Aging Gracefully, Are We?

By Naazish YarKhan

It’s 16 years ago that I graduated from college. A newborn that year is now entering university. What a thought. When I visited a local community college for some classes recently, I realized that I was double the age of the kids there. Weird, especially since I’d caught myself thinking some of the guys on that campus were really cute. Jeepers, talk about robbing the cradle.. even if only in thought.

Worse, my age shows. There I was imagining myself as a youngish-thing when one of the above mentioned ‘cute guys’ addressed me as Ma’am. You have to understand this. I don’t think of myself as middle aged, even if I may already be there, if you think that most people live till they are 75 years old. But I’m not really, supposed to be middle-aged. It’s what other people are, like my parents and all those aunties and uncles. Then it dawns. I am now one of those aunties. But no, I really am not. I refuse to be. I insist I will make every effort to stick to ‘young at heart’, instead, even when I am inclined to be older and wiser.

“We don’t think we’ve changed, beside the weight we’ve put on over the years, but our faces, actually, have grown older too,” said Farah, a relative by marriage, and mom of three. Her observation came on the heels of a comment I made as to how my friends from college looked on Facebook. “And some of them don’t even have kids so what excuse do they have for belly fat?” I stressed. Note to self: When you notice how much older your contemporaries look, you probably look the same way too.

It was in the midst of all this attention to my ‘changing’ ( or was it deteriorating) physical self, that I made a very startling discovery. But first let me back up. I am the kind of person who often leaves the house without make-up on. I am the person who had a facial last when I was preparing to become a bride. Now more about my ‘startling discovery’. All those pretty women you see in the grocery store or at the bakery, well, they aren’t naturally pretty. It’s at least partly the make up, partly the facial, the manicure, the clothes and partly the eye of the beholder. Their hair has been curled or straightened or blow dried before they ventured out. It’s not gorgeous hair by birth. That has been my number one realization this year. And to think I actually used to think some women, my friends included, were just stunning naturally.

I also discovered quite by accident that friends are skinny because they are on a perpetual diet. I thought they exercised and watched what they ate. Somehow it didn’t translate in my mind to mean that they were either on the cabbage soup diet or the South Beach Diet or the Jenny Craig diet or on Weight Watchers. “There’s no way, anyone can be naturally skinny if you eat,” says my close buddy, Faryal, another mom of three. She revealed she too lost a lot of weight with Weight Watchers after her second child. “You grew up in India, so being skinny wasn’t the first and last thing on your mind,” she said. Grow up in the U.S.A and apparently it is the stuff of ones every thought, in addition to make-up and nice hair, I mean.

Well, my goal is to drop 7-10 kilo’s. But before I dole out my husbands’ hard earned money to Weight Watchers, I had a thought. How about I try and follow some free advice first. ‘Smaller portions’ – my husband’s vote. ‘Don’t eat after six p.m., cut down on meat, switch from rice to whole wheat chapatti and drink lots of water.’ – my cousin Huma’s voice. ‘Graze on healthy foods through the day so you’re never starving. Have six small meals instead of three big ones. Eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. Visualize yourself as slim and trim. You’ll attract what you think. Sleep early because people think they’re hungry when they’re actually tired or thirsty. Fuel up on fiber since it takes longer to digest. Take the saying ‘one-minute-on-the-lip-is-a-lifetime-on-the-hip’ to heart.’ This is some of the other how-to-lose-weight / be healthy advice I’ve heard here, there and everywhere. I have converted to whole grain, so that’s a beginning. Whole grain bread and whole grain cereal. (Incidentally, did I tell you I am the person who takes honey instead of sugar in her tea, but binges on chocolate and pie?) We don’t eat out often and fast food, including pizza, is a choice no more than once or twice a month. Only catch is I am awful when I’m hungry. Awful, Impatient, Snippy. What’s a gal to do? Seriously graze so I’m never starving?

So is there such a thing as aging gracefully? Well, I guess, for some, it will be a question of how much youth money can buy. For the rest of us, there’s the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty. The ‘Dove Evolution’ video is on You Tube and will shock you. It transforms an average girl into a stunner, with the stroke of a hair brush, the stroke of a eye liner pencil, the stroke of a computer key. And you must check out the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty online. Dove soap - long considered America's beauty bar, with its ad campaign, boldly challenges us to revise our view of what is considered beautiful, shapely and young. “Dissatisfaction with body image increases as girls move into adolescence, according to a 2000 study by the Girl Scout Research Institute. Although 75 percent of 8- and 9-year-old girls in the study said they like their looks, only 56 percent of those ages 12 and 13 did. And of the 33 percent of girls ages 14-17 who said they're too fat, two-thirds were dieting. Ninety percent of eating disorders are diagnosed in girls. The data prompted Dove to launch the Campaign for Real Beauty in 2004 to help women feel more beautiful by widening the definition of the word.” Older, non-blond and heavyset women have all been featured in the dove campaign.

I doubt those ads made it to billboards in Oman but they all have real women, with real curves as models. Dove soap is also promoting the idea that 50 is fabulous – even in the face of America’s youth-obsessed culture. You have to see it to believe it.

So where does that leave my battle of the bulge? I guess as long as I do make the effort to eat healthier and exercise more for the right reasons, I’ll be on the right side of the track. It will be an effort for me, and not so much an effort to impress other’s or manipulate what others think of me. And when I catch myself putting myself down if I’m not the ‘ideal’ image, I’m going to remind myself that I have a young daughter whose watching and listening to my every attitude. That I am responsible for the ideas I plant in my child’s head, even when I do so unconsciously. That it is young girls who are driven to anorexia and bulimia by the messages we bombard them with. That I have to be careful not to let her sense of self be governed by something as fleeting as physical appearances. And that bit about being ‘older and wiser’ versus ‘young at heart’. Why does it have to be either-or? Let me say it’s going to be and-and. I’m going to have both sets of attitudes and have the best of both worlds. Amen.