I was standing in my favorite discount shoe store when a woman caught my eye, showed me the heel height of the boots she was trying on, and asked, “Do you think these are age appropriate?”
Whoa, sister. What a loaded question these days.
What makes you old? What makes you too old to do something, try something, wear something, say something... Is old a number or a feeling? Does my young neighbor who thinks it’s fun that I’m a Metallica fan know that ALL of Metallica’s original fans are, by definition, around my age? Should I let my hair go gray? Is coloring it some kind of fakery or old age phobia? Why do television ads routinely infantilize older people or demean us as clueless? Why is age discrimination so rampant and still so ignored? Did that kid hear my knee pop when I got up out of this chair?
So. Many. Questions.
If you’re a 65-year-old woman in the U.S. (which I am), you have a 40% chance of living until you’re 90. That’s two and a half decades of your life past 65, 40 years past the age of 50, which means way, way too many years to waste time trying to fit into someone else’s idea of what is age appropriate. I’m not really talking about whether you wear skinny jeans or get a tattoo; I’m talking about the ease of living in well-being and freedom, especially the freedom to be yourself.
When I think about what I liked best about being a child, I often think about discovery, learning, the thrill of new experiences and expanded choices. But those qualities are not just for the chronologically young. They are about a way of living that widens our thoughts and keeps us exploring and redefining what is possible. There’s no reason for that to end, is there? And yet there is much out there that tries to restrict us and sell us something with clickable articles on ‘Rules for Dressing after 60,’ supposedly funny commercials about people ‘becoming their parents,' or the all-encompassing anti-aging industry. As if aging is a contagious disease. A real standout for me was a Southern Living article that warned us about the ‘mistakes’ we might be making with our eyebrows. OUR EYEBROWS. I kid you not: https://www.southernliving.com/fashion-beauty/beauty-makeup/eyebrow-mistakes-that-age-you. For women, especially, I think, it takes a NASA-level heat shield to keep from absorbing a lifetime of this nonsense.
So, what did I say to my fellow shopper in the shoe store? I asked her if the boots were comfortable, and she answered yes. I asked her if she thought she’d wear and enjoy them, and she smiled. Obviously, yes. Then they sound extremely appropriate to me, I answered.
That sounds like such an easy-peasy conversation, but I thought about it for days. And then I wondered why it occupied my mind so much. In the end, I decided her question wasn’t about boots; it’s about the all-important question of WHO gives us permission and guidance to decide what’s appropriate, especially at this stage of life.
Now that’s a question I believe I know the answer to. It’s me. It’s you. It’s ourselves, alone and independent.
Whichever boots you choose, I’m quite sure we’ve earned that right.