It now grinds against me when my clothes don’t speak. And it scratches the back of my head when my buzz cut is complimented. A haircut that would be standard and unremarkable on anyone else is apparently such a brave look on me. They say that I’ve sacrificed such an important part of my femininity. Fuck that! But then I succumb to nausea when a nodding, ‘understanding’ person admires my courage for daring to wear a metallic sports jacket, a leopard print jumpsuit or a pair of thigh high PVC boots in public.
The jacket doesn’t fit.
It grips on my Play-doh shoulders, clenches my squelchy waist, stops short above the hips. HIPS! It clings, accentuating a frame that I previously tried to conceal. I can’t possibly carry the burden of this jacket’s spiky, leather collar. Avant-garde design? Maybe I should give up and go to M&S?
The jacket doesn’t fit because there is a young girl displayed wearing it above my head, the Perspex protective covering glinting over the model’s airbrushed skin. I can feel the condescending stares of the 18-year-old sales associate burning into my back. So I reach for a pair of loose fitting linen pants, having to hike them way up and belt them around my waist, the wide hip requirement causing the legs to scrape on the floor to compensate. The sales assistant is preoccupied with her phone. I wonder if she’s making fun of me?
Nothing seems to fit these days, least of all clothing. “Elderly”, said accidentally in some cases and insistently in others (as if attempting to convince me of its correctness), will usually cause me to turn away; shrug. Getting older is a difficult adjustment for everyone even if it’s written in the stars. YOU’RE ALL GOING TO GET OLD, YOU KNOW!
I can’t expect too much but on some days the worrying about other people’s attitude to aging has the potential to unsettle everything. I close myself away, poring over imagined flaws that betray undeniable ‘elderly-ness’ to the baffled offender. My age allows strangers to automatically make assumptions about my identity, as if I even want to be part of your bitch fest. I’m too busy…
‘Ageless’ is a popular description of the self, a humble brag, the assertion that you “don’t see age, you see people”. But I saw age. I stopped bleeding every month, I had hot flushes. Arthritis began to take hold of my fingers and I had to take anti-inflammatories. Inconveniences.
You folk talk about ‘ageless’ but there’s no such thing: WE ALL HAVE AGE. And they talk about ‘ageless style’ as if nobody ever took into account their age when they went out to buy a new frock. Let me squeeze into one of Kim Kardashian’s skin tight dresses and I will kill off any chatter of ‘ageless’. The truth of the matter is that you see an old lady crossing the road, and you never imagine that’s going to be you. It’s a shock the first time that the phrase: “Eee duck, I don’t have the legs for that skirt anymore!” whispers angrily in your skull, but it’s something that happens to all of us. Even men. There were pictures of men wearing little black dresses on the catwalks of Paris and Milan in The Guardian the other day. I found myself cheering aloud and celebrating with an extra morning cigarette. If lads can be that radical, why can’t I be? Find me the Little Black Dress that a 60-year-old can wear that says Fuck You! I’ll wear it with pride, even to the bingo hall!
It gets me thinking, during the 1960s we took to the streets with a new and delicious sense of freedom, with the longing to become adults and not look like younger versions of our parents. Change was in the air; in our blood. We had different clothes and different scents and colours, a myriad of vermilions, greens and pinks. We had different social mannerisms and musical tastes that drew distinct lines between the various camps. I was a Hendrix girl all the way; I wouldn’t be seen dead with the mods! We had a voice.
But is there a price to be paid? Younger generations became associated with the new, the innovative, the daring. Older generations became linked to obsolescence and irrelevance. And isn’t this my problem? But I’ll be damned if some ignorant, spoilt, tracksuit-wearing little lout is going to write me off. The global population of people aged 80 and older is expected to more than triple between 2015 and 2050, growing from 126.5 million to 446.6 million. We’ve got all the money to spend and they aren’t going to keep us down without a fight.
It’s a common retort that elderly literally means the opposite of youthful in the English language. As if that argument alone proves some inherent ridiculousness of dysphoria that we’re just not seeing. With brutal honesty, I never thought I’d be one of “those people”. But now I am the person to be sweating over a job application, considering taking a few years off my age to be the more capable and reliable employee. But here we are – box left unfilled, the form is incomplete and cannot be submitted. Suzie, the animated manager smiling serenely at me through the PC screen, simply MUST KNOW my date of birth if I am to apply for a job that I have been doing for decades before she was even thought of.
Internalised fear of “being difficult”, or being a radical social justice stereotype, conflicts directly with the unexplained discomfort when zipping up a mini skirt or crop top. It conflicts with the love of the stage of my life that I am at, but the misery of it being associated with ‘OAP’. It’s only being able to slip into the most traditional and conservative styles of the Little Black Dress, in order to feel acceptable. It feels like another one of those things that ‘normal’ people are meant to see and roll their eyes at, chuckling at the absurdity of 2017. Perhaps mutter something about “Whatever happened to accepting reality?” But Chanel herself was radical in her time with a lot of criticism thrown her way – now 90 years later, her designs are a classic that everyone refers and aspires to all over the world.
There will always be negativity. Rejection or deviation from the norm is something that invites outright mockery, stemming from fear and dislike. When new experiences are processed, the mind can skip and corrupt, causing a variety of reactions. Error 404. Page Not Found. Data inconclusive. That is true of red hair, freckles, of braces, a lisp, a lazy eye, gender criticisms – age is no different. An outburst from those whose only satisfaction comes from the diminishing of others. Actions and comments that come from a place of instinctive recoiling from things that aren’t understood. In the play park that is the world, people clamber over the obstacles and fight and scream and laugh and play. The outcasts sit on the bench with a book, only occasionally looking up to show the others that they’re definitely still watching them on the monkey bars, very good, wow, great, that looks fun, no, of course I’m looking whilst you do the no hands thing (that I totally don’t understand or particularly want to try)!
At the risk of invoking cliché, I am simply myself, nothing more complex. And for me, it is something to celebrate rather than be ashamed of. I adjust, I endure, I quizzically raise an eyebrow when people are hesitant to sell me a boob tube because “it’s not for women like me” – and my friends love me as much as they loved the younger me, with the added benefit of seeing me happy. Now it is simply a case of moving out of beta and going live. Maybe I’ll even use the Topshop changing rooms.
Unless they’re as filthy as nightclub toilets nowadays, then I’ll be walking home to try things on. You animals. How do you young ‘uns even manage to get it on the ceiling?