If you are lucky enough to stick around for as long as I have—64 years and counting—you will discover many things about your aging body, ranging in degree of discomfort from irksome to WTF! As a young person I could sleep like the dead, uninterrupted and undisturbed for a full eight hours. Now I toss and turn, usually betrayed by an overactive brain or bladder. There was a time when getting ready for a date meant a shower, lip gloss and clean jeans. Now it takes time and an avalanche of products to prepare for a night on the town.
The changes in an aging body are not unlike those at puberty. They arrive without warning and to devastating effect. But your old body does not surprise you with weapons of mass seduction. Instead, it slowly erodes your most prized assets—glowing skin, pert boobs, sleek thighs—and replaces them with alien body parts that wrinkle and droop.
Nora Ephron was right; like her, I feel bad about my neck, which went slack overnight sometime early last year. While my hair gets thinner, my middle is becoming luxuriantly thick. Though I don’t have much gray, the scant gray hairs I do have stick up from my scalp like soldiers surrendering after a particularly vicious siege. And let’s not forget the errant strays that periodically make an appearance on my chin for comic relief.
I was completely unprepared for the fact that getting old is frustrating and often embarrassing.
And blissfully liberating.
It’s said that as women age, we become invisible. That’s mostly true. But as dispiriting as the cloak of invisibility might be, it also has its advantages. Just ask Harry Potter. Invisibility confers an unexpected sense of liberation and freedom, luxuries that often only come later in life.
The good news is what we lose in the coin of the feminine realm—youth, beauty, sex appeal—we stand to gain in confidence, wisdom and sheer badassery.
A few years ago, tired of waiting around to be coupled so I could have a traveling companion, I started traveling by myself. Since then I’ve ridden an elephant in Thailand, risked death on a motor scooter in the murderous traffic of Hanoi, ziplined in Costa Rica and dined with a handsome stranger in Cartagena.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten braver, less afraid of appearing foolish, more confident in my ability to navigate uncharted waters. What I’ve lost in physical strength, I’ve made up for in mental fortitude. I’ve learned that life may beat you up, but if you pay attention it will also teach you how to take a punch and how to redirect negative energy and make it work for you.
Growing up is hard to do. Growing old is harder. I’ve drawn courage and inspiration from amazing women whose examples have cleared the path that I follow—my 92-year-old mother, a portrait artist who continues to work every day, my extraordinary sisters who lighten my load when it feels unbearably heavy, and my Bevy of Besties, a club that is small but filled to capacity with women of extraordinary quality.
In January we saw how one powerful, confident, hard-working 69-year-old woman inspired women of all ages to make their voices heard over a din of angry rhetoric and misogyny. I want to be like her when I grow up.
Candace Karu makes her living writing about food, fitness and travel. She lives near the ocean in an old farmhouse with two ill-behaved dogs and two hard-working barn cats.