It was a normal enough moment.
I was sitting at a Starbucks, coffee in hand, putting off some work for a few indulgent minutes of Facebook. I was robotically scrolling, only partially engaged with the usual mix of animals, self-help quotes and messages from friends.
That’s when it happened to me.
That’s when this photo happened to me.
I froze, my scrolling index finger mid-air. I was riveted. I could not stop looking. I felt like I had found something of importance. I looked at it and felt…. Awestruck. Not because of her beauty or her fame but because I didn’t realize until I saw this photo, that this is what womanhood can look like.
Real, authentic, vibrant, strong. Bad Ass. Commanding. Awesome. And wrinkled.
And something in me cracked open a little.
I have just started to navigate the changes that come with age. I have gone through 4 different sizes in the last 2 years as my body decides what kind of metabolism it would like to have today. There are the reading glasses that I resisted for a year, the lessening of stamina, (staying up past 1 a.m. requires a day off to recover) and the new wardrobe that seems to have gravitated to tunics and flowing shirts to hide the belly fat and rounded hips that have appeared. I try and hold all these changes with grace and dignity, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to having sat down on the little bench in the Nordstom’s change-room and cried with dismay at a body that I can’t seem to anticipate or understand.
I don’t mean to paint an entirely bleak picture. There are great things that come with age too, like no longer seeking “permission” to be the person I really am, giving up the need for people-pleasing, having enough independence of spirit to leave the house without makeup or shaved legs and knowing, exactly, how I like to spend my time. I am eternally grateful for those gifts and the ease that they bring. So it’s not so much that I am resisting the changes that come with age, I get that with the sagging bits comes the reward of newfound wisdom. It’s more that ageing seems to have landed me in uncharted territory. I don’t quite know how I am supposed to be in it.
I am perplexed. I have achieved so much and I live a wonderful, expansive life. I have a delightful circle of loved ones. A wonderful career. I do the things I love; dance, travel, read, theatre. I cultivate relationships that charm me, I eat glorious meals that I delight in cooking. But there is unrest in me and perhaps, a little sadness? A part of me that struggles with a loss of vibrancy, a giving up of the coltish legged creature that once seemed fearless. I have a longing for the permission that I used to give myself to be glorious.
I used to enjoy the attention I got for my youthful rendition of beauty. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t anything particularly noteworthy, just enough to fit the checklist that someone, somewhere decided was the definition of who I should be; thin, blonde, nicely shaped, long legged, exuberant, friendly and full of possibility. I excelled in my profession, got invited into the big meetings, was offered top tables in restaurants and skipped the lines. I travelled, bought a house and stood as a vibrant example of thirty something femininity. I was used to the attention that my confidence gave me. The world was mine to conquer, to delight, to engage. Yes, that confidence came at a price. I bristled at and occasionally faltered under at the demands of perfection and got lost in the dark world where self-worth equates body image, but I got noticed. I was a part of those who had the right to be vibrant and boldly stride into whatever lay ahead of them. No matter what, I could count on being seen. At the interview, at the audition, at the first date.
And then suddenly, it seemed almost overnight, I was unseen.
Not rejected, just unseen.
I am no longer in the world of 30-something-vibrant-flat-stomached-world-achievers (heck I am about to enter the world of 50 something) and suddenly I do not register in people’s awareness as I walk by. I am no longer the sassy upstart that people used to see when they looked at me.
And that’s the problem. I am not sure who I am at this age and I can’t seem find the checklist for a powerful, vibrant, sexy woman of 50+. I’m standing here with the old checklist and it is not working. I know I don’t want to look like the botoxed version of Barbie, but I also don’t want the diffuse, shrinking energy of a woman who is no longer in command of her vitality.
But where is it to be found? Where are the examples of women who wear their years, their experience, their glorious ways of being with pride? Women who still exude vibrant possibility. Women who have created a whole new phase of being that lies between Nymph and Crone. Women who leave you enchanted, wondering, longing and are over the age of 50?
When I saw this picture of Helen Mirren I became curious. I stopped and looked. I mean, really looked. And then I became envious. Can you believe it??? Envious! The last time I felt envious of anyone older than me I think I was 16 and wishing that I would be a very gown up 21. But look at her – the command of her space, the energy that just leaps out at you, the defiance in her tattoo and her exposed cleavage that just takes the whole notion of being matronly and flips it the bird.
Oh, the stories that she has to tell.
What I would do to pour her a glass of wine (or better yet, a whiskey) and get down to a long talk.
It’s not that I want to be her. It’s that in seeing her I realize that I don’t have a vision, a mentor or a knowing of who I want to be. I instantly loved this photo, and strangely enough I think I fell in love with myself when I looked at it. The old choices society wants to offer me just don’t cut it. The blessing of age is that I can see that they never did. It’s high time that I decide how this next decade or two (or four) are going to look and feel. I’m Re-Imagining myself, finding the new markers for MY new definition of this Self. I'm erasing the page and creating space to be the kind of woman that I would envy.
And if someone asks me about a new sizzle in my responses, the reappearance of my coltish legs from under the tunics, the haircut and the sultry attitude I’ll just respond….
Helen Mirren made me do it.
And pour myself a whiskey.