Everyone has an excuse for reading "women's" magazines. Like: I was waiting in line at the supermarket; I was at the dentist's office; I was stuck in Outer Mongolia and all they had to read was a 10-year-old copy of...
I have my own excuse. I'm engaged in an informal study of the American view of aging.
I want to know how many ads there are for anti-wrinkle cream, how many ways to thwart the effects of aging.
I just want to count how many ads there are for anti-wrinkle cream, how many opportunities there are to thwart the effects of aging. Does anybody look with any favor or pleasure on the prospect of getting older? Yes, I know, it's better than the alternative.
I recently went for a facial (having succumbed to the barrage of advertising I've been "researching"!) The woman who served me began describing their new line of products. As she put it: "for women with mature skin." Mature skin?! I almost ran out the door shrieking. I do not have mature skin. And what does that mean anyway? That my skin shows the wisdom of my years, the joys and the sorrows, my striving for meaning and to affect others? Or is it just old, leathery and wrinkled? Is mature the new euphemism?
POISONED BY THE CULTURE OF YOUTH
And why do I care? Isn't every wrinkle, or laugh line (!) a badge of honor -- a symbol of a new battle confronted, new delights experienced? What has our society got against aging, and how have I been co-opted into sharing the prevailing view?
For a large family on a tight budget, my bathroom is filled with creams and lotions and gels guaranteed to retard the aging process. Different ones for my eyes, my lips, my throat and neck, and my face. Exfoliating masks and hydrating masks. For firming, for smaller pores, for moisturizing. With alpha-hydroxy, with beta-hydroxy, with retinol A, with anti-oxidants. The latest discovery, the newest serum. The one that really works. We promise.
What went wrong? Why can't we grow old gracefully, and proudly, taking pleasure in efforts made, experience gained, and wisdom earned?
This is a culture of youth worship, destructive to all participants.
But it wasn't always like this.
WHEN AGING CAME INTO THE WORLD
Our Torah teaches us that our forefather Abraham prayed for the signs of old age. (Now we know who to blame!) Until that point, Abraham and Isaac looked virtually identical. Abraham recognized that this was not as great as it seemed.
Although not in need of personal honor, Abraham knew that it was not beneficial for a society not to venerate older people -- parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, acquaintances. He knew that there was a reality to the wisdom garnered from many years on this earth and that we would be a poorer, more superficial, more temporary society without that recognition.
Abraham prayed to God to place upon humanity the signs of old age, because he knew we would be better off ultimately.
So he prayed to the Almighty to place upon humanity the signs of old age -- gray hair, or no hair, wrinkles, age spots... He knew we would ultimately be better off if we only looked deeply enough.
This in mind, I was chilled when I saw an ad featuring a small child's birthday celebration "...and I blew out the candles and I laughed, mostly because it made me remember a time when getting older was actually a thrill."
When I'm not bombarded by images of beautiful younger women (of course, they're thinner too), and admonitions about how to perk up old, tired skin, I'm saddened by the message.
When I'm not trying out a new eye cream (the one with the money-back guarantee), I'm pained by this point of view.
TEACH YOUR CHILDREN WELL
Do I really want to teach my children that only youth counts? Do I want to rob them of respect for the elderly and the tremendous learning opportunity available? Do I want them to look at their lives as "over" past a certain age? Do I want them to look at my life as "over" past a certain age?
Or do I want each year, each moment to be precious? Do I want them to appreciate the growth and understanding acquired with the passing of time?
I want the confidence to look straight and clear into the mirror and take pleasure in what I see.
I want the confidence to look straight and clear into the mirror and take pleasure in what I see; to look back over the past and say, "I earned that wrinkle" and to look forward to a future of more growth and more opportunity; and more wrinkles.
We need a whole new media campaign to change the portrayal of the over-40 crowd in America. And I'd like to be at the forefront... just as soon as I finish ordering this new French anti-aging creme I just heard about.