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What Does It Mean To Be 50?

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When I was 30, being 50 seemed really, really old. Even when I was 40, turning 50 seemed like an eternity away. It was something other women did. In my rose-colored world, I would somehow transmogrify into a 20 year old again, never having to get old and face the supposed horrors I imagined would be waiting there for me.

Being 50 meant being a grandmother and wearing orthopedic lace-up shoes, putting gray rinses (or worse still, pink rinses!) in your hair and starting to check out the price of walking frames.

Now, as my 50th birthday looms large, I realize I’m still much the same person I was and felt back when I was 20, even if I’ve gained a few increasingly difficult to shed pounds, and a couple of kids along the way. And maybe I don’t move with the same grace and agility I once had (hey, who am I kidding? I NEVER moved with grace and agility!), but I’ve still got a spring in my step and I still get a kick out of life. But now it’s more to do with the antics my kids get up to rather than the antics I once did.

I was recently at the hairdresser having what I call my “Sharon Osbourne” streaks done. I’d decided to shed my golden locks for something a little more outrageous. Hey, I figure if Sharon Osbourne can have flame red streaks carelessly tossed through her hair – and she’s even older than I am – why not me too?

As I sat there, I was chatting away to my hairdresser Suzie and the woman sitting in the chair next to me. We were discussing all matters of life events. The kind of world-altering, socially cutting edge topics all we women discuss at the hairdresser – like who’s dating who, and she didn’t, did she? Yep, life-changing stuff.

What surprised me was the reaction from the woman sitting beside me – her attitude was so negative and well…frumpy. Not only did she have no idea who we were canning (so tell me – who on this planet hasn’t heard of Britney or Madonna?), our entire conversation, which I will agree was a trifle trite and inane (but hey, that’s what going to the hairdresser is all about isn’t it?). More importantly, especially to me, was the looks of sheer horror when she glanced at what i was having done to my hair. If I wasn’t a stronbger person, I would have felt like a recalcitrant school girl being chastised by the headmistress.

It’s not for me to criticize or pass judgement on my fellow man – or woman – but this woman looked old and dreary and her demeanor was that of someone who was carrying the burden of all that society has to deal with these days on her rounded shoulders. I put her age at around 55-60. The plaid trousers and mohair twin-set only reinforced my case.

After she left, my hairdresser, who happens to be a good friend of mine, whispered in my ear “Do you know how old that woman is?” I knew I wasn’t going to win the door prize for guessing, so I replied, “OK, I’d say 60.” Susie laughed uproariously. Susie is the same age as me and we share the same sense of the wacky and ridiculous. We also both had our children late in life so neither of us have experienced what it means to be a grandmother yet. “She’s 48!” said Susie, “younger than both of us!”

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not doing a major critique here. My view is that we’re all put on this earth to live, love and play the way we want, but sheesh! Where was this woman coming from?

I was surprised and saddened at the same time. I wondered what kind of life this woman had led that had brought her to this point, when she seemed to carry the weight of the world on her shoulders. She obviously cared enough to get her hair done, because Susie’s salon would have to be deemed “up-scale” to put it mildly. Yet nothing about this woman said she liked who she saw in the mirror. She looked old because she acted old.

It’s the same old story told time and time again – “you’re only as old as you feel”, “age is a state of mind”, – I’m sure you’ve heard them all. Yet here I was confronted by a woman who made me feel young by embodying in her very presence what it means to feel and look old. It wasn’t just about the way she looked; it was her attitude to the conversation we were having and her general demeanor.

Maybe she has a story to tell that would make me retract every word of my story and cause me to feel ashamed at my seemingly superficial attitude, but even so, life isn’t always a bowl of cherries, and we often get left with nothing but the pips, but my opinion is we’ve got to move onwards and upwards.

So as I gazed in the mirror, admiring my new fiery red 50th-birthday-present streaks, I thought “what does it really mean to be 50?” Are we really any older, any wiser, any more able to deal with the lemons life throws at us?

I don’t know the answer – it’s a question that been plaguing generations of philosophers – all I can say is I just love my rebellious new streaks and hey, if that’s the way I want it to be, then I’ll save the silver-gray hair, mohair cardi’s and plaid trousers for another day.

By Olivia Morrow

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