Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Mojo and the Myth of Aging Gracefully

Imagine aging 50 years in a few days.

This is what happened to Nguyen Thi Phuong, a lovely 23-year old woman from Vietnam. For three years, she wore a mask to go out in public because she was so ashamed of her appearance. Now 26, she and her husband have decided to publicize their ordeal so that media attention might encourage a sympathetic public to help pay for the expensive treatment Phuong hopes will restore her youth.

Doctors have yet to determine what has caused this rapid aging process, which may have been triggered by an allergic reaction to fish or to the cheap remedies she took to stop the itching.  Some speculate that she has lypodystrophy, which causes a layer of fatty tissue beneath the skin to disintegrate, or mastocytosis, a rare disorder caused by the presence of too many mast cells, or a bad reaction to steroids, which are often spiked into the sort of cheap traditional medicine Phuong used to treat her fish allergy.

In interviews, her boyish husband sits quietly by her side, looking more like Phuong's devoted grandson than her mate.  He has said, "I married Phuong when she was a beautiful woman.  I have followed her through her disease and have never been shocked at all.  It's not easy to tell everything about one's own marital affairs.  Just simply understand that I still love her very much."

Would you wear a mask to go out in public?  Do you wear one now?

I became vain in my early 40s when, overnight, I appeared to have aged 20 years.  The corners of my eyes had puckered and soft pleats appeared at the corners of my mouth. Freckles morphed into overlapping liver spots to form a drab floral design over my arms and legs. While my lashes and brows were thinning, two black pubic hairs were sprouting from turkey wattle that had replaced the smooth column of my neck.  And white hair was growing in faster than I could yank it out.  How could I ever have taken that lush, dark mane for granted? How could I have taken my youth for granted?

I was 20 years old.

Once.  I was 20 years old once.

I still feel like myself, more or less, but who the hell is that senior citizen in the mirror?  And where the hell is my mojo?

Because, ladies and gentlemen, that's what it's all about.  All this fuss about aging gracefully really is about our willingness to make the transition to asexuality.  When you have white hair and wrinkles, you should be sure to put everyone at ease by 'owning it'--which means make yourself invisible and pretend your genitalia have dessicated--or you have surgery and color your hair so you are entitled to your sexuality.

Phuong's husband is simultaneously a martyr and an embarrassment.   Does he fuck his wife?  (Are you cringing?)  She's healthy and robust and they're in love, but she looks like grandma and that is possibly more difficult to overlook than any other physical deformity.  We can't really expect Phuong's husband to want to fuck her.  We can easily imagine the young Phuong taking the initiative and joyously riding her man, but how can we imagine Phuong as a passionate woman taking her pleasure now--or picture her husband taking pleasure in her--when her skin is sagging?

Shall I call a press conference?  Should I grow a beard and stop dying my hair so philanthropists will be more inclined to help fund my face lift, breast augmentation and liposuction?  Would it help if I made a Powerpoint presentation?  "There I was at 20--it seems like only yesterday--looking perfectly acceptable in a bathing suit."


  1. Sis, I just wrote miles of stuff and the fucking system gobbled it up. Got a head ache (from ageing I bet) and can't repeat what I wrote.
    In a nut shell:

    Don't we ALL experience ageing as sudden?
    So it feel like 'only yesterday' and it is very difficult to accept this new version ... Mary at 91 has the same problem!

    I don't think this longing for what we had and did not appreciate back then, will ever go away.
    Keep smiling!

  2. Charlotte- DId you know that my husband is twenty years my senior? He complains everyday of new failings. He is gray, and balding, but has also been that way since high school, for real. I know that others do not understand the attraction, but there is one, and we are comfortable with each other. I love him very much, and we have a great love life. He says he loves my increasing older, wider, imperfect body, and I half believe him, but I fear the future, when I am older, and he is gone. I, too, look older each day, and the lady who cuts my hair, keeps trying to sell me a highlight. Aging is hard, and harder to be the same age in your head while the mirror tells the truth. We are terrible self-critics. I think older women are beautiful- as long as it's not me.

  3. I was trying not to cry as I read that, Julie. I love your honesty. (I'm in love with your husband, too!) (Did you know there was a 22-year age difference between my parents?)

    You're so right, aging IS hard and we ARE terrible self critics. Being with someone you love who loves you well and fully does wonders for self-acceptance.

    You just described the ideal relationship--comfort and attraction.

  4. Julie, your last line hit the nail BANG on the head:

    'I think older woman are beautiful - as long as it's not me'.

    The thing is that when I look in the mirror I judge myself on what I see before me, literally, rather than who and how I am. The older woman I find beautiful are not the ones that are physically like a 20 year old, but the woman who are at home in their bodies or souls and are attractive people. There are many older woman that I don't find beautiful.

    There is a woman who runs the canteen where I go for my lip-reading class. She is small and big, but has wonderful posture, short blond died spiky hair, pale skin and THE most beautiful smile ever ... oh and RED lip stick. She is a very sexy lady indeed. I can't take my eyes off of her.
    Trouble is we compare our older selves to our younger selves and can't 'see' the whole picture.

  5. Hmmm. When I participate in a change--when I change my opinion because of new information, etc.--all of me goes along for the ride. When my body changes--without my consent! behind my back!--I don't adapt. I may pretend to, but there is always an unbridgeable chasm between Inside Me and Outside Me. I've battled being fat all my life and the times when I was thin I was treated totally differently (better) but I still couldn't latch on to the fact that my body had changed. (I still went shopping for big clothes.) I was the same person (inside), but was being treated as if I was a different person.

    Do I have to find my wrinkles beautiful in order to accept myself?

    Is it that we always see ourselves through the eyes of an imaginary spectator? For me, the spectator's a critic; for someone else, it may be a lover.

    Why is there no erotica featuring oldies?

  6. Agreed.
    I can remember how free and easy I felt when I was thinner .. a weight had literally and metaphorically been lifted. It felt so damn good. At the moment I'm heavier than I have been for ages but feel strangely well and energetic and quite smooth skinned (less wrinkles?). Is this the first sign of acceptance? No?
    I'm not convinced, the yearning for what was or might be will never go and I don't think there is any such thing as total acceptance ... that concept is way out of my loop!

    Nah ... us oldies are seen as shrivelled up prunes, not juicy enough. But hey! You are not an oldie yet! Neither am I (not quite) maybe at 75?
    I'll let you know.