Forever Young

I was with family this past Memorial Day weekend, and it was eye-opening.

I have often noted through the years the many things that get stirred up when I visit family. I know that we all tend to regress when we “go home.” For my recovery over the years I have had to pay close attention to this: going home was always a minefield emotionally. I had to learn to prepare and take care of myself while home.

All the old stuff would resurface, seemingly immediately, upon stepping onto Houston soil.

Often, it centered around my body and appearance. Depending on how I was feeling in my body, I would have negative thoughts and distorted thinking about how my body looked and also about how much others were thinking about how I looked.

I learned not to look in mirrors. To not trust the voices in my head that told me I had become monstrous overnight. I worked hard to distinguish the voices from my own “core,” and to be able to trust that “they” were not “real.”

It was painful, but over time, I have healed much of the sources of the genesis of those voices. They were, in their twisted way, a way for my psyche to protect itself from other much more complex feelings. Feelings that felt way out of my control and way out of my coping capabilities at the time.

I have also come to know that some of what I was feeling underneath it all was shame. I would feel shame around my family about how I looked and how I was. Who I was. I would not been able to name it as such then. It was just how I felt. It actually felt like “me.” But I know now it was shame.

Thankfully, with a great deal of personal work, I have had many visits home in the past several years where those voices were a very low murmur. Sometimes, they were totally quiet. Sometimes they flared up, but I had the relief of knowing that they were not “real.” It made a huge difference. I was not a victim to them. I could observe them and know the truth.

So imagine my surprise when, on this visit, I noticed a totally new form of that old shame.

This shame? It actually had to do with the shame of having gotten older.

I could not believe it. I actually felt ashamed for having aged.

In reflecting on this, I realize that as I am the youngest, when I am around my aunts and uncle, I have been carrying this sense of responsibility somehow to stay young forever. To stay that little girl. Well, my physical appearance belies that illusion. I will always remain the youngest in relation to them, but I am no longer young by any means.

So why the shame? I know that our culture creates an atmosphere of shame around aging, so it makes sense. But around my own loved ones? Wow. That just blew me away.

I actually had to stop myself from apologizing for having aged. I am still trying to process that. I have some unraveling to do for sure.

For now, I breathe and find compassion, once again, for the young parts in me that still feel like all of my value is tied up in my looks.

I take myself by the hand yet again and say, “I love you, just as you are right now.” It is a ceremony of self-love, and if I were to do it a million times, it would still never be enough.

Inspired by The Daily Post: ceremony

Starbucks Surrender

That’s perfectly fine.

I’m in no rush.

Go ahead and finish your conversation.

I mean, I’m just a customer in need of service.

There’s four of you behind that counter.

None of you are doing anything job-related.

Does Starbucks employ managers?

I think not.

Unless one of you is one of them.

Wow.

That’s a depressing thought.

I’ll just wait.

Send that Snapchat.

Read that text.

No need to bother yourself.

No need at all.

I’ll just work myself up into a lather,

And when you finally come over to me

And I let all hell loose on you,

You will treat me like I am the problem.

Maybe you’ll even report me to the manager-if-they-do-exist-at-all.

Not worth it.

I’m leaving and I won’t be back.

(Until next time.)

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: rush

A Sea Change

I write a lot about being a woman and aging.

(See A Table of One’s Own and On Aging.)

I am committed to changing the narrative around middle-aged and older women (and men.)

I want the women (and men) who come after me to have a better path, a more welcoming one, as they move out of “youth” into their 40’s, 50’s and beyond.

I want them to never have to feel “invisible.”

I blame advertising and other forms of media.

We simply stop seeing people on television and film, for the most part, after they turn 45 or so.

Sure, we see a few as needed for the main story. The parent of the lead. The grandparent of the lead’s kids. A judge, a doctor, maybe — although today, for the most part, you see lawyers and doctors on shows and in movies who are in their mid-20’s to mid 30’s.

Oh, sure, there is the occasional uptight matron, or kooky neighbor or unmarried aunt. Or maybe a ball-busting woman playing a politician or high-ranking military officer.

But usually, we stop seeing any stories of people over 45 until they become grumpy old men or grandma’s on rampage.

In advertising, there is a gap between women and men aged 45 until over 65 or so. We see parents until their kids go off to college, and then “bam”! Nothing until it is time for dentures and Depends.

There’s just this big gap. And in that gap would be those of us between the ages of 45 and 65.

So my theory is that because youth grow up literally not seeing people ages 45 to 65 reflected back to them on TV and in magazines and films, they simply do not see us.

We are invisible to them.

I want this to change. I want to be a part of this change.

I am doing what I can by finding people who are brave enough to write stories that contain middle-aged and older people in central roles and stories and doing all I can to get cast in their pieces or support their work however I can by donating or watching or simply giving them a “Way to go!”

And I am writing my own stories that will reflect that population and am working to produce them.

I can go and support films of the people who have already done this. I can watch shows such as “Grace and Frankie” on Netflix who are featuring stories of people in their 70’s to support the efforts being made to get people over 45 into meaningful stories.

I do not yet know how else, but I know that I will be a part of this change.

It will be a sea change, for sure. But a change is a’coming, if I have my way.

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: invisible

A Wrinkle in Mine

I recently got sent to a casting that actually welcomed wrinkles.

(Full disclosure: I am still not sure how I feel about being invited to attend the casting!)

Here is the actual wording of the casting notice:

These men and women are portraying people who were leftover hippies in their youth. They were drug users back in the day; this is how they contracted Hepatitis C. Bright Eyes are important. Somewhat weathered faces would be beautiful.

Now, there are some pretty “out there” notices that come across one’s computer. I have seen some real doozies. The wording used for many women’s roles can be pretty atrocious. (Also, those dealing with race and skin tone.) There is actually a blog that collects such notices, to “out” the people writing such sexist descriptions called Casting Call Woe.

This issue has gotten some press over the last few years, and there has been a commitment by some in the industry to do better. Rachel Bloom took a poke at this with a hilarious-in-a-sad-but-true kind of way in a well-publicized tweet in 2016.

I think the above notice handled things pretty gracefully, I think. It is unusual for “weathered” and “beautiful” to be in the same sentence in the advertising world. Knowing the casting director for that job, I am not surprised that the notice was so sensitive. If only they all were.

I have come along way in choosing to move through the remainder of my time on this planet with dignity, passion, grace and creativity. I am committed to being a part of changing the way our society views aging and older people.

And yet, I get called in for such a casting, and I admit it: I am relieved that I was not cast.

Sigh. I guess I have more work to do around this issue.

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: wrinkle

On Agelessness*

* I was inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: age to re-visit a blog post from last year after an incident this morning further pointed out to me my continued sensitivity around this issue.

On this fine morning, I went to the grocery store after a run. I was wearing a NYC Marathon shirt, and the man ahead of me in line had one on as well and sparked up a conversation. He nicely offered me participation in a neighborhood running group. I asked if it had a variety of levels of runners (I am not a fast runner,) to which he said, “Oh, yeah, there’s a woman who everyone loves who is your age. Yeah, there’s lots of people your age.”

Now the thing is, I was thinking we were pretty near in age. I certainly wasn’t thinking I was in some whole other generation than him! Yikes!

Clearly, I have more work to do.

You see, I discovered two years ago that I am severely prejudiced.

It was a shock. I didn’t know that lurking within me were truly vile and discriminatory feelings and thoughts about a huge portion of the human race.

I didn’t know I was an ageist.

According to Wikipedia: Ageism (also spelled “agism”) is stereotyping and discriminating against individuals or groups on the basis of their age. This may be casual or systematic. The term was coined in 1969 by Robert Neil Butler to describe discrimination against seniors, and patterned on sexism and racism.

Lemme back up. I was having an especially terrific day.

There are days when, as an actor, you are just filled with joy because you feel so in the flow. This was one of those days.

I was on my way from a great voice lesson. I had a while to do an errand and then later was going to rehearse and then do a staged reading of a very special play that held deep personal value for me, with amazing fellow actors. What could be better than that?

I stopped at a grocery store to pick up some kale (what is it about me and the grocery store and this issue?!) I was at the register when it happened. The woman checking me out said the following words:

“Do you qualify for the 55+ discount?”

I was shocked. Then outraged. Then mortified. And ashamed. In that order. Appalled and dripping with disgust, I looked at her.

“What?! Do I look like I’m 55?!! Oh. My. God. Kill me now.”

(Yes, I actually said “Kill me now.”)

Poor thing tried to backpedal it.

“Oh, I just thought…you eat so healthy…so maybe…”

Which made it worse, because she was inadvertently inferring that I’m actually older looking than 55 but eating so well that it doesn’t show?!

I left the store, kale in hand, attempting not to spin out on this.

I wanted to enjoy the rest of my day, but knowing myself and how my brain works around such things, I knew I had a triage situation in regard to my frail ego.

First, I tried different paths of logic. Oh, she didn’t really take me in before she said that. She probably says that to every one, right? I don’t look my age. Everyone says so. And my real age is not 55, so she obviously didn’t even take me in.

I’d slip into anger occasionally.

How irresponsible of her. They really shouldn’t let those cashiers  offer that discount willy-nilly. They are just asking for it!

By the time I got home, there was a new voice inside making itself known. A voice that said, “Hey, you. What’s so bad about being associated with being 55?”

I mean, truthfully, the level of disgust I felt at the mere suggestion that I could ever be 55!

I began to examine this, go deeply into it. I discovered that being over 65 felt OK. I mean, I know I’m going to be a rocking 65-year-old.

And 70? Look out! I want to be one of those cool Septuagenarians who astounds people with their vitality and continued accomplishments.

But 51-64? I want no part of THAT club. No way.

Where did this come from? This abhorrence of people those ages? I wasn’t born rejecting a whole segment of the population. How did this hidden inner belief system come to be so strong in me?

And better yet, what can I do about it now that I know about it?

I don’t want to feel such a distaste for any of the years I am lucky enough to have ahead. I thought I had embraced ageing when it first started appearing in my mid 40’s…I looked at how I felt about it then and really thought I had decided I was gonna forge a new pathway for generations of women to come by embracing my later ages. By celebrating the changes as they came. By being a vibrant, sexy woman at EVERY age.

I thought I had decided that I was gonna be a one-woman revolution and reject societal, cultural pressure to look young no matter what the cost for as long as possible. To be on TV and in films at my age and not be ashamed or embarrassed because I am not young anymore. To blaze trails. To be a part of a change that embraces beauty at every age instead of the age-shaming we are bombarded with from infancy through all forms of media.

I thought I had chosen this path.

Little did I know that sure, I was great with aging as long as I still looked 38-48. That was cool.

Little did I know that when I looked in the mirror, reviewing the changes I could see, there was this part of my brain that must have decided “Sure, this is acceptable. I can live with THIS.” But that all the while that seeming acceptance actually held a hidden silent caveat: “As long as it doesn’t get worse than THIS.”

How insane it seems now. But that must have been the invisible internal logic.

Oy.

I can’t stay frozen in time. I cannot choose the face I will keep for the remainder of my life in this body.

My face and body WILL continue to change as time progresses. I am like every other human who has ever lived and aged.

But. I can choose all of the things I thought I chose before. I CAN embrace. I CAN blaze a trail. I can be a one-woman revolution.

I can choose to reject what advertisers and media cram into my psyche on a practically moment-by-moment basis. Anti-aging, this, anti-aging that. (“Anti-” opposed to, against!)

I do not have to believe/embrace or live from the beliefs that:

After 40 it is all downhill. Middle age is something to dread and fear. Women become invalid and invisible once they hit menopause. Life is meant for the young. Old people have no relevance. Old people cannot remember things. Old people are “out of it” when it comes to modern technologies or cultural references. Blah, blah, blah.

Bullshit. It is all designed to make me fear getting old and to buy skin creams and such as if my life depends on it.

When I shared my grocery store story with a friend, she said she could relate to my outrage. She said she wasn’t going to age “without a fight.”

But I don’t want feel like there’s anything TO fight, you know?

Or rather, I am gonna fight. But not aging.

I’m gonna fight Ageism.

Look out, world. Here I come! Who is with me?!

To find out more about ageism: www.legacyproject.org

#beautifulateveryage

Sexual Healing

Growing up in the 70’s, my sexuality was shaped by what are now considered to be pretty tame resources.

Remember that this was before the internet brought free porn into our homes, and nudity and sex acts were the norm in film and television.

It’s true: “free love,” second-wave feminism, women’s liberation, and the sexual revolution were making major strides in the 1960’s and 70’s. The 70’s saw many influential innovations. Edible underwear was invented. (Still being sold today.) Video Home Systems (or VHS) and Beta Systems were made available to buy in the mid-late-70’s, which the porn industry apparently mavericked for their retail use.

Like many middle class Americans, my parents didn’t have a VHS machine until the 80’s, so videos were not available to me. (We were also the last family I knew to get cable. My parents were against paying for TV for some reason. Maybe there were late night cable porn resources around in the later 1970’s, but not in our house.)

Despite there being many women who were battling for my future and the future of many young girls like me against the woman-as-sex-symbol stereotype, I remained steeped in the cultural and mass media imagery, messages and attitudes that kept that stereotype alive and well. And boy, did it all do a number on me.

I grew up in Houston, Texas, in a mostly white, middle class neighborhood.

Other than my brothers and the time this one guy was driving around the neighborhood without pants on, fondling himself, asking kids for directions, who I had the misfortune of being “exposed to,” I was not exposed to male nudity as a child.

But female nudity abounded, and shaped not only how I thought about myself and my body, but how I thought everyone else thought about me and my body.

So much so that the “me” in the sentence above and “my body” became synonymous in my mind. I WAS my body. My body was me. As in, I based my entire self worth on my appearance and whether or not I felt men were attracted to me.

(I still struggle with this encoding. But I digress. More to come on that later.)

Though I was born into the “Golden Age of Porn,” the “porno chic” years of 1969-84, I was not exposed to any of the films that were made famous during those years, notably Warhol’s Blue Movie, Mona, later The Devil in Miss Jones and Deep Throat. (They probably didn’t make it to mainstream theatres in Houston at the time, but even if they had, I’d never have gotten to see one.)

But we had magazines. Playboy and Hustler. Others. It was the photographic depictions of women in men’s magazines that primarily influenced how I saw myself as a woman.

My first memory of seeing and being influenced by a photo of a naked woman was actually a record cover, and this woman was not exactly naked. It was the cover of Herb Albert & The Tijuana Brass album “Whipped Cream and Other Delights” (1965.)


This was one of my parents’ favorite albums to play. I heard it often from an early age, and I loved dancing to the music, making up dances to the songs, which were saucy, sexy jazz concoctions.

But more than that, I was obsessed with the woman on the cover. I was attracted to her. (Maybe it was the appeal of the whipped cream. I was already way too into food: my eating disorder was gesticulating already.)

But it was more than that. On some level, I knew she was considered exciting, attractive and desirable, and I wanted to grow up to be just like her.

Also, TV shows such as “Love, American Style” Rowan & Martin’s “Laugh-In” were popular during my early years. Both had racy sexual references and innuendo and young women dressed in sexy outfits. From these shows, I learned that if you were sexy and young, you got positive attention from men. Think young Goldie Hawn dancing in those strobe lights in that green bikini with her painted body. The young women on the show actually wore babydoll dresses and Mary Janes because those were in fashion. Talk about confusing messages!

True story: If little me was asked at the time (when I was 4 or so) what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said “a go-go dancer.” I even had little patent white go go boots at 3!

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These were my role models. This was the kind of woman I wanted to be!

Later, I found my brother’s girlie mag stashes and would go in when they were out to pore over them. I was fascinated by the women’s bodies, so different than mine. I knew that I fell way short, but I remained hopeful that maybe someday, with enough hard work, I could create a body close enough to rate some man’s favor.

When I was old enough, I started to read the articles (yes, I really did) and the infamous “Letters to Playboy.” These were my education in what was interesting to men about women. Through them, I discovered what men really thought about women. What they really wanted of us. And it all had to do with our bodies.

I learned that I was here to be attractive to men. That what I looked like and how attractive men found me was my purpose on this earth. That there was little value to me other than my sex appeal, and that if I wanted any happiness on this planet, I better work hard to be and stay appealing to men.

And so I did. I became the perfect female consumer. I bought into it all hook, line and sinker. The beauty products, the clothes, the way of being in the world.

I transitioned from my brother’s hidden away men’s magazines to the magazines of my adolescence. Though they were women’s magazines – Teen, Cosmo, Glamour, to name a few – the messages of their content were actually perfectly aligned with the former’s messages about the female role in society. In these magazines I found my road map, the formulas for winning and keeping a man, 100 ways to keep him satisfied in bed, and how to stay looking young and sexy forever.

Every issue of these magazines had different versions of these same themes, over and over. (And if you buy these kinds of magazines today, they still do.) And I bought them and bought into them all, every time.

How I related to boys and then men was all shaped by that early imprinting. I look back and feel like I didn’t really get to have real relationships with men (and women — since they were always the competition for the men) until much later in life. Because through all my dating and early relationships, I was living from the outside in, trying to be the women I had seen in those magazines pages. Trying to find and live the life promised to me in the ads in the magazines and on TV if I succeeded in making myself into one of those women in the pictures.

It took several years after moving to NYC as a young woman for me to learn how to leave my apartment without make up on.

It has taken many more years for me to unravel all of that social and cultural conditioning to find within my own idea of being a woman, of my own sexuality, of what I feel is my intrinsic value and purpose on this planet. It turns out, none of it depends on what men or society think of how I look.

It has been a tough going, this “unlearning.” I was thoroughly brainwashed. I drank the Koolaid. Despite years of hard work to reprogram myself, I still find little pockets within me that harbor beliefs like that Victoria Secret models are better people and deserve more than women like me. Or that if only I looked like this model or that model, my life would be perfect. Little pockets of self-hate that dismiss my worthiness as a human because I do not have large boobs and perfect thighs.

There’s still a part of me that is scared writing this blog post. That I will be labelled as “ugly” just thinking these thoughts/going against the grain.

I take those parts by the hand when they reveal themselves to me and I whisper the truth in a loving tone and tell them I am so sorry they have ever felt anything less than beautiful just as they are, inside and out.

Today, I try my very best to love my real body. I pour my resources into that. (I no longer buy those magazines nor do I need they ideas they sell.)

I love being in my body, and I love my awakening true sexuality. I love feeling desirable. (Who doesn’t?) But I no longer seek to feel this feeling from outside of me.

Today, feeling attractive and desirable is on my terms, made from an internal collage made out of my true essence  – what I like and feels good to me. This inner imagery replaces the old template.

There is no longer a buxom babe at the centerfold of my spirit, beckoning to me with promises of happiness and fulfillment if I am able to become her.

There is me, and the unique beauty that I bring to the world this time I am here.

Like many women my now-age, I look back at the loss of all that time trying to be a sex symbol as a tragic loss of my life’s precious energy.

I waste no more such precious time today.

 

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: edible