Not long after I had the orgasm that changed my life I felt the need to masturbate in front of the mirror. What I saw both excited and appalled me. I thought that I’d long ago come to terms with my weight, my scars and even my aging but what I was now confronted with was the raw conjunction of those factors and my sexuality…
Wrinkles: meh, adding character.
My boobs: a little more southerly than before, but they still look like my boobs.
Stretch marks, my jelly belly traversed by scars from life saving operations, all ultimately badges of honour, pointers to the life I’ve lived (and created) and survived.
And I love the gray hair – on my head. It’s become a little thinner but it still looks like a mane. But my once full “bush” of pubic hair was not only gray but it looked like it had been eaten by insects – the bush had become more like a bunch of spindly twigs.
Moreover, sometime after menopause I realised my mound was less like a padded mound and more like a slight rise – there still, but no longer prominent. It had vanished so stealthily I hadn’t noticed it leaving>
And it had taken my labia minora with it.
This in turn meant than upon arousal everything – but everything, was and is visible…
Plus or minus?
Hot seeing it like this but kind of alien in its voraciousness…
Days later, I made an appointment for a bikini wax – my first bikini wax (I had used a razor before., but it’s become too tricky – did I mention my eyesight in the inventory. Guess not. So now you know about my memory too).
This was, I decided, a positive step in self-care. Time to sort out those twigs…
However I was still feeling odd about the close encounter with my aroused body in the mirror. I ended up having a long conversation with the owner of the beauty salon, during which I inquired about the age of the people who would be seeing my body. I was, I explained hesitantly, an older woman, with an older womans’ body. I didn’t want to expose (now there’s a familiar word) a younger woman to how different an older woman’s intimate parts can look after menopause. Didn’t want to scare them (because for the first time in a long time I was ashamed???)
To her credit the owner talked me down off that high ledge. She reassured me that her clients varied considerably in age and body size/shape. That all of her staff routinely worked with these clients and were highly professional. And would take care of my modesty within obvious limits. Tearfully I explained again that I didn’t doubt how professional they were, and I really didn’t care about my modesty; the problem was I didn’t want to shock or make the staff uncomfortable about aging. Patiently she went back over her statement and ironed out the creases, before assuring me that she would wax my “bikini area” herself.
Looking back on that conversation, I can see how far I’ve come in a couple of months. When I go back next week for a follow up wax I’ll not only be prepared for the pain of the hair removal, I will be ok with gloved fingers holding my labia and removing stray hairs from along the edge, for the odd sensation of having hair removed from around my anus. I will enjoy chatting to the owner, if she does the work – we covered a lot of conversational and cultural territory on that first visit. But most importantly I won’t care if it’s the owner of the salon or one of the younger women who work for her, who does what needs to be done. Because I know they’ve seen pretty much everything they could have seen, and remained undaunted. ..
And afterwards I’ll relish the feeling of being bare again.
My reasons for choosing to wax and to keep doing so appear much sounder to me now. Apart from putting the twiggy factor to rest, I also don’t mind the look now that I’m doing it for my own self care and viewing pleasure. I’ve found it’s easier to keep myself cleaner without hair, especially since I now have a very active masturbation based sex life, with a variety of sex toys, used in or on different parts of my anatomy. And I’ve leapt past a major barrier having seen enough nudity and watched enough feminist porn in the interim to know that’s its not necessarily about fulfilling male “little girl” desires. And that those desires are not automatically linked to a more sinister and distasteful preference for children.
But up until now I still remained puzzled about the whole incident. About why I felt so estranged from my body, so singular in my aging, even why I assumed that older women didn’t wax?
And writing this post I’ve come to some sort of understanding which works for me, although it is by no means definitive. Simply put, it seems that I felt so singular because sexuality in older women is still seen socially as either a non-issue or a problem; an ugliness or wrongness that goes against the grain of socially determined cultural norms in a society still bent on remaking itself in a mono-culturally youthful (slender, white, able bodied, heterosexual, male) image.
These cultural norms relate on some level at least to the a-historical socially constructed images many people have of elders as being more straitlaced, more conservative and somehow less embodied and less able bodied than those who are younger. While the parental factor (my mother/grandmother doesn’t do that) undoubtedly plays a part here, I suspect there is also a deeper long standing issue where older women are rendered disembodied because they are no longer deemed suitable for procreative intercourse, can no longer physically contribute to the generation of the species. Hence, perhaps, the reason why male potency is an issue, while male aging is not so much. And if the lived in bodies of older women are deemed unsuitable for procreative intercourse, how much more inappropriate might embodied sexuality and sensual pleasure be? In the eyes of some at least, older bodies are not only inappropriate for pleasure, but their sexual desires are likewise rendered invisible. Disembodiment and sexual invisibility go hand in hand.
There is a further equation between aging, decay and imminent death which powers some of the prevailing thinking. As Sally Chivers (2003) says “the ‘obscenity’ of a body presaging death translates into a required (visual) silencing of aged bodies”(p. xxvii) These “obscenities” in turn, are often matters which create fear and a sense of deep unease which may be expressed through revulsion.
A profound awareness of the social revulsion associated with women, ageism and sexuality was recently brought home to me a little while ago when I read and then briefly wrote about a female “caregivers” reaction to the masturbation behaviour of an elderly woman in a nursing home. And these sorts of responses (coupled with ignorance and also curiosity) have since been confirmed through what I’ve been reading on-line.
But there’s the added factor of lack of contact and exposure to diverse bodies in the society and culture I inhabit (and others like it ), as people go through the aging process. On my Pinterest pages I have a board I started a little while ago which features older people. I select my pins from images which feature people who are apparently comfortable in their older bodies. And while bodies come in all shapes, sizes, colours and gender configurations, I noticed how often I pinned women who, on the surface looked somewhat like me. The urge to measure self against similarity is strong, even when diversity is an intention. I also noticed how few of the women (and one man) featured are shown naked…
So although I’ve thought and read about all these issues long enough to think I know what was going on the day I ‘saw ‘ myself in the mirror, it was a battle I had to fight., and may need to continue to fight. It wasn’t enough to decide to blog about my aging, or to witness, care for and affirm my own mothers body and self image in her deep old age. I literally had confront that aging in myself, in a visceral manner; to stare at its manifestation, to look at myself hard, long and curiously, to feel both arousal and disgust and also experience the strangeness in that which was once so familiar.
And then, somehow, to find me, sensually and sexually alive and thriving, still in it…
Chivers, Sally. (2003) From Old Woman to Older Women: Contemporary Culture and Women’s Narratives. Columbus: Ohio State University