Posted by: roamingolivia | July 15, 2010

Join in! How Sex and the City started a conversation with my family on aging.


A couple weeks ago, I went to see Sex and the City 2. There have been some hilarious reviews (I recommend looking up the one by Lindy West, but I will warn some of the audience – my parents in particular – that it is quite vulgar so you might not like it), and I am not going to try to compete with that. I wrote a paper in college about the anti-feminism of this show, and I could attack it from that angle as well. Then there are the problems with political correctness, and the long tradition of orientalist movies about the Middle East*.

But what I ended up thinking for days after I saw it was this: they look old. In fact, probably the first thing I thought when I saw most of the characters – male and female – was that they looked old. I don’t mind, I’m not judging them or disapproving, and I’m not even being catty. Part of the problem is that I don’t watch or read anything about celebrities so the process appears sudden to me, where it has obviously been happening for, like, years – since the last time I saw them on TV or in a movie.

Another part of the problem is that I am both neurotic and fascinated about aging. Probably many of my friends who have seen me in the past year or so will know all about the theory regarding continual decay, which I’ll spare the rest of you because it’s given some people psychological problems (obviously not me). I also realise that worrying or thinking so much about this is (a) very annoying to hear from someone in his/her 20s, and (b) going to cause more wrinkles. But I like to think a lot about something far in advance, so I don’t have to think about it when it is happening.

I guess aging is a big deal, though, so I might think about it for a while.

Anyway, what my brain kept coming back to was that these people have everything – infinite money, trainers, plastic surgeons, dieticians, fashion, etc. – that they can use if they choose. And they are still aging. Noticeably. It didn’t exactly make me feel like my own struggle is hopeless (really? that cheap anti-wrinkle cream is probably not going to help), but it did make me think I might as well have fun and eat cheese (cheese is my symbol of decadence, I think) because this battle is not something I will get out of alive. In fact, aging is not even really the point. It is a background. If it becomes the point, your life is sad.

So I decided to start a conversation with my female relatives (and the mother of one of my best friends), using email and Facebook, about these observations – to see if they are going through anything similar. I asked if they also had moments where they realised that stars age too, particularly of older relatives.

This is one of my favourite things I have ever done, actually. Well, in general I love to ask people what they think and how they’re dealing with or have dealt with things I am dealing with. It was also great to be in touch with cousins and aunts and family members and friends I always wish I could talk to more at holidays, when we occasionally see each other, but never find the time. I’m actually thrilled by how many family members are on Facebook (although it means I sometimes delete wall posts using certain words…).

Anyway, the most common theme running through the discussion was the truism about how we are only as old as we feel. With my older relatives and friends, they all said they think of themselves as much younger. My friend’s mother (who is also my friend, I like to think) said she feels somewhere between 16 and 22 on most days; my mother likes to think of herself as what she looked like in her favourite picture of herself. My cousin said that her father (my uncle) thinks of himself as 24. She’s about that age, and write, “Even though a small crop of crow’s feet is growing around my eyes, feeling 24 forever sounds pretty good to me.”

Pretty much everyone agreed that everyone is too obsessed with what they look like, and that it’s not just “my generation” or “young people” but a kind of universal thing. My friend’s mom compared teenagers to members of the animal kingdom, beating their chests or wearing bright plumage (males), or females forming pecking orders and harrassing less worthy people.

My mother helpfully pointed out the aging men like Al Pacino, in addition to a list of women who were aging, to drive home the universality of the process.

One of my aunts had a moment akin to my cheese moment – that thing you shouldn’t give up just to look better. She said “as to giving up late-night food, no way.” I smiled.

The answers were pretty relaxed. The aunt who likes late-night food put it most succinctly: “I live, I love , I have pain, Its a part of being me. So enjoy the life you have.” My friend’s mom recently stopped dying her hair, letting it go grey, but is happy to still have sassy haircuts (a line I loved). But she had a good tip: The old creepy skin isn’t so fun (stay out of the sun). (I forgot to wear sunscreen this weekend and seriously burnt the part of my chest that was not covered by my t-shirt, so will take that to heart.)

For those of us already using anti-aging products – particularly if you read the New Yorker article that basically said they were all useless, my mother has this clever observation: “With all the baby boomers getting older (yup that is me and my generation) the amount of money spent on anti- aging serum is astounding– it is a billion dollar industry and growing! And there is always something new to try to pull you in. If it were really that good, wouldn’t all those other products be just wiped off the market by its success?” Er, yeah. Hadn’t thought of that. But not sure I can give up the creams. They have even convinced me to use something to de-puff my eyes. I don’t even have puffy eyes.

On to more serious matters, I liked that most people seemed to be relaxing, focusing on living life, rather than what they look like – with older relatives and younger ones alike saying their priorities have changed. My friend’s mom wrote, “I mostly don’t mind getting older because how else could I have cherished friendships with my adult children and enjoy precious grandbabies?”

Similarly, one cousin said, “personally, I have to look at aging as a privilege and try my hardest to age as healthy as possible.” Backing this up came words from my mother: “I guess I get philosophical about aging like in the book of Ecclesiastes. It is all meaningless! It is the ‘gift’ of God to enjoy the fruit of all your labor.”

And I’ll end with two quotes from my mom, which made me happy I started the whole conversation, and happy I have such lovely relatives and friends who will participate in this and answer a crazily random email from a friend/cousin/niece/daughter.

The first quote makes me happy to have the parents I do: “It comforts me when [your dad] still says I am beautiful, I can’t for the life of me figure out why, but I am grateful!  I think growing old should be done in the safety of being surrounded by those who know you ‘warts and all’ and love you anyway!” I think growing old in such a good relationship is certainly a blessing.

And the second reminded me that there are things to focus on, besides the wrinkles: “I think a ‘good countenance’ is much more important. I mean: TV and videos and magazines all ‘sell’ what the ideal look is — and then change it to just keep you on your toes — so you never really get to achieve it without spending a lot of time and money and effort on it. Kind of like a dog chasing its tail — it never really catches it, but it keeps trying! Whereas someone who is at peace with him or herself and with God, — just has a good countenance.”

So that is the end of my relatively self-indulgent blog on something I do spend a relatively large amount of time thinking about. I hope you will participate as well – am happy to get an email or a comment or other form of communication from anyone! (I could talk about this for a while…)

* Although actually I think that this film is so not politically correct that it is somewhat interesting as a global cultural phenomenon – it essentially pits American commercialism against Middle East tradition and decides that America is not only better but also will win. But I don’t approve this message, or accept it in this un-nuanced way. But it is still interesting. Don’t attack me, etc.

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Responses

  1. I LOVE this! Its so odd, I have started to think about aging a lot recently too. Must be that looming 3-0 birthday coming up or something. I’ve recently decided to start using a daily moisturizer/sunscreen. I bought it, and used it exactly once thus far!

    Anyway, I haven’t seen the SITC movies, but I’ve seen pretty much the whole series, and in general I enjoyed it as entertainment, but one of the biggest impression I left with was the sense of how the lifestyle the women led seemed discordant with their ages. And I think that’s part of the point of the show–that these women were “liberated” from the traditional roles most other women play at their ages, those of wives and mothers and grandmothers even. So, they get to go to bars and clubs and stay out late and drink and stay thin and wear gorgeous clothes, like single 20-somethings get to do.

    Now I am not one who thinks that every woman should get married or every woman should be a mom, or anything like that. But I think, like your mom quoting from ecclesiastes–that there’s a time for everything. That there’s a way to be 40 or 50 and single and childless and grown-up and age-appropriate and aging gracefully that is something other than being Jennifer Aniston and having an eternal youth. But what is that alternative and what does it look like? And wouldn’t THAT have been an interesting theme for that show to explore! (And maybe it did, a little).

    I have lots of thoughts from that show, actually, and I love to discuss it any time, though I haven’t seen an episode in 5 years.

    All that to say, loved this post!!!

  2. You might enjoy this NYT article I read yesterday on how French women age (part of the NYT series on how Parisian elites are magical elf-like beings who are better than us.) Joking aside, its interesting and talks a lot about what you are talking about!

    In all honesty I worry about aging too…yes even as a man. But I also like to think about things before they really happen… 🙂

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/15/fashion/15French.html?_r=1&scp=7&sq=french&st=cse

  3. […] is thinking a lot about aging. We met as two young American women studying abroad in Poland and ended up as roommates. We seem to […]

  4. My response turned in to a blog post of my own. Here is it!

    http://www.preservationprojectfilms.com/blog/2010/07/18/on-aging-at-twenty-something/


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