A little vanity goes a long way
by Anne Mayer
Anne Mayer (86) explains what it is like living in lockdown. She says it is highlighting a lot of vulnerabilities that the older person may have.
The website wanted a piece on being old (I am 86) and some comparisons with being young. I have never felt old until coronavirus locked me down by myself, which has given rise to a dangerous level of introspection. Not only is one constantly checking for possible symptoms of the disease but inevitably focusing on signs of old age – aches, pains, fading eyesight, fatigue and, in my case, the sudden loss of a tooth. Age has been a major topic throughout the pandemic where it seems old people should be locked up for longer as they are so vulnerable. I would never have described myself as vulnerable before it all started and now I have to admit that very occasionally I do feel like a moving target.
There is never a good time to be old but this is one of the worst. I was never young at the right time either. Before I had graduated from university, I married, and by the time I was 25 years old I had three daughters. In those days, womens’ career prospects were slim and only reserved for “old maids.” Wives and mothers were just that and expected no help or support from their husbands. You were backdrops to their lives and careers, and you rather did what you were told. I had no sense then of being attractive nor having my own aura; I was inseparably a wife and mother and saw myself only in that context. My once sharp intellect seemed to be resting; when after five years Smith University asked what I had accomplished since leaving I sat on the floor, surrounded by three beautiful children, and wept at my total lack of achievement.
When we arrived in London in 1966, ostensibly for one year while my then husband wrote a book, the Swinging Sixties were indeed swinging. We had come from a boring little town in Wisconsin, where my husband taught, and suddenly life turned technicolour and dazzling. Despite our brood, we were both young and I suddenly found out that I was also attractive. I hadn’t previously realised how closely linked the feeling of being physically attractive is to confidence. So used to being out of the way and with the help of a new and very stylish Italian friend, I found my feet. With her help, I learned to dress better and had my first stylish haircut. I lost weight. I had an affair with her designer husband (an evil way to repay her kindness) and in that initial year got my first job. Unexpectedly.
I loved working; compared to being a stay at home mother it seemed a positive treat to go to work. The man who hired me put me in his publicity department and I found I was good at it. I sharpened up my social skills and for the first time in about 12 years of marriage I had my own opinions and did not hold back from expressing them. My husband also got a good job and we stayed on in the UK and are still here fifty-four years later, if no longer together.
Being good at things, going easily from one job to another, being attractive and socially at ease, gave me my first touch of vanity. Being vain can be a mortal sin, but a little vanity goes a long way. And it certainly eases the passage from dashing youth to more sedate middle age to downright old age. To be confident when you leave the house (in normal times), knowing that you look OK is a major asset. I am not talking about slathering on the makeup and showing off a new designer outfit every morning. I am talking about staying slim and fit, making a sensible decision about going grey or not, wearing the clothes which suit you best. A well-dressed older woman is invisible, not showy or necessarily eye catching.
By my age, people like you for your personality, your warmth, your interesting conversation and a lively mind – for your openness to what they want to tell you; not just what you want to hear. My friends now cover all age groups, and that is also an important component of not letting old age build barriers. I still work part-time and do quite a lot of mentoring for young people in their 20’s; we learn from each other.
So being old, a state one arrives at slowly and almost imperceptibly, is not at all bad, except during lockdown. Even in lockdown, where I still take care of my appearance, a little vanity goes a long way.
Carole Railton (copyright). "A little vanity goes a long way".