|This is what 50 looked like for me (plus lipstick)|
When I was young and thin and angry, I worked in a passport office, which meant that I knew how old all the applicants were. The contrast between women who had recently turned 40 interested me; I discerned two groups, whom I dubbed "The Hockey Moms" and "The Fighters."
The Hockey Moms had short hair, wore glasses, were dowdies. The Fighters dyed their long tresses, applied makeup, presumably wore contact lenses, and dressed well. The Hockey Moms were soft; the Fighters were sharp. I worked out for 3 hours a day, every second day, ate a low-fat diet, and weighed 117 lbs. I was definitely on the side of the Fighters in that I planned to be one when I were as old as they.
Now I am a decade past 40 and five pounds overweight and a lot happier than I was as a 20-something. I have long hair (albeit greying), which I rather eccentrically braid most of the time, but I wear glasses and I have largely given up make-up. I wear gym clothes to the gym but wear long skirts into town. I am trying to imagine how I will appear to the 20-somethings in the North York passport office when I get my own passport renewed. Not a Hockey Mom--and my apologies to real Hockey Moms, by the way--but not a Fighter either.
However, they would be wrong. I have become another kind of Fighter--not a woman who fights Nature for herself but a woman who fights herself for Nature. I wear glasses and eschew make-up because I can't justify to myself the mandatory use of plastic these entail. It wasn't just the solution bottles that weighed upon my conscience and fill the earth; it was the lenses themselves and their hygienic little plastic packets. I still have a lipstick on the go; we'll see if I can hold out against the temptation to buy another when it's done.
And that points away from the one personal battle against plastic to the Great War humans are fighting against the boundaries of what it is to be human. We are part of Creation--called to be the stewards of Creation--but we carry on as if we were gods. We trespass over every border we encounter, and I can think of no more obvious example of this than engaging in in vitro fertilisation; I'm too used to the concept of murder. It is written on our hearts that it is for Almighty God to decide when a human life ends; it is necessary only now to assert that it is Almighty God's prerogative to decide how a human life begins.
(This is not to dunk on so-called test tube babies themselves, by the way. They are just as innocent of their origins as babies conceived in rape.)
Another bizarrely god-like thing we're doing lately is attempting to turn boys into girls, men into women, and vice versa. Our God never did such a thing; it was Hera who, according to the story, turned Teresius into a woman and then back into a man. Yes, there are very rare exceptions to the rule (baby boys with Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome brought up believing they are girls), but otherwise it is impossible for a male to become a woman or for a female to become a man.
So far so Catholic, but what about the war against ageing I found so compelling when I was young?
Attempting to appear younger than we are by whatever means is an age-old pursuit, and as we in the West have always prized youth in women, growing old gracefully--by which I mean willingly--is decidedly counter-cultural. But I think this is something worth exploring because there is a real limit to youth and a limit to which we should go in attempting to transgress the borders. We wouldn't bathe in the blood of virgins, but have you checked that your skin cream doesn't include fetal cells? Saint Thomas Aquinas was not keen on cosmetics except to cover real disfigurement; I can only imagine what he would have made of Neocutis.
If any of this talk of limits sounds faintly familiar, it will be because this post was inspired by Paul Kingsnorth's Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist. I heartily recommend this book--with the caveat that he wrote it before he (spoiler alert) converted to Christianity, so expect some mild rudeness about religious faith. Naturally Kingsnorth did not write about Woman's fight against aging (or, for that matter, her fertility or her infertility or her genetics or men who call themselves women). However, he is very keen on the idea of human beings keeping within the limits of humanity and not continuing carrying on as if we were gods, treating the rest of Creation as if we were the terrorists of Mount Olympus.