When I was a teenager, my father would sometimes point out to me, in what he thought was a helpful way – patting the skin above his own mouth and squinching his nose as if he smelled something foul — that I had hair showing on my upper lip and that I should use cream to remove it. Feeling the heat rise to my face but trying to suppress my shame and anger, I would mutter, “You think I didn’t know that?! I will take care of it!”
It took many decades until I realized that there were advantages to having a Mediterranean complexion – never needing mascara, boldly tanning in the sun while others were reddening — but that one of the disadvantages—dark peach fuzz on the face—was not something I alone endured, but something many other women confessed to also. I had felt as though the hair on my upper lip was a sign that I was damaged as a woman, forever failing to meet society’s standard of female beauty. What a relief to evolve to the point that if I wanted to remove the hair, I could do that; and if I didn’t want to remove the hair, I could still be womanly and attractive, even if I could not be a glitteringly blonde-haired woman with blue eyes and fair skin.
In fact, I once saw an angel in my room when I was little and in great turmoil, and the angel was a young girl with blonde hair, blue eyes, and a slender figure—although she wasn’t a bit bitchy and never lorded those things over me. But even my concept of spirituality was warped—my only image of perfection was a particular, narrow ideal of beauty, an angel like I imagined to be the perfect topping for a Christmas tree. I was the little Jewish Match Girl, pressing my nose up to the window of a room I could not enter.
I accidentally found a new image of an angel in the women’s bathroom of Pizza Picazzo in Sedona. (Yes, the humble bathroom!). Since much trauma had happened to me in a bathroom, how perfect that this healing mural took place in a bathroom…a lovely cosmic circle. God must have been channelled by an artist in love with the sweeping beauty of Sedona. Someone had hand-painted large female images across the wall – rather abstract, but still distinctly female – some playing instruments, others lounging, some flying—and some were very slender, and some were very large, with generous breasts and bottoms, and I could tell that they were all having the most marvellous time. And, although I don’t usually believe in a heaven with angels who have a physical presence, I sometimes do. And I thought, “What if these are how angels look in heaven, and all the time on earth I was fretting about not being perfect enough, and now I see how many images of perfection there are!” And I could tell that some of the angels were young and some were old, and some were fair and some were dark, and only their kindness and joy and lightness of spirit were what mattered.
I bring up the hair on my face and the angels in the bathroom because they remind me of some comments I heard while I was selling my book, Wise Older Woman: Growing in Grace and Sass, this past weekend at the Desert Song Healing Center arts festival. Several younger people picked up the book, smiling as they glanced through it, and then gently laid the book back down as they each explained: “I’d like to give this to my mother/aunt/sister/friend, but I don’t want to insult them with the word ‘older.’ “
How abusive and toxic it is that the word “older” has such a negative connotation, shaming us all for our innocent biological realities! Even the latest Prevention magazine screamed on its cover: “HOW YOU CAN PREVENT GROWING OLDER!” It made me so mad that I bought it just to throw it against the sofa cushions and rant to anyone who would listen how ridiculous and shaming this ad was. Uh, I think we all know there is only one way for any of us, at any age, to prevent growing older! But our contemporary society conspires to keep this a secret.
And I thought how similar this was to my hair on my face as an adolescent and how absurd it was for my father to think that I wasn’t aware of my physical self until he pointed it out to me. It feels just as shaming and absurd to me to think that we must be careful not to mention to a woman that she is growing older, which does have its own challenges, but also has its own special gifts: the gift of wisdom, the gift of living more fully in the present, the gift of authenticity, the gift of helping others grow, the gift of forgiveness —of ourselves and of others. I didn’t try to persuade those young people to think differently. Maybe just looking at the book will plant a very small seed. I know I would much rather that my friends and family think of me as a “wise older woman” than as an “ever-youthful- looking woman.” So nobody needs to be afraid to let slip the secret that I am aging! My prayer is that I live up to being a wise older woman who is ever-growing in grace and sass…and that I feel as free as those glorious angels at play in the magnificent mountains of Sedona!