Own Your Age. Or Just Rent
Beauty is in the eye of the bad liars
I am 52 years old and one thing that happens when you’re 52 is people tell you how beautiful you are all the time. Not that many people told me I was beautiful in my 20s or 30s. In my early 40s, almost no one did, as people were mostly expressing astonishment that I hadn’t aged a lot, because, it turns out, early 40s is still very young, the real aging, the intense “wow my face and body do not look like they once did’ tends to start at around 46 and then accelerate. But still much ink and speech is spilled marveling over the youthfulness of 42 year old women when it is really not that remarkable, as these people are essentially children.
I should be clear that I am speaking as a perfectly fine looking person who is neither ugly nor ravishing who observes the experiences of others in addition to my own. Anyone who writes me after they read this and says anything about how I look will be murdered, that’s not the point. Moving on. From what I can tell, it’s around the late 40s when you stop hearing “you look so young” because you no longer do. Then for a few years no one says anything. You are in between being an object of wonder and a person so old they need to be lied to and/or coddled. You look worse, but not so much worse that anyone knows how to pretend you don’t.
And then around 50 you start hearing about how beautiful you are. Now, granted, people tend to tell me that I’m beautiful when I say I’m old, so, I guess I could avoid it by never saying this, but it is a useful word. “Well, I like French manicures, but I am old.” (“you’re not old, you’re beautiful!) or “Oh, yeah, I guess it seems weird to you that I knew when the song “Baker Street” came out, but I’m old.” (You’re not old, you’re beautiful.) Also young women tell you how much they love your hair and how they can’t wait to go gray, which is too cute to be annoying, they seem to be under the illusion that the grayness comes on its own without the sinking of the face and slow disappearance of the general eye area.
Now I am not saying I am hideous, again, this is not about me, this is about facts. But. One summer many men bothered me in New York and two years later, zero men bothered me. I didn’t know what was happening. “Wow New York is so much more chill than it used to be,” I said to my friend and he said “Bitch, you're old!” Ah! Right. He did not say, “Bitch, you’re old but you’re so beautiful,” because we are the same age and he is gay and no old gay man would ever say that, at least not the ones I’m friends with. (In fact, this same person told me once to study myself in the mirror in the morning to remind myself how old I was in case I caught an unexpected glimpse of myself later in the day and became alarmed.)
Is the proper way to measure beauty through the eyes of strangers on the streets of New York City? I guess I’m supposed to say no. At any rate, one cannot deny that these two things happen at once: no strangers tell you you’re beautiful, and suddenly lots of non-strangers tell you you are. VERY FISHY.
I was talking to a younger woman the other day and she said how much she was looking forward to getting old and I said that some of it was nice and some of it was not, like it was nice to feel more invisible but it was also not nice. And what did she say? You guessed it! And I said “Ha, well, that’s very nice of you but I don’t know about that,” which I probably should not have said. She seemed to get a little angry at me because I guess I did not love being old enough. She said when she was old she wanted to really own it and mentioned a woman we both know who she thought really owned her age. I just laughed. The woman she mentioned is one of the best looking people who ever lived. She is not better at owning her age than anyone else, I said. She’s just really pretty. That’s not what most people look like. Most people can’t “own their age” like her. She’s a freak of nature, she’s not remarkably skilled at being old.
I wrote this in like 11 minutes. Can you imagine if men who passed you on the street said “Mmm, you’re so good at writing things in 11 minutes?” instead of “nice tits?”*
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* (I feel like that joke is very Nora Ephrony. I did not steal it, it just reminds me of her. “You’re so good at re-reading Heartburn every year.” Would love to hear a stranger say this on the street too.)
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For me it was ordering drinks in bars. I never had a problem getting a bartender’s attention, until I did. One day I realized I was so much older than the bartenders that flirting might be weird, or inappropriate? But I also found out that I didn’t know how to order a drink without flirting, and went through a phase of like—2 awkward years trying to figure out how to get a drink at a bar again.