Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Age before beauty, unless it's a tie

I went to a wedding last weekend for one of the BF’s nephews. The BF has an enormous number of brothers and sisters, a half-dozen of which were in attendance, and yes, there are so many they can be counted by the half-dozen and still not be even close to a complete set. It was a little awkward going to a wedding where I didn’t know anyone, and tough to give any kind of meaningful congratulations to two people I had never met before. “Rock the casbah!” I wrote in their wedding book. Hey, why not.

The wedding was like the majority of weddings going on that weekend all over the country: bridesmaid dresses of a color unflattering to all, an incoherent toast by the already-plastered best man, the bland steak/dry fish/rubber chicken options for dinner (plus a vegetarian pasta Alfredo calculated to prove that vegetarianism does not have to mean healthy), and a band with a predictable—and admittedly enjoyable—playlist. It’s as easy for me to be cynical at weddings as it is for sentimental people to be teary-eyed; the irony of this special day being pretty much the same as everyone else’s special day refuses to be lost on me. And yet it’s impossible not to feel a surge of pure joy when well-dressed people of all ages get out there on the dancefloor and go just a bit wild. This is why we have weddings, after all. I’m perplexed by and uncomfortable with the concept of circus-like weddings—I’m not going to marry everyone in the room, just this one person, so why’s it got to be a big elaborate show?—and yet of course weddings aren’t just personal but social and communal. Two people are getting hitched—hooray! The human species may continue! Now let’s celebrate by Twisting and Shouting!

Watching the dancers, I couldn’t help but notice one woman in particular. It was hard not to notice her; she had to be about 6’4, taller than almost all the men, and older than almost everyone else on the dancefloor. Her smile could have powered a city. Her moves were all grace and lightness. She put all the sweet young things in their more-appropriate-for-a-danceclub-than-a-wedding outfits to shame. I watched her, astonished, and then wondered that I should be astonished. The young don’t have a monopoly on having fun, after all.

It always seems like a bit of a rationalization to say that some things get better with age, but it really is true, and I’m not just talking wine and cheese. In addition to training for a potential BQ marathon this summer and fall, I’m also coaching a group of women who are brand new to running, and of those who have registered so far I’ve counted two or three in their 30s, two or three in their 40s, a whole bunch in their 50s and quite a few in their 60s. Initially this surprised me a little, in a very good way; it’s delightful to see people starting a new activity—a new adventure, even—well beyond what’s at least actuarily speaking the midpoint of their lives. Heck, the only reason I even decided to pursue a Boston qualifying marathon is because I turned 45 last December and the 3:55 time seems just on the edge of doable. There are many advantages to getting older, and even some of the disadvantages—slowing down—can be given a positive spin.

Let’s not kid ourselves: youth is still prized by all living beings, for obvious reasons, the chiefest of which is the fact that the young have more time to be living beings. Youth suggests both health and fertility, attractive attributes because they mean perpetuation of the species on multiple levels. Of course, given our aging population, advertisers are doing their darnedest these days to show that silver hair is sexy and laugh lines mean lusciousness. Of course, they’re doing so in large part to promote pharmaceutical products meant to deter, mask, or circumvent signs of aging, so it’s not like an influx of post-menopausal models has really changed our standards of beauty all that much.

But there I’ve gone and done it, brought up a topic that is distant and un-dear to my heart: beauty. Oh my goodness I am tired of hearing about beauty. To be more precise, I’m tired of hearing how wrong it is to create and perpetuate standards of beauty that make us hate our bodies. Yes, of course this is wrong. Problem is, the “solution” so frequently given to this problem is to spout a lot of aphorisms about how beauty comes in all shapes and sizes, about how being beautiful on the inside is what matters the most, about how we’re all beautiful in our own ways. Yeah, swell, but, um, isn’t that still perpetuating the idea that beauty is something we need to prize above all else? There always seems to be the faint whiff of hypocrisy whenever we complain about standards of beauty. Is it really the fact that there are such standards that bother us—or the fact that these standards don’t always include us? No one’s ever going to mistake me for a supermodel, and you know what? I am OK with that. No one ever going to mistake me for an elite marathoner either, yet life—and pursuit of a BQ—goes on. No matter how you spin it, beauty is always going to imply something that is beheld from without, and as such, the more we emphasize its importance, the more we push the idea that other people’s perception of who we are matters more than anything else. And thus continue our insecurities, and the products that capitalize thereon.

Ah, but fear not, all ye who stubbornly believe in these aphorisms, in circus weddings, in beauty and sentimentality, for cynical me got her comeuppance. As the BF and I were getting ready to go, I pointed out the tall woman, still dancing, still smiling, her gray-haired head bobbing merrily above the others. “Look at her,” I whispered. “No offense to the bride, but I think she’s the most beautiful woman in the room.”

“Really?” he said. “I think you are.”

Well that’s just…I mean… OK, so, yeah, sometimes it doesn’t actually suck to be called beautiful. I concede defeat. Funny thing, it feels rather glorious.


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