What’s in a Name?
“Don’t say ‘old!’”
One afternoon when my husband, Joe, picked me up from the journaling class I was leading, he found me glum, undone, outdone.
I’d been sure the journaling women would dismiss my doubts about the name of this blog, that they’d say, “Change it? You must be kidding! Stylish Ole Woman’s terrific.” But they didn’t. Not uniformly, at least.
My friend Sharon had already objected to it. She’d emailed me, “Old doesn’t attract. It repels.” I’d wondered if her opinion was suspiciously vociferous, reflecting perhaps a neurosis peculiar to her.
But Joe’s youngest sister also thought the name was a turn off. As a replacement, she offered an acronym that spelled Style. But I considered the words that made up the acronym cumbersome, freighted, and somehow sad.
Sharon and my sister-in-law were on either side of 50.
I remembered talking about it to a woman named Ruth, right after a movement and strength class at the gym.
“No!” she’d actually yelled. “That’s a bad name! Don’t say ‘old.’ Call it something else!”
I thought she reacted like that because she really is old—around 90, I figured.
My friend Ava liked the name. But she’s a realist. And she’s only 45. She might be spooked by aging, too, once she slides from her mid-forties into her late forties.
Fear and repulsion about aging never occurred to me when I excitedly came up with the idea for this blog. I mean, is it that bad, that terrifying, to be old? As I approached 50, did I try to suppress some alarm about aging? If I did, it would have been over all I hadn’t accomplished in my life, rather than about the potential of a failing body, which was unimaginable to me at the time.
Keeping Aging a Secret
Later, I came to resent the fact that aging was so secretive. The truth about it was suppressed by the most important female influences in my life. They wouldn’t talk to me about it, so as I hit my forties, fifties, and sixties, I knew not what to expect. No one told me my lashes and brows would thin unevenly, so that they no longer matched without the aid of deftly applied eye makeup. Nor that I’d mostly descend from high heels to flats, or that a toe would act up.
Menopause was a dirty word. The older women in my life denied experiencing any troublesome symptoms. But my mother dissembled. She had night sweats—I recall her coming downstairs in the morning looking flushed, her pajama shirt open and askew. Patting her upper chest, she would say, “I can’t stand anything near my neck.”
A woman in the journaling class remembered the same about her mother. Another made us laugh when she told us she remembered that her aunts had cardigans draped over the backs of chairs all over the house.
I considered my Stylish Ole Woman posts about growing older a warning. What I didn’t realize is that, unlike me, few women wanted to be warned. They hoped age would slip up on them silently (or not at all, of course), and that they’d suddenly find themselves at age 80, more or less as they had been decades earlier, without aches or pains, or unreliable vision and sketchy hearing.
Only around 10% of Stylish Ole Woman blog posts have anything to do with age. But that’s the devious power of labels; the content doesn’t matter if people have trouble getting past the name.
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