Frank Sinatra, the troubadour of his generation and its progeny, the generation to which I belong, sang the songs of our lives. Even the words he did not sing but simply utter, especially in the home stretch of his life, now resonate with me: I’m losing it.
There’s more humor and guts than regret or fear in those words, which is just like him, a man who did everything his way, and I take those words now in exactly the same way.
Yes, I, too, am beginning to lose it—shape, hair, memory and my original face. That face now exists only in old photographs, and it’s absolutely unrecognizable to my 5-year-old granddaughter. No doubt, it constitutes the most regrettable loss.
I’m lucky to have been born with such abundant hair that, despite heavy losses, I still can manage good hair days. And while my waistline lies interred in the bulk I have grown around it, some of it can still be exhumed by a modern-day girdle called “flexie.”
It’s a girdle made of unbelievably stretchable material held together by strategically spaced vertical flexible bones. It’s no easy task to put on, to be sure; as with jeans one size smaller, the recommended look-good size, one can only get into it lying in bed.
But once in place, the flexie does restore one’s womanly silhouette, which more than compensates for the discomfort. Each time I struggle through it I’m reminded of what my dad used to say about the government’s answer to flooding— raise the streets out of the water’s reach. “No more than flood transfer,” he would say.
Which is precisely what the flexie does to my body fat. The moment I sit down, I know where it has gone: my chin rests between my cleavage, and an ample warm sausage sits on my lap. With flexies, it’s best to avoid sitting.
Obviously, I’m still trying to look good, but I swear never to go to the lengths my mom herself did. I see her in Sara Halprin’s book “Look at my Ugly Face,” as she describes her own mom: “Until the day she died, my mother thought of herself as a slim and beautiful woman living in a body with which she hardly identified.” I also can identify with her confession: “Rebelling against my mother, I developed a personal myth—I thought elegance was simple and natural.”
I myself at first resisted improving my appearance, believing that natural is better, more honest, even when any attempt at improvement could well be in itself a humble admission that, indeed, there’s a need for improvement. Now I see the wisdom in it, although again, I still draw the line against surgical intervention—only natural alternatives for me.
Halprin reminds me of the inevitable shift that happens to women my age, “from one who is being looked at to the one who looks at others,” which is not as painful a truth as that revealed in her next statement: “Women my own age and some older women share glances of recognition… Men my age or older seldom seem to see me at all—and this is primarily, but not always, a relief!”
The observation takes me back to a recent trip to Spain, which affirmed to me and my companions, fellow lady seniors, that, although the Spanish tradition remains alive for señoritas, there are no more piropos—no more chivalrous street compliments—for abuelitas.
It’s something that seems to me to demand a change of attitude, to be more accepting, less judgmental at our age. With that, life should only get better, fuller, like our senior figures. It’s really about having substance, about knowing our shifting priorities, about staying alive and staying relevant.
Still, however, it’s best for our own morale to avoid mirrors. Every little thing helps; my husband and I return from trips without a single photograph taken of us for the record. He instead draws people we encounter, and I collect material that affirms my philosophy of life—material I can use here, for instance. Life is no longer about us, but we celebrate it every chance we get—before we lose it.