Today I made a new discovery: My potential for a career as a jewellery model is spent. I have a saggy neck. And jowls. Fifty-seven years of gravity are taking their toll on yet another part of my body.
I am currently creating an online shop; another “first” in a year of adventurous departures from my norm. It is a charitable venture to financially support my social enterprise, Hope in the Heart. The shop will feature art and crafts made by people from diverse backgrounds who have transcended adversity, and will include the spectacular beadwork traditional to the Zulu people of South Africa, amongst whom I have been privileged to live regularly during the past few years.
Last year, while working in that beautiful country on a Hope in the Heart project, I aquired some stunning pieces of beaded jewellery, from Zulu craftspeople and also from a remarkable woman, Thamaray (Pam) Moodley. Pam is a former teacher in her early sixties who trains marginalised rural women and asylum seekers to make traditional crafts in order to transform their lives of poverty. She sells the items in her shop in central Durban, using the proceeds to pay the artists and fund further training.
In order to sell the jewellery, as intended, I need photos for the “shop” page I have finally almost finished creating on the Hope in the HeArt – The Art of Hope website.
It seemed sensible to photograph the jewellery being modelled and, my beautiful daughters and their slender necks being hundreds of miles away, the only available model was myself. So I donned the various bracelets in turn, snapping away at other-arm’s-length with my trusty iPhone, and then I snapped myself wearing the necklaces.
The bracelet shots turned out OK, although I noticed in a flash of distracted vanity how much hairier my arms are than I’d realised.
The necklace pics were more of a surprise.
While I wasn’t looking, my neck has become a crosshatch of wrinkles and dangling wattle.
My jowls resemble the mandibles of a ventriloquist’s dummy.
I’d had no idea!
The photos had to be redone. I threw my head back like a she-wolf howling at the moon and the results this time were much more fit for purpose.
This ageing business often takes me by surprise. Suddenly I can no longer read an ingredients list, or climb to the top of a building without stopping several times on the way (to admire the scenery of course!) Last month, alighting from a four-by-four that was higher than I’m used to, my knee gave way. My memory, already at the mercy of dyslexia and AD(H)D, has become eccentrically selective, and facial hairs are reproducing on my chin at a rate that could eventually render my concern about jowl-visibility redundant!
It is easy to be alarmed and frustrated by such changes. They are inconvenient, and they smack uncomfortably of mortality. Ageing is a dispensation that must be received with gentleness. We human beings tend to be hard on ourselves, and the realisation that we are no longer as youthful, energetic, fit or healthy as we were can come as a series of crushing blows. While we have little choice about growing old, we can decide whether we react to ageing with impatience and resentment, or respond with acceptance, self-compassion, and a generous dose of humour.
Tonight I was a little nonplussed to know I can add a saggy neck and jowls to the list of age-related evolutions I’ve been noting with increasing frequency. But I found the discovery, and my reaction to it, funny. I was able to counter my guilt at my distinctively un-feminist reaction to my wrinkly neck with self-compassion; I am navigating my way through this ageing process as best I can. Sometimes I feel vulnerable, and that’s OK. When I allow myself to respond instead of react, to choose the virtues appropriate to a situation instead of gnashing my teeth in impotent despair, I always come away feeling richer, lighter and more aware of all I have to be grateful for rather than what I lack.
Acceptance is a virtue that, like good wine and postage stamps, becomes more valuable with age. If we can’t accept the changes of advancing years, we are destined to be unhappy. But acceptance is often not easy. A saggy neck can be symbolic of much more than an evolving physiology. I may be able to laugh at mine, but I am often struck with alarm at the unsolicited advancement of the years that track my life. I’d rather not have collapsing knees or diminishing brain cells. It’s disconcerting not to know what’s going to “go” next, and how it might affect me. I need to practice embracing this phase with compassion for my changing body and for my emotional responses too. These include anxiety about the lack of control over what’s happening, grief for the way I was and can never be again, fear about what’s still to come, and guilt about making such a big deal of all this.
Empowering choices can be made if we take stock of our lives compassionately, honestly and creatively, and determine to do what we can to ward off decrepitude. Since my last child flew the nest I have entered a phase full of newpotential and adventure, and I am excited. I am taking extra care of my health, the better to enjoy the richness that’s on offer. Earlier this year I bought a mini-trampoline after reading of the benefits to older people of rebounding, and my inner child is thrilled with her short but vigorous daily bounce. I became vegan for a number of reasons, which include concern for my fellow creatures and this fragile earth, and also for my gallbladder, weighed down by stones formed through careless decades of bad habits.
The ageing process can be tempered in some ways, and it can be enjoyed. But it cannot be halted – except, of course, by death!
So I will learn to love my saggy neck and knackered knees, my freely-sprouting chin-hair and migrating memory, and practice the acceptance I preach to the clients and workshop participants who follow my AccepTTranscend Model for Transformation. I will remember the inspiring words of the wonderful Serenity Prayer, and hope that I may always be granted “the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference”.
If you are interested in any of the items or services featured in this post – or have any other queries – please contact Tam.