What a Drag it is Getting Old
Last week my partner and I traveled to Florida to see my dad and stepmother, whom I hadn't seen for over two years since the pandemic. I mentioned in a previous post that I now have a better relationship with my dad since the pandemic-- he said he's mellowed since he turned 80 and also lost 25 pounds without trying at all (he's in great health and weighs less than me now!) which I'm kind of envious of. Maybe this is the one positive thing about getting really old that I can look forward to. I'm at the age struggling with menopause, which is like experiencing a second awkward adolescence. I get to experience what pubescent boys go through, getting their first hormonal acne breakout on their chins and I too, have to shave my face every week or so. When I look in the mirror in the morning, I hear Mick Jagger's voice in my head singing the first line of "Mother's Little Helper" ("What a drag it is getting old...") I'm on the fighting lines (literally, on my forehead) for rescuing the Melissa I remember in photos just a few years ago. Every day taking my expensive bio-identical hormone replacement therapy (along with collagen, fish oil, vitamin D and Lamictal for managing my Every-Day-Closer-To-Death manic depression.) Intermittent fasting and riding my bike up the hills, out of breath with snot running down my nose in the cold. My eyeballs now constantly tear up and dry out like every cell in my body. Even my Vaj feels dehydrated and a little sad, like she's been reminiscing about the good old days of her wet-and-horny prime. I'm getting fat while really, really trying to not be. I feel like a car with a lot of miles but still looks shiny on the outside, runs great but when she turned 50 the warranty ran out. Everything in the car started rusting and Melissa can't keep up the repairs now. The pressure to be attractive and sexy when you're in the sex industry is real, but I also feel better about myself when I consciously take the time for self-care, maintaining my prime weight and going to the gym regularly. It's expensive to stay beautiful and it's also a secret amongst women to not talk about it publicly as it's considered vain, self-centered, catering to the male gaze and we're afraid of our natural aging process. I relate to all of the above and kind of ashamed to admit it (especially from my male clients who follow my writing here- you think we should be naturally beautiful, our farts smelling of roses and we don't bleed or shit.)
They're called "Beauty Secrets" as we pretend we're not fighting aging and gravity. It's no secret to my esthetician who injects my body with filler and Botox, freezes off fat and lasers my wrinkles for the cost of a luxury vacation to The Maldives. My hairdresser who helps camouflage my witchy gray roots every six weeks. My gym routine with a trainer doing cardio and weight lifting to stave off bone loss and tone my floppy weak upper body. The only people I can talk openly about this are all my female friends in their 40's and 50's, most who are sex workers who also have to keep up their appearances for their job. A large part is marketing so we have to look great on our social media feed at all times, competing with tight-bodied 25 year-olds doing cute sexy dance moves on TikTok who also understand algorithms. Now there's filter apps for our phone selfies that smooth skin, change facial appearances, shrink waistlines and put on makeup for us. FaceApp will estimate your real age based on an un-filtered photo, then you can play with changing your age to a younger or older version of yourself. Everyone I know who tries this feature screams in horror when they see a version of themselves really old, but it also makes us appreciate how good we look now in our relatively youthful appearance. (And it's an effective reminder to wear sunblock daily and save your pennies for future laser skin treatments.) There's an uptick in plastic surgeries amongst teen girls who want to look like their filtered selfies which is terrible dystopian trend-- yet I still love how I can artistically manipulate and create who I want to portray myself to the world online.
“Doesn’t it make you feel good to look nice for just yourself?” a middle-aged dude with a dad-bod asked me, who spends only 10 minutes a day getting ready before leaving the house (and that's if he's not showering.) He also spends less than $300 a year on haircuts, grooming supplies and clothes yet makes over six figures a year in his job. It must be nice to save all that time, money and less stress to be a man out and about in the world. They're being taken seriously for their ideas, intellect, income-- that's their rock star power. Being handsome and attractive are a bonus for getting attention from women and getting laid, but for men it doesn't require beauty to get it.
As much as I whine about getting older, I acknowledge I am privileged to be conventionally attractive, able-bodied, youthful looking (who knows how much this is good genes or the artistry of my aestheticians?) Relatively thin (curvy but still in the conventionally sexy category by most men.) I can harness those physical traits to profit off the male gaze in my adult industry job. Sex work* is the one industry where beauty is our greatest power, thus the wage gap and socioeconomic status is flipped -- women are compensated significantly higher than men overall than in any other field. Capitalism is big motivator to keep my weight in check, fight aging to stay beautiful and not slip into invisibility.
I'm trying hard to not use the term We to speak for all women as we all have our own outlook, so I'll speak from my viewpoint. My body, face, hair, makeup, clothes, sexy youthful appearance and to a less extent, my confidence and attitude- are what makes me powerful portrayed on social media or just walking down the street by the male gaze. I am my own work of art, a curation of beauty to be noticed, admired, wanted and displayed. I've also made the choice to monetize the art I've created, like a museum charging an admission fee and a velvet rope creating a boundary around the work.
On the flip side, sometimes I just need downtime to go inward and become invisible.
When I'm working in the garden in the summertime, I morph into the wise old woman I really am under all the filler and the filters. It's nice to exhale and take a break from the struggle to be beautiful and simply admire the beauty in nature. My hands are deep in the mud, dirt caked under my not-long-and-colorful fingernails. I have on SPF 80 zinc sunblock that makes me look like I'm doing Kabuki theater. I'm wearing a utilitarian floppy hat to guard my skin from the aging UV rays. My plumber's ass crack is hanging out of my stretch pants while wearing a ratty t-shirt and sandals showing off my un-manicured rough feet, also with dirt under the toenails. I feel totally relaxed as my messy uncensored self, but if I stay there too long I can really let myself go, becoming lazy, unmotivated and depressed.
What's the point of putting on a bra and leaving the house well-groomed if there's no one to look nice for, even in the grocery store? There's something comforting knowing I'm still in the game. My game is feeling and looking as good as I can be. Being desired, sexy, a strong firm body, feeling powerful, having hustle and drive, security and money (which is now the fear of not having enough to retire on, which isn't that far off.)
Maybe there's a hormonal shift in menopause that makes you realize you've got less time on this earth than when when you started. Time is slipping by faster and faster every day and sometimes feels frustrating and scary. Pink Floyd's classic song "Time" encapsulates how I feel as I've aged over the years:
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun
And you run, and you run to catch up with the sun but it's sinking
Racing around to come up behind you again
The sun is the same in a relative way but you're older
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death
Being a little closer to death, menopause has helped me let go and give less fucks of what others think of me (hence writing openly about what I've been ashamed of and coming out under my real name.) I am happier today and oddly way more attractive than when I was an insecure twenty five-old who never had a thought about aging. Now I'm trying to make my time count and set new goals so I can look forward to little events rather than just experiencing everything passing by so quickly. My mother told me when I was a child that beauty is a struggle in life. As a grown woman, I now understand my mother's words and her challenges at that age. Life to me is also a beautiful game we evolve over time as the players, find our strengths and change the rules as we age. A quote from the 80 year-old sage Maude (the main character in one of my favorite movies Harold and Maude, giving advice to 20 year-old Harold):
Reach out! Take a chance! Get hurt maybe. But play as well as you can. Go team, go!
Give me an 'L'. Give me an 'I' Give me a 'V' Give me an 'E'. L-I-V-E – LIVE!!!!!
Otherwise you’ll have nothing to talk about in the locker room."
*Sex work is an umbrella term for the industry that include adult content creators, porn actors, cam girls, strippers, escorts, erotic bodyworkers. The industry on the whole is 85-90% female and the consumers are 95% male. Adult online content is globally reported to be a ninety-seven billion dollar a year industry in 2020 (even more surprising considering how much is pirated and stolen. ‘MILF’ and ‘GILF’ are the most searched terms in porn, which gives me a little more confidence.
As Sally O’Malley reminds us, “I can kick, I can stretch and I can kick!
I’m 50 years old!”