Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Keep Up Speed

“A woman must walk into winter gracefully,” her mother had often said, “or she’ll look the fool, wearing her summer hat to an ice-skating party.” From Agnes Somerset

I admit it--sometimes I watch Dr. Phil. The other day his energetic wife co-hosted the show to tell us about her new book, which is seemingly all about staying young through the proper use of hormones. There is no reason, she said (in her short, sleeveless black dress) to not look great and feel sexy once you enter menopause. I felt immediately like I had to explain myself.

Men are under the gun also. Both daytime and prime-time television air ads for products to "enhance" (every marketer's favorite word these days) a man's sexual performance. The reassuring script is read over shots of healthy, slightly aging couples smiling at each other as they dance slowly around the kitchen with sunlight softly streaming in (cut to product).

This is all certainly good news for people who have struggled with true physical or biochemical problems and can now enjoy a normal level of energy and ability. But what is normal now supposed to be? I am hearing messages all around me that a normal 55 should feel like 35--maybe even 25. It sounds like slowing down a little is not only out of fashion but really out of the question.

Of course, for a long time marketers--and sometimes husbands--have tried to convince women that there's no good reason to look old. One woman I knew in her late sixties was candid enough to tell me that she dyed her hair because her husband insisted on it; he didn't want her to look old. He, of course, had long been reduced to half a head of gray hair and was anything but the picture of youth. Anti-wrinkle creams are getting more sophisticated all the time, and surgery to correct the relaxed look of age has blossomed into a huge business.

Now that our pharmaceutical and herbal supplement companies have devised their clever concoctions, we are not allowed to feel older either. I am uncomfortable with this demand. To every season, as the Good Book says, there is a purpose. My appearance, my stamina, my knowledge, my relationships, my priorities, my timeline--they all work together. I may have to just pull off on the shoulder, spread a blanket, and let the chemically enhanced traffic pass me by.

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