When I am 40, I hope I look 40. Standing strong, proud of my life story mapped out through the scars on my skin.
Forty years of laughter frame my eyes, creases radiating out.
Forty years of wisdom streaking my hair grey, wisdom hard gained in the refiner’s fire, in the crucible where it hurt like hell.
Forty years of flesh at home on my bones, where I’ve allowed the thickening of the years and not starve-yogaed myself to maintain my 21 year old, size six frame.
When I’m 40, I hope I look 40, defying botox, fillers, hair dye, rejecting the notion of womanhood that says I’m only good for sex and even then, only if I’m attractive: usually meaning white, thin and under 25. I want to be 40: smart, sassy and oozing sex appeal from my so-comfortable-within-my-own-skin self.
The reality is I’ll probably be spending the GDP of Burkina Faso on trying to eliminate my crows’ feet, dew-up my décolletage and battling the regrowth roots of my dyed hair. I want to be attractive. And attractive women are… well, you know, young. Page three tells me this. Porn tells me this. GQ, OK and Glamour magazines tell me this. The lack of women in their 50s in mainstream media, films and TV tells me this . If you want to be hot, you definitely need to be young.
These aren’t the priorities the Bible espouses ‘Be hot, because I am hot’ – nope, not there. ‘Grey hair is a crown of glory, but dying it is preferable in living a godly life’ is not how Proverbs 6 runs. How are we then to run the race with our eyes fixed on unseen things when the bombardment of youthandbeauty = happiness feels so constant? Even within church, I don’t want to hear another male Christian speaker talking about his hot wife as some kind of reward for his holiness. How have we become so confused? I want to value the beauty of the freckled hand, the sun-damaged skin, the expanding waistband, when I currently don’t. Can we start a revolution and devise radical, prayer-filled strategies to stop idolising youth and judging our brothers and sisters on how they look? Or is that impractical and not what God wants, I mean we have eyes for a reason, right?
I also suspect this ageing thing is more tricky for women. There are certainly fewer spaces in which women can publicly age. There is a whole vocabulary for the older, chiselled, rugged 40 or even 50-something leading man, but I’ll watch with interest what happens for actors like Kate Winslet as they ride through into their 40s: which female actors over 40 or 50 can we name? Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren…. And now repeat the exercise for men…. But if I really zoom out, it feels like another empty capitalist trope to enslave both genders – spend your money on looking better (meaning younger), you’ll have more friends, more sex and more career success. In a world of such rampant inequality, where money is a gift from God that we are stewarding, we have to ask how much is too much to spend on how we look. As a new year’s resolution, I thought about keeping track of everything I spent on my appearance – clothes, face cream, make-up and then committing to donating an equal amount to charity or on my spiritual development. I was seeking a way to demonstrate that looking good is not my number one priority; that I want to be spiritually, emotionally, politically, intellectually growing, not just focussed on being hot, chiefly by my attempts to hold back the years. I was too afraid to do it.
Here are my wranglings. I don’t know how to navigate these waters. I want to love ageing. I want the focus of my life to be Jesus and becoming the person Jesus thought of when creating me. Ideally, I’d quite like us all to start wearing blindfolds. How does that match with London life and the narrative that sings in every corner: success = young and definitely hot, hot, hot?
I sometimes think about moving to the Ugandan jungle. I like Uganda. Or perhaps, the moon. Somewhere with less ocular hegemony and visual privileging, where life, experience and wisdom count over and above the texture of your skin. I want to embrace the fallibility and frailty of my body, celebrating its deterioration as a sign of my humanity, of my need for God. I don’t want to dread birthdays anymore. And sometimes, well quite a lot actually, at the other end of the spectrum I wish I was 68. I watch some of the older women I know confidently living and loving, hugging and smiling, serving and giving. And I want to be them. I want to be 68 because these women seem free from the tyranny of trying to make themselves conventionally sexually attractive. Maybe that’s my projection. They seem to have moved beyond the need to jostle, compete and preen themselves into an advertiser’s dream and be enjoying a freedom that I visit at times but don’t yet dwell in. I wish I was 68. But rather than leaving the country or wishing my life away, the need is to pray for greater freedom right now, in this place, at this time, asking for God’s kingdom to come and transform my/our attitudes to age and appearance to reflect the kingdom’s priorities.
Image by Scorpions & Centaurs @ flickr.com