It was Arnie who said (in his deadpan Terminatoresque voice), “I’m old. But not obsolete”. Clearly he’s feeling a lot like I am these days.
I was born in 1970. I joined CAPAB (now Cape City Ballet) as a professional ballet dancer in 1989. It’s 2016, which means I’m now a 45-year old ex-professional ballet dancer (I’m also a mom, a fitness pole dancer, and a health coach). Here’s the thing though: I’m only 30 in my head. But it’s starting to dawn on me that I’m considered (shudder) old! When did this happen?
When the younger model steals the show
Recently, I was performing a routine during our pole studio’s annual showcase. Just by-the-by and before I go on, it has to be said that I’m highly competitive: everyone else has friends in class, I have competitors. Now, there’s a rather gorgeous young French girl in her mid twenties who happens to be – like me – one of the more advanced dancers in the group. She’s great for my progress on the pole since I’ll be buggered if I let her perfect a move I can’t do. I’m certainly not going to let a young hussy steal my limelight. But back to the show: I was watching her routine and thinking of my own, and I came to the conclusion that no matter how good my performance, because I’m “old” I’ll never be as attractive to watch as someone younger than I am!
I did the whole grief cycle in thirty seconds flat. First, I was depressed. Then it got me mad. Then it got me thinking about my place in this world; about what I offer and whether or not it’ll be of value as I get older still. I’ve always intended aging with grace – I don’t want to go the boob/facelift route (I certainly don’t want to go blue-rinse brigade either). I’ve always wanted to find a way to embrace aging and capitalise on the wisdom and experiences I’ve had. Yet here it is. Despite my best intentions, I now feel very unbalanced about becoming obsolete in a society that seems to place so much importance on looks, bodies and youth in general.
You look great. For your age.
A few months ago, as I was leaving the gym one morning, a guy behind me said, “You’ve got a really great body.” There was a brief pause and then, “…for a woman your age.” #!@*! REALLY! I wondered if my car keys were long enough to take his eyeballs out. What a crappy caveat. I pride myself on having a body any twenty-five year-old would want, never mind one an old and decrepit woman of my age might aspire to. So to acknowledge now that – no matter what I look like or what my abilities are – my age is going to place me in a box from which I’m constantly judged, is a blow I wasn’t expecting.
I guess, partly, it’s a matter of perspective. As a kid, I figured my parents and their mates were ancient (at only 25 years older than me). As a 45-year old, 60 is looking positively youthful! I’m an older mom – I had my only child when I was 37. Not long ago, I picked said child up from ballet class. One of her little mates happened to be standing nearby when I bent down to give my daughter a squeeze. Her comment? “You must be Cassandra’s granny”. Again, #!@*!
A new generation of ‘oldies’
I can understand this, coming from kids, but what’s our consistent message about aging in society? We retire people in their 60s; we provide free tea and biscuits for these OAPs as if this will make them feel loved and valued. Instead of exploring what the ‘aged’ know about life and work, we dismiss them because they’ve “lost touch”. We see youth as a thing to cherish, adore and retain – at whatever cost. But what do we know when we’re young? Very bloody little, truth be told. Oh, we can become educated, but we can’t become experienced. Not without some aging happening simultaneously.
In turn, what do us “oldies” do? We try to remain relevant; somehow thinking that if we can compete with younger peeps (see, I just did it myself) for “hip-ness”, we’ll be more acceptable, more attractive, more necessary. When do we turn “more” into “enough”? Maybe we should work on creating a totally different aging vibe and make it known for what it truly is – an awesome journey of discovery, self-knowledge, life experiences and the right to fall asleep in public.
On first reflection, I thought that my ability to remain happy and fulfilled as I get older might have a great deal to do with confidence. Confidence in myself as a person – what I offer my friends, family, peers and colleagues; confidence in my skills – the years of experience and learning that make me the unique and effective coach/mom/friend/partner that I am; and confidence in my input into society – whether through my regular involvement in causes, or where I place my vote as a citizen of my country.
Stepping up closer to the mirror though, I suspect (sigh) that there’s a deeper place to go. Hanging upside down on a pole takes confidence – being a mother, a partner, an activist, addressing an audience on health matters demands the same. So confidence I have. The real competition is not the stunning French chick but the inner me. The me that still doesn’t get it – that I am more than my body and my abilities. That – no matter where I am age-wise in life – I am always beautiful, intelligent, valuable and worthy. I am enough. The rest of the world needs to work on seeing itself in the same way.