OUR BODY AND THE AGING PROCESS
As many of you know, I am a believer in the beauty, wisdom and viability of women over fifty. We are a generation that has struggled to establish an identity that is different from our mother’s and grandmother’s. As we shape shifted our way through life exploring a new-found freedom, we stepped out of the kitchen and into the workplace. We used our gifts in new ways even as we struggled to hold on to a few of the old traditions like “motherhood”, “hostess”, “beautiful companion”, “caregiver”. It has not been an easy marriage, the old and the new.
We continue along the path of discovery as we turn fifty, sixty, seventy and beyond. Now our focus has turned to the issue of the aging and aged woman. We are not comfortable with the previous generation’s identity as “senior citizens”, but we are not altogether clear on what our replacement identity is, what it looks like, how it is valued in all its many facets. We are not always comfortable in the skin we are in, and we are seeking resolution to this discomfort and often our bodies take the brunt of our dissatisfaction and attention, as if it were their fault. We long to erase the years, minimize the scars of our lives, and disappear into the fantasy of eternal youth. Beyond the body we have more questions that may be a bit easier to answer.
We ask ourselves and each other, What does the process of aging mean for me/us? What do I want to be like when I’m “old”? Do I still have value as an aging woman, as a contributor to society, a loving sexual partner, an intelligent, creative person? Does society value me/us? Do I like and accept what they see when I look in the mirror? How do I value myself in a society that values youth and beauty? Should I put effort into keeping up appearances or is this unimportant? Should I have a face lift, a body tuck, dye my hair and work at looking and acting as young as possible? Or am I just running away from the inevitable? Is there something more important to consider?
Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes reminds us of the beauty and power of the aging body in her wonderful audio The Dangerous Old Woman, Volume 3: The Joyous Body, Myths and Stories of the Wise Woman Archetype. According to Dr. Estes, “The body is wise. The body is the consort that was born with us, a being in its own right, the one who records all of our adventures and misadventures, informing us, healing us, acting as the sensory being who loves us, and is loyal to us for life. As we age we come to know and value the consort all the more.” She unpacks these words for her listeners in a wonderful series of stories, explanation, and instruction steeped in her own profound knowledge and wisdom. A Jungian Analyst, poet and story-teller, Dr. Estes takes her listeners on a beautiful and enlightening journey, one that provides a more insightful way of viewing our body as we age.
The aging body is a thing of beauty in its own right. As a “consort”, it is our treasured companion, a valued partner, a vessel that accompanies us through all of life, teaching, informing, providing pleasure and sensory information that is vital to our overall well-being. When we try to silence its message, minimize its importance, reshape its natural beauty we are not treating it as we would an acquaintance, let alone a friend or a lover. Perhaps we should entertain the idea that aging is a thing of beauty in itself, in all of its forms, while caring for the body as if it were a loved one.
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