Should we be lucky enough to get old, it’s likely that no matter how much we think we may be prepared for the changes that await us, we will be surprised to find just how difficult it becomes to accept the changes as the years tick by. I have been fighting this battle of self-acceptance since my early 60’s but the struggle recently intensified after I lost my father a number of months before I turned 67.
Until then, I sincerely felt that all the angst about getting old was overblown. I struggled to understand the pain that my mother, for example, was experiencing. I was then and remain now, physically and mentally active and I felt fortunate to be buoyed by my friends, family and life passions thinking I’d be just fine — always.
But now I was coming face to face with the fact that I was no more immune than my mother, who’s angst I had secretly and unfairly dismissed as superficial vanity. But regardless of how and when it is that we lose our footing, for most of us, self-acceptance and appreciation will be a continuing struggle– or if you prefer, a practice. It’s something we must continually work at, sometimes succeeding and sometimes failing. But hopefully always making sure to surround ourselves with those kindred spirits who have the capacity to understand and support us.
“One day you will look back and see that all along you were blooming.”– Morgan Harper Nichols
Doris Lessing, in the Summer Before the Dark, writes a masterful description of the changes that befall us as aging women. As it turns out, it isn’t the indignities of sagging skin and weakened bones that threatens to break us in the end. Instead, it’s our struggle with creeping invisibility and a sense of impending irrelevance which darkens our hearts and spirits gradually over time.
Some things have improved since Doris Lessing was writing. The slide towards creeping invisibility may now be more subtle, though most cultures still encourage women to make themselves smaller, quieter, and appear less brilliant. Sadly, attention (and I am not referring here to sexual attention) is gradually withdrawn from the older woman, while men tend to be privileged with more esteem and power as they age. I can’t count the number of articles I’ve seen on how women above a certain age should dress less boldly and less colorfully.
But, in spite of our increasingly retrograde society and supreme court — in most ways, we can still choose who we want to be, without regard to the misogynists and religious fanatics who seek to control us and our bodies. There are countless ways, large and small that we can choose to exist on our own terms. We can keep those who are not respectful of our growth out of our lives, or at least at bay. We can choose how we look and how we dress according to what pleases us, we can take the time to prioritize our own emotional and physical health, and we can choose to become comfortable with self expression in all of its forms.
I believe that ultimate self-empowerment for all of us, young or old and regardless of gender identity, resides in our ability to feel the “rightness” of who we are. That power is not given to us. We must seize it. And in support of that goal: we can choose who matters to us by creating communities of kindred spirits sharing friendship, and supporting the ‘quiet acts of rebellion’ that heal us. Some of these communities already exist and, with effort, time and support, we have the power to create our own.
“This is why I hold space for judgement-free dancing in community”
There are many reasons why I hold space for us to dance within a welcoming circle. Yes, it is powerful medicine for our brains, our bones, and our muscles. But equally important: it is a safe place for the rising up and strengthening of our spirits which will not be contained! Whether on Zoom, outside, or in the studio, we gather together in trust and recognition of each other’s unique beauty– no matter how old we get. And we will make ourselves small or gigantic as our spirits call to us in the moment –without apology to anyone.
Whatever other means we choose to free ourselves from the expectations of others, everything begins with body acceptance. Whether we are older than, smaller than, larger than… different from… self love is our first and most essential rebellious act. Our full potential depends upon it, as does our full capacity to love others. It is the foundation from which, together, we can all nurture our unique spirits, acknowledging ourselves and each other as the beautiful representations of self-healing, wisdom, and interconnectedness that we are.