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70 Is Just A Number. Or is It?

I turned 70 the other day. I’ve been gearing up for this for over a year – letting people know how old I am, trying it on for size, seeing what people’s reactions are. Often it’s “No way! You look great for your age.” Or “No one would believe that!” I’d think: what is 70 supposed to look like? Decrepit and wrinkly? It may be just a number but it’s laden with misconceptions and stereotypes about aging.

Sometimes when I can’t sleep in the middle of the night, I think about how long I could live: another 20 years? A little more? And then I think back to 20 years ago – what was I doing? How was I feeling? Being 50 seems like a lifetime ago, so I comfort myself that another 20 years would be equally terrific. Implied in that, though, is the notion that has hit me for the first time – a way that was different from turning 50 or 60 - that my life is finite. I feel like there’s a point when I hit my “use by date” (although my daughter can attest to how little “use by dates” has always meant to me when she looks in the pantry).

Since I was 33 I’ve spent my career working with women who suffer from eating disorders and body image issues, teaching therapists to work in the modality I use and talking about these issues from both a feminist and sociological point of view. As I’ve aged, I’ve become particularly interested in aging and body image issues in women; there is so little about celebrating our age, our wisdom, our friendships and so much on “anti-aging”, weight loss, falling down and “I can’t get up”. There are few healthy images of us in the media.

We’re left talking with our friends about our bodies and their changes. The conversation about our bodies isn’t that different from what it was at 15. We’re still dissatisfied with our stomachs. There is another change, though, in our conversations: how our bodies have changed with age: midriff bulge, thinning and graying hair, aches and pains, difficulty in losing weight, mourning the tautness of our face - we all look in the mirror and move our jaw skin back to see what we’d look like with a little plastic surgery. Luckily, most of us don’t go the surgery route. But there are all those anti-aging moisturizers to be sold!

So now that I’ve been 70 for a few days, I’m going to tackle the notion of “Women, Aging and Body Image”. I’ve got a new website (www.LeslieMFaerstein.com) and I’m starting this blog. I want to hear from you about your experiences, what are you thinking in relation to aging and what the hell does 70 really look like?

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