In this cold weather we’ve been having, I did something I promised myself I wouldn’t do. I sacrificed being warm in favor of looking fashionable—or at least not old. I was in the parking lot for a popular trail on a day when the temperatures were in the 30s—not too cold but the wind had a bite to it. I was mulling over whether to add a pair of nylon wind pants over my jeans for extra warmth.
But when I saw a group of young women in the parking lot, dressed in the current fashion of leggings, some with bare ankles and bare heads, I decided not to wear the baggy wind pants because that would brand me as old—not just old but possibly decrepit and, god forbid, silly. The result was that I was cold on my walk around the frozen ponds, not dangerously cold but uncomfortable enough that I cut my walk short and denied myself the pleasure of being outside.
Because my head gets cold easily, I always wear hats, another indication that I’m old and no longer cool (if I ever was). I even had my hiking poles, which most people don’t need on these level trails, but my doctor advised me to use them because of neuropathy in my feet. Compared to these young people, who seemed unencumbered by layers of clothing and who exuded good health and freedom, I felt swaddled, like someone who couldn’t handle the elements.
I know that people get colder as they get older. In his 80s, my father wore long underwear all winter long, even though his apartment temperature was set at 70 or above, leaving my siblings and I complaining every time we visited. And younger people, especially children, seem to have a higher temperature setting, running around in shorts even in winter.
As we age, scientists say, our metabolism slows, fat layers get thinner under the skin, and blood vessels lose flexibility so we have poorer circulation. Similarly, during times of intense heat, older people suffer more (and die in higher numbers), because of reduced blood flow, inefficient sweat glands, or diseases, like heart and lung, that cause weakness or fever.
For the most part, I accept that I’m old but once in a while I want to be hip, fit into this young college town where I live. I just bought a pair of snug jeans that will replace my baggy corduroy pants. In a way it feels ridiculous, like I’m trying to pretend I’m 23 again. Who am I kidding? But it also feels good, like I’m still part of the contemporary world. At the same time, I have to wonder if I’m internalizing society’s ageism: I don’t want to look like an old woman; I don’t want to be the object of scorn.
We all fight aging in our own way: work out at the gym; cut back on foods that are harmful, like sugar and starch; drink less alcohol, which can worsen cognitive issues; and keep our brains sharp by learning new things. But trying to look younger—or at least not old—is ludicrous if it results in pants that are too tight and uncomfortable; not hearing friends at dinner because you refuse to wear your hearing aids; falling because you won’t use a cane or walking stick to keep your balance; or being cold and uncomfortable because you won’t wear your warm but baggy pants.
I dress for my own personal comfort, period. I look as old as I look and give it very little thought. However, I have given serious thought to getting a walking stick for walks around the block (which could get complicated while walking a dog). I’ve been asked so often at doctors’ offices if I’ve fallen since my last visit that I’ve become a bit paranoid about it.
Susan, good for you. And it is weird when doctors start treating you as if you’re fragile, as if you’ll fall apart any minute.
Thank you for another thoughtful and insightful article.
Thank you Frank.