It happened almost 20 years ago at the gas station. I filled up my car (back then a sporty little tourmaline coloured Sunfire) and went to the kiosk to pay. The boy-man attendant hands me my change, looks up and says, “thanks Ma’am, have a great day.”
Wham, Bam! You just got Maam’ed!
It is going to happen.
If you are over 40 and grocery clerks or gas jockeys are calling you “miss”, they meant it in a “Miss Daisy” respectful Southern Grandmother sort of way.
Fast-forward a couple of decades to the Shoppers Drug Mart. Same me, different car (a black, sensible SUV). Gone are the days when you visit drugstores to pick up birth control pills and test new nail polish Today I am filling yet another prescription designed to remedy my nutty and apparently never to be cleared sinuses. Pharmacist Sharon (with whom I am now on a first name basis) tells me it will be 10 minutes. I have time to shop, which is lucky, as I have run out of moisturizer. And, if you know anything about life on the Canadian prairies, moisturizer is not a “nice to have”. It is a must.
I have been a religious and regular face washer and moisturizer since my teens. My mother was (her secret is a now discontinued line of cosmetics called Second Debut). My grandmother too was a face washer, a fervent believer in the benefits of Noxzema. Women in my family have pretty good skin, with the exception of the upper lip lines and wrinkle moustache, which I am sad to report, no amount of cleansing and toning is going to fix.
So, I shop. The cosmetic woman recommends something I have not tried before, a moderately priced French line with UV and anti aging properties. In the world of moisturizers, EVERYTHING is anti aging ….what’s with that? Vocabulary that fuels the battle with our faces, with simply getting old. It’s a “war on wrinkles!” A fight, a defense. Let’s orchestrate a dermatological détente simply by adopting a new term like “Pro Health”.
It turns out this moderately priced French cream has two formulas to help women of a certain age: one with EXTRA anti aging and the original formula to flatten wrinkles. Do I require extra anti aging, or am I still in the realm of “normal” anti aging? Hmmmm. The woman behind the counter and I have a long conversation about the benefits of both, before deciding on the extra (and more expensive) cream.
“Excuse me”, she says, “do you mind if I ask how old you are?”
I smile, knowing that she is about to react with shock when I tell her my true age, fully prepared for her gasp of incredulity and a rethink on her recommendation. I wait for the “WOW! You look amazing!” and assume a look that says “humble owner of age defying face”
Instead, I hear, “this is Senior’s Day and, with the product you are buying, it’s a pretty good discount.”
Humble face crumbles. Instantly I am an ad for Dejection. Extra- Dejection! With added humiliation!
There is a very awkward pause. With Extra Awkwardness!
“How about I give it to you anyway?” she whispers.
I want the discount; I don’t want to be a senior. Discount…senior. Discount. She gives me 15% off.
With what I hope is a sense of dignity, I grab my purchases: the moisturizer, the sinus spray, an ill-considered and ungainly 24 pack of toilet paper and rush to my car.
Wham. Bam. Are you a senior, Ma’am?
The thing is I feel 36.
It is impossible for a woman of a certain age not feel some sense of unease when the face in the mirror is no longer the face you remember. Or imagine. The day when you know you are not just tired, it’s how you look now.
There is a sort of low-grade panic when viewing actresses about my age (and I mean you Kim Cattrall) and their eerily unlined faces and taut necks. And has anyone else noticed the growing army of older women, once devastatingly beautiful, emerging from their post-menopausal cocoons with the same sharp cheekbones and supple lips?
What will we do to stay younger looking? What is your line in the sand? An expensive cream? Botox? Bio identical hormones? Or a diet of edamame beans and white wine.
The way forward is unknown. That’s why sharing our stories, our own experiences, is essential. Find a friend, read a book, notice the radiant older women out there. And please, let me know what you do when offered a senior’s discount.