am having a hard time seeing anything positive about cellulite. 🙂
Sue, what a wonderful post and such insightful comments. Clearly, we are much more than our hair colour.
I plan to age disgracefully, if that means colouring or not colouring my hair as suits me, along with wearing my hair long or short if that is what I want.
As many commenters pointed out, the colour of your hair is the least of your worries with an aging body and the challenges that throws up.
Meanwhile, as I look to the future as an older woman living in a first world country, I remind myself of women such as Mary Wesley whose first adult novel was published at the age of 71 and went on to be a very successful author.
Ha. I laughed that you say you plan to age disgracefully. I used that term to apply to my mum and my grandmother in an old post I wrote in honour of my mum’s birthday one year. Aging disgracefully is like that poem “Warning” written by Jenny Joseph, all about aging and wearing purple and learning to spit.
Well done, Sue – you look fantastic! I actually envy you – I’d be delighted to stop blonde-ing my hair, but I’ve still got too much mouse-brown with just a little silver shot through. And I just can’t go there…
You’ll know when you are ready, Mary Katherine. Your hair looks great as it is. Really suits you.
You look great, and your hair and skin just glow so companionably together. This is a great post and aging, gracefully or not, surely has so many different meanings to so many of us. I think each should make their own decision. I am closing in on my 63rd birthday, and although my hair is mostly still brown with silver highlights, my body is telling me that I need to adapt in other ways. I will be happy to be gray, but I’ve had role models that convinced me of that choice when I was still quite young. My great-grandmother, who was granted already old when I knew her, went white in her 20s, in a time when hair color was not as common as now. I grew up with pictures of her at all ages with white hair and I cannot imagine her any other way. Her daughter, my grandmother, went to the opposite extreme, dying her hair black long past the time when it suited her and she offered a negative roll model. Perhaps this also taught me that the color of one’s hair has nothing to do with one’s age, or one’s zest and appreciation for life, but then I have always tended to lean toward the philosophical.
Growing old gracefully involves a lot of acceptance, both in ourselves and others. Yours is a thought-provoking post and I thank you for that.
Accepting ourselves as we are is a journey, isn’t it? And here was silly me at 25 thinking that once I was older all the angst would go away. Ha.
Your journey to white hair has resulted in tremendous success as evidenced by the ‘2020 age 64’ photo Sue. You look content and confident. At 67, I feel quite fortunate to be here despite the wrinkles, aches and pains. My family lifeline is not a long one so each year is a blessing and a lens through which I view aging. I exercise regularly, eat well and try to keep a positive outlook. So far it has worked in keeping me relatively healthy as I age.
For those that are looking for a product to keep our white locks lustrous, I recommend ‘Oribe Silverati Shampoo and Conditioner”. They can be ordered online through ‘Kiss and Makeup’ which is based in British Columbia. They are a bit pricey but you don’t need a lot so the product lasts a long time.
Really loved this post Sue and all the thoughtful commentary on “aging with grace”.
Thanks, Glenda. The white locks do need some special attention, different from what we used before.
Hi Susan, it’s ages since I’ve visited, but I’m so pleased to catch with the new you. I love the colour of your hair and wish that mine would show signs of white or even a strong grey. Instead it’s lost the natural golds and reds of my youth and is simply turning brown…
But you, your white hair is stylish and totally liberating by the sounds of it. You’ve always been a classy, understated lady and your new hair colour simply enhances that. Brava!
Thanks, Anna. My hair lost its red tint back when I was in m twenties. That’s when I started colouring it. I was so surprised that I went silver when I stopped colouring.
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