This year two significant shifts happened inside of me: I realized I was getting older. And I wanted to protect my body/mind. These may seem to be perhaps the same realization– but both of these realizations came from very different incidences.
Let me explain the first realization—realizing I was getting older. I am 56. Perhaps since I am a professor and while I have been getting older, my students stay the same age as each new crop of undergrads greets me in the fall. Perhaps because I have chosen to not have children of my own. Perhaps because I do work out—jogging (albeit slowly). Whatever the reason in my mind I was still not “older,” whatever that is — yet.
And then I went for a long over due eye exam. When my new glasses arrived I admired them in the large mirror across the room. But when I sat at the desk and looked in the mirror directly in front of me, I gasped. “Oh my God!” I exclaimed. “What are those?” I was staring through my new lenses at the wrinkles above my lip. I stared at the eye glass specialist — a fabulous gay man (and partner to my ophthalmologist) who helped me pick out the frames. “Do you see those wrinkles?” I asked. It was only after he said, “Oh, honey, $900 you can fix that– I know someone,” that I realized I was assuming he would say, “What? I don’t see anything.” But you can rest assured a gay male friend will not lie to you about your looks. If that dress make you look fat, he’ll tell you (and help you fix it). In any case, in that moment of corrected vision I saw my wrinkles for the first time. And I hated them.
I teach Gender Women’s Studies. I have done lectures on beauty and women and aging (and taught Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth). I have said, “If you’re lucky, you get old. There is no such thing as make up that makes you ageless. You will age if you are lucky. If not, you will die.”
Why are wrinkles inherently ugly? And aging? These are philosophical questions until as a woman you realize you are older and you have wrinkles. I found myself consumed with thinking about my upper lip. If I sensed someone finding me attractive, I switched to thinking that they felt sorry for me. My best friend said to me, “Marie, have you ever been attracted to someone because you felt sorry for them?” No, but that didn’t stop me from thinking that people were doing it to me.
One moment I owned my body and felt good about it and the next—looking through my eye glasses – I did not. Why? Because I saw myself as someone who was not attractive–because I looked older. What had changed? I was the same person who had not seen through the glasses as the one who did. But I wasn’t. I had had the epiphany that I had become older. This comes with the fear that we will disappear; hence become irrelevant.
What surprisingly interacted with this most strongly for me—was my new found commitment to yoga. Yoga directly confronts this common female trajectory and deconstructs it.
I started yoga teacher training in March of this year through Anahata Yoga Teacher Training (heart centered yoga) with Tina Parga. Tina is a martial artist, yoga teacher and trainer.
I am also a black belt in karate, but have not trained in some time. I had done yoga—primarily when I was injured before I would go back to the “real” work out which at various times in my life has included track, cross-country, swimming, martial arts and biking. However for the past five years I had been doing less of that and more yoga.
The feminist ethics of body awareness through yoga is that we are allowed to exist- now. This is a radical shift for women who are trained to not be in the present but to disconnect from their bodies and see themselves from the outside—disassociating from the present body moment and inhabiting a critical outside lens that forces the beauty myth into praxis inside the body we no longer inhabit, but merely critique.
In 2010 when I was finishing my doctorate I was so consumed with mental work that I promised myself I would do something consistently to de-stress –in a different way than I had been doing. At the time I promised myself that if I graduated (!) I would study yoga and become a yoga teacher. I wanted to do more yoga, and I decided the best way to do that was to teach.
What I didn’t understand at the time was how aggressively yoga would confront my “Oh my God! I’m older,” mentality. That I can impart this countering knowledge to the dominant narrative to other women is the countering epiphany that makes me want to teach yoga. The best way to protect my body/mind came about through a body/mind system that prioritizes the present moment. On the mat we are all equal. We are not competitive. We are in love with ourselves and our bodies and what they can do– today. We are encouraged repeatedly to listen to our bodies.
There is no physical body that is telling us –the inhabiting soul– that we are ugly because we have wrinkles. The yoga body on the mat might be saying yes, stretch more. Or no, hold up and let me be here. We are not moved on the mat to a future where we disappear because of age. We are moved into the present. I am on this mat, in this moment and falling in love – heart centered–with myself.
If you’re Lucky you get Old, Part II: Stories from the Yoga Mat
Marie Cartier is a teacher, poet, writer, healer, artist, and scholar. She holds a BA in Communications from the University of New Hampshire; an MA in English/Poetry from Colorado State University; an MFA in Theatre Arts (Playwriting) from UCLA; an MFA in Film and TV (Screenwriting) from UCLA; and an MFA in Visual Art (Painting/Sculpture) from Claremont Graduate University. She is also a first degree black belt in karate, Shorin-Ryu Shi-Do-Kan Kobayashi style. Ms. Cartier has a Ph.D. in Religion with an emphasis on Women and Religion from Claremont Graduate University.
19 thoughts on “If You’re Lucky You Get Old—Part One by Marie Cartier”
In my novel, Secret Lives, which is about crones–most of the characters are women your age and older–one of the women in her fifties has to deal with menopause. It’s not pretty. Your story is interesting. Welcome to the club!
thank you so much for this welcome to the club!!
Thank you for bringing up the conversation of aging and beauty together, from the point of view of a woman who is beautiful and also brilliant (which is the ageless kind of beauty). As a woman who was confronted with wrinkles, stretch marks and other disfigurements from her own obsession about mothering, consorting with the God-Goddess relationship and Creating life, in the most romantic way I imagined, very early on in life, at 15, and as one who did not succumb or indulge in post-partum depression… though did experience intense inner rage at the prospect of living in a wrinkled body thereafter, I can speak from experience to what is it about embodiment that does not serve what is most beautiful in us: immanent and transcendent Heart-Spirit-Goddess.
Perhaps sharing the revelation of who I am, beyond the skin deep identity well hammered and promoted in the mores of our times, requires more than this panentheist and radical feminist, 62 year old woman can pack in this response to dear Professor Marie Cartier.
Chakravorty Spivak comes to mind, as well as Yoga, of course, to bring me to the topic of how in a society where the dichotomies of desires are the meat of economic profit, the self image of many women has yielded our Goddess identity, which is deeper than how we look, to the hunger and thirst for how we are perceived by the outer “eyes” (in self or others).
How deeply has the hegemony of the male concept of beauty entered our sense of identity? This is only one question we might ask at this juncture.
When I see young healthy women complain of depression, I wonder how much we hurt when we did not SEE Beauty, Power and Love in the old wrinkled woman called Grandmothers, or a few Wise Old Crones. And again, I come back to the sons of women, the grandsons of the grandmothers and the wise old crones. What kind of men did we birth? What kind of men do we want to call our sons? Our students? These will not be the men who hegemonize a kind of lesser beauty defined by the looks of a woman.
In India, Goddess Spirit sometimes inhabits a humble aspect woman, like Sharada Devi, of whom Swami Vivekananda, known to many as the “Lion of Vedanta” would say, and I paraphrase: “I do not see myself deserving of looking at her straight in the eye, concerned that I am like a child whom the Divine Mother can see through in muck and errors. So, I approach Her with awe, Love and Devotion.”
In this context, I would not doubt that you or any woman here has listened and loved listening while basking in the beauty of intelligence and Spirit of a woman who may have more than a few wrinkles and still be so radiant and brilliant and powerful and inspiring as to make us forget how old her skin is or what she looks like. So there would be not the slightest issue about pity… Since feeling pity, or feeling sorry for anyone would be a reflection of some reprehensible error arising from a false sense of superiority towards one who may only be closer to death than the subject, inevitably mortal, as well.
So, let us hope never to feel sorry for a human being, and much less for a Woman. I doubt if “… have you ever been attracted to someone because you felt sorry for them?” is the question I would have asked myself at 16, after having my first baby (born 9 lbs., from a formerly 108 lbs. young mother). When my first child was born, I was already secure in woman Goddess identity.
And Goddess identity is what I believe is the solution and cure all for one woman ever feeling pity or sorry for another Goddess to be. Sure, I can respect how much YOGA deconstructs the “I am only a body” mentality or Western hegemony. It brings us to the empirical (not yet the transcendental) realization that we are 3 bodies, physical-mind/intellect-unconscious/Spirit, in a continuum–not in disassociated parts–and with sub-systems like Prana/Energy and thoughts/desires or vasanas/samkalpas into the picture. An ancient Science, indeed. One which has been informing quite a few academics in the West about the need to grow, expand, and go deeper, all at the same time.
Yoga does not end on the mat, it take us all beyond the mat into a complex-system where Science-Art-Spirit, Absolute Existence-Absolute Knowledge-Absolute Bliss inhabits and surrounds us.
I admire your journey and even more your ever present potential: Goddess!
Yours in Goddess,
thank you so much for the detailed response–it was a joy to read and i’m very happy that my post inspired you to so much writing of your own!
Thank you for this great post, Marie. I love synchronicity, and when you said “my new found commitment to yoga” I felt like jumping up, waving my hand at you, and saying “me, too!” LOL
I’m 51 and it wasn’t until I hit my mid-40s that I suddenly realized I was struggling with weight gain around my waist and belly. At first, I didn’t find it unattractive, only annoying as my clothes began not to fit. Then, as a few more pounds came on, I found it uncomfortable and at the early stages of unattractive. Eventually, as the rest of my body protested about the unaccustomed weight (back aches, hip pain, knee pain, etc.) on someone who most of her life was a ‘bean-pole’, I realized that I was facing an identity crisis — in appearance as well as health. Nearly 4 years ago, I began exploring Yoga (I had never in my life ‘exercised’ other than daily walks) and it felt like I was coming home to not just my body but to my full realization of the inner me, because I didn’t embrace just asana–I embraced all of Yoga (ignoring 20-something yoga teachers in class who were pushy and/or speedy in their youthful arrogance–or blissful ignorance–of an older woman whose body simply didn’t move ‘that way’). I rapidly lost the weight (about 35 pounds) and found myself again. However, which leads me to the “new found commitment to Yoga,” I got complacent, new stressors arose in my life, and I forgot what I had learned. Oops!
Fortunately, I now know that I can approach the journey again with confidence. And, also thank Goddess, know that the journey is more about health, healing and spiritual serenity, than it is about the external vision of attractiveness. Because being attractive is an inner quality, that inner light of Being. As you say, Marie, I am “falling in love – heart centered–with myself.”
Gorgeous post, Vrinda! Thank you and blessings!
thank you for posting this- i agree– i get away from working out and then i get as you say complacent and have to get back into it! yes, i am now really trying to “work out” with the direction of being heart centered — first!! many blessings!
Thank you Darla for your blessings! And thanks again to Dr. Marie Cartier for opening a topic that I thought touched me and nobody else cared about, in spite of evidence to the contrary… and even some sad extremes in our times. In spite of the intense borrowing–some could say Western appropriation–of Eastern or Indian theories and constructs like Deconstruction, Systems Thinking, Consciousness Studies, and more–I am delighted for the honesty of scholars like Abraham Maslow, who did not hide that Indian Yoga and spirituality influenced his concept of mental hygiene, Hierarchy of Needs, and Self-actualization, and feminist philosopher Luce Irigaray, author of “Between East and West: European Perspectives (A Series in Social Thought and Cultural Criticism), 1999.
These two scholars alone give us a fresh air grasp at what Yoga can do for the well being of wo/men identity in times of hardship… Never mind Heidegger, Derrida… and other intellectual narcissists who cross cultures to take and not to honor. I feel honored that the sources for Maslow and Irigaray’s philosophy do not alter Indian penentheist tradition, like in the case of Jung (who attempted to create his own theories or a theory of the “Western unconscious” after borrowing, uh-huh…, much from Indian texts. The colonizer gene must be a difficult adharma to overcome. I feel proud to recognize our ancestors in Yogis and Shamans, who inspire us with such vision of human potential that defeats the empiricist mores of linear evolution. They show us that there has never been a time when we lacked Enlightened beings from an uninterrupted line in a rich oral tradition… before the so called Western history, or the “books” there was a vibrant teacher-disciple wisdom tradition. Remain so blessed! Yours in Goddess, vrinda
your welcome vrinda– i so enjoy your responses!
I am here to tell you there is life after menopause and it is great. Ask my friends, they say I am happier than I have ever been! Doris Lessing was right, there comes a time when “all those things” to do with the male-constructed gaze just don’t seem to be that important any more. This could be why there is a postmenopausal “surge” of energy.
oh! thank you carol! i took your class when i was at cgu and it is an honor to have you respond to my post here!
I was in a mostly mixed (heterodominated) women over 50 group for awhile. I was excited to be in my 50s, felt I was accomplishing more, had honed my skills in battling patriarchy. But then over time, I was truly amazed at all the anxieties these hetero women experienced.
It must be a fem thing, or a heteronormative thing… I never traded in make-up, passing as hetero, and have certainly found great boredom in the sell out of lesbian amazonness that is the L-Word Hollywood shuffle. Why would it matter what age lesbians were? We don’t want to marry men, we have no interest in male-pleasing, we have no obligation to hetero-nightmare culture.
We are completely and utterly free of this. Those of us who never passed or pasted on false faces might finally have our compensations in the end. All of that worry is the beauty myth, it is the nightmare that hetero women sell their souls for early in life. It is not the dream of my lesbian nation.
I don’t agree that the beauty myth does not affect lesbians and that hetero women and femmes are a priori less savvy because they are affected by its pressure…
Carol, you are an Integral Yogi Goddess among us. Of course, an ever-flowing stream of Goddess energy and inspiration keeps you revitalized–in the language of the Four Yogas, which is a discipline pointing to cosmic consciousness. As your student, I experienced the Goddess energy emerging through you from 1) unfailing commitment and service to humanity, 2) love and devotion (for your work, self-students and feminist convictions), 3) marks of success in meditation, or determination and mental-intellectual discipline, and 4) intuitive wisdom (and a humble recognition of what may be yet unknown). Karma Yoga (selfless service), Bhakti Yoga (loving dedication and devotion), Dhyana Yoga (meditation), and Jnana Yoga (knowledge). As your student, I can say that you inspired me as a perfected Yogini. Sure, instead of facing diminishing energies, Goddess will bless you with ever increasing Goddess Spirit insight through all your life! For the yogic panentheists and spiritualists, God and Goddess are the most attractive of all… Goddess keeps flowing as fountain of youth energies! Your inspiration keeps me, and I am sure other students, also feeling young!
yes- i agree i was also carol’s student!
Thank you for this post Professor Cartier. I actually started taking yoga classes recently and although I haven’t yet made it part of my daily life, the times I have been there brought me more self-love, spirituality and inner-strength than anything else. I came to realize that if I am not able to control my own body and soul, than what else can I control in my life because everything starts from the inside and out.
Turtle Woman, I admire your strength for “never traded in make-up, passing as hetero, and have certainly found great boredom in the sell out of lesbian amazonness that is the L-Word Hollywood shuffle.” As an 27-years old heterosexual individual who sees herself as an independent, strong, feminist woman, I can tell you it has never been easy to not give in to pressure, to always feel adequate enough or simply love oneself no matter the roles or labels pushed upon me by society. Although I have come a long way to look at myself with different eyes than those I had when I was younger, I know I have more work than needs to be done before I can truly feel “free” with being me and embrace all of me. I can understand that you want to commend (as you should) yourself and other lesbian women who does not “sell her soul” to the beauty myth, but it feels as though you think that other women wants or choose to be captivated by the beauty myth which I don’t think is the case. Perhaps we should focus on how to make other woman, whether they are lesbians or not, to feel free from the nightmare of the beauty myth instead of separating ourselves into nations of women who end up “looking down” on each other instead of helping one another.
mona- just saw your comment and so wonderful to hear from you– sorry it took so long to respond! i very much appreciate your wisdom and your articulation of feelings i have myself about women and beauty. and congratulations on being on a yoga path! hope to run into you again soon!…many many blessigns on your path.