The Grace of Ageing
Me in 2022 by my friend Katie Fell, with my camera, after some else's headshot shoot. I edited this deliberately to accentuate the contours of my face. This was 46.
Getting older. It's a trip.
My dear friend Claire Robbie has created a focus for September at her inner city meditation school, SOMM. The month-long programme is called The Grace of Ageing and each week is dedicated to a particular aspect of getting older, especially as it is illuminated by regular mindfulness practices like Awareness Insight meditation and breathwork. You can register to receive emails about this programme via the SOMM homepage (sidebar: I took that homepage pic!)
The topic of Week Two was Cultivating Mindful Ageing & An Exploration of Beauty. As part of it, Claire devised four questions to prompt contemplation of the passage of time and its impact on the physical body. (You can participate in this inquiry until the end of September, sharing your thoughts with the SOMM team here.) I sat down and wrote my way through to some understanding and comfort around getting older. Here are my thoughts. By no means am I completely comfortable with this whole Ageing thing, as you will see. But editing that pic above in such a gritty way was a step in the direction of integrating the passage of time into my appreciation of life.
Claire: Have you wholly embraced the journey of growing older, with its myriad emotions and revelations?
Amanda: I think I'm close. At the very least, it's what I'm aiming to do. I notice that my body is stiffer than ever before, my skin tone really gave way after 40, there are wrinkles and hairs where there never used to be. These things either need to be addressed or adjusted to. I think I've embraced getting older to that degree: with pragmatism.
C: Has there been any aspect that has been harder to surrender to?
A: I feel like I've only just passed the halfway point so there's not a lot that I'm burdened with right now. I'm 47 and - according to people who notice and tell me - I don't "look" my "age". Whatever that actually means. Maybe this is what 47 looks like when you have never really smoked and you barely drink alcohol, guys. I think genetics also has something to do with it. My parents "don't look their age" either.
Having to colour over my grey hair for work because I'm not quite grey enough can be total admin. I'm looking forward to embracing the Morticia-type streaks that are developing in my hairline, when the time finally comes. 70? 75? Who knows.
Stiffness, as I mentioned, is a thing but to be honest that's partly the result of me never really prioritising movement and fitness. I should really be putting mobility near the top of the list. Perhaps I'm in denial about something there. Decline. Decay. In terms of my appearance, my looks have never been the first or most important thing people notice about me, in my experience. I've always just done the best with what I've been given, so my face changing isn't bothering me at this point.
Bidding the possibility of motherhood goodbye continues to be a long farewell for me. Most of the time I am completely accepting - appreciative - of my life path. It's made me wise and resilient, as grief tends to when it's let go into. That’s something ageing has taught me: things that are happy-sad will likely come to be the most important, in a way the most interesting, things about your life. They’re the grist in the mill of your potential, I think. I find cuddling babies really helps, really being with them, loving them, watching them change in between visits. Because even parents don’t get to stay in the loveliest stages,: the baby-softness, the eight year-old who still holds your hand on the street.
I don't consider myself a spinster. I'm also uncomfortable with the expression "child-free". I take my friendships with my friends' children quite seriously. There's something particular and special about a child's relationship with a "maiden aunt"; it can be very powerful for kids. It was for me. With me, they're not a "child": I’m an adult, a woman, who’s also their friend, confidante, fellow creative. This kind of relationship matters. I'm Amanda, not Mum.
C: As you grow and evolve, which parts of the process have surprised you?
A: This is going to sound conceited, but as I've grown into myself and started to really grow up, I actually think I look better than I ever have. Fuck it. It won’t last! Or maybe it will - maybe as your expectations change, your perspective does too.
I was a cute kid but went through a very awkward adolescence (mostly ruined by the pain of growing out a short haircut and cruel boys). I never considered myself one of the "pretty ones". Actually appreciating my appearance while many women around me freak out and get botox and fillers has definitely surprised me. Zero judgement by the way, each to their own. And never say never! I'm veering away from appearance medicine because it's part of my identity as an actress.
C: How do you define beauty as it interlaces with the passing of time?
A: I'm a photographer, an actor, a painter: beauty is everywhere I look in my work. It's why I do what I do. And I'm not talking about fashion - although models are usually very easy to photograph (but over 30 is considered past it, even for them). I think objective beauty does exist - that some things and people are stunning, regardless of cultural norms. Youth and beauty go together. But in my work, I'm in contact on a daily basis with the qualities that imbue people with the kind of beauty that can grow with time, and which is arguably more valuable anyway because you can be a gorgeous 23 year-old but if you’re an asshole, well… .
The kind of beauty I’m talking about comes from the inside: it's a luminosity, an honesty, an openness. Time can create substance, depth. It doesn’t always and the earlier someone makes this a priority, the better. “Beauty is truth” as the poem goes.
I have found in my portraiture photography a tendency of women over 45 to go through a real struggle with how they look. I NEVER notice what they notice. It always pains me when they pick at a photo that I think is great. I can't photoshop. I can light people well and brighten eyes and whiten teeth using the AI in my software but character, the accumulation of memory, the spirit of a person - no matter what mood they're in - is what I'm always hunting for and when it glimmers, when people feel free enough to let themselves be and be appreciated, I rejoice.
Being told you’re beautiful can provoke resistance. Some people have heard it so rarely, they’re stunned when they see it in their own photographs. Some of us have been programmed to find fault in ourselves. But even the most hardened, closed human can bloom when their inherent worth is recognised. Tell people they’re gorgeous when you see it glow in them. Watch what happens.
The process of artistic recovery and discovery I have taken myself on over the last ten years, which includes my photography journey, has shown me that potential and possibility are really at the heart of having fun. Curiosity becomes crucial, just like it was when you were a baby. Truly, you are never too old to have an adventure.
Until you die, that is. Death really pisses me off. I know it’s the deal but it still annoys me. Life isn’t really that long and the fact of death, on a really bad day, can make it seem like “what’s the point?” But, really, the opposite couldn’t be more true. It IS the point. That question is at the heart of one of the longest surviving academic pursuits in the world: philosophy. It's the core of meaning. It's all around you.
Transience makes things precious. Perfection is impossible. Cultivating an eye for the beautiful makes you wonderful company. We only have so many present moments. Live. Enjoy yourself. Enjoy others. While you can.
I have plans to take pictures of other people which illuminate and delineate the beauty of an ageing human. If you're interested in being part of this personal project, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NB: Claire writes with clarity and insight about meditation and life. I suggest subscribing to her mailing list if consciousness, presence, intention, and honesty are what you're really valuing right now.
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