We Are Allowed to Age: Why I Don’t Care That I Look Old
Written by Polly Green
“When there is no enemy within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you.” ~African Proverb
It is just past ten in the morning on a Tuesday.
My wet boardshorts and blue tank top are drying at lightning speed in the sweltering South Indian sun.
I am feeling alive and exhilarated after my surf session in the surreal blue, bathtub-warm Arabian Sea.
Surfing waves consistently has been my goal for the past two years, and I’m doing it. Which is pretty awesome considering that I never thought I would surf again.
The trauma and fear from a surfing accident ten years ago, that nearly knocked my teeth out, was still lodged in my body for years, and my life’s focus had shifted from sports to yoga.
When I landed in Kerala, India, my intention was to do an intensive period of study with my Ashtanga yoga teacher for ten weeks and then return to Rishikesh in Northern India, where I had been basing myself.
A chance invitation brought me to the coastal town I have been living in for the past two-plus years because of the pandemic.
And it just so happens there is good surf here.
My reentry into surfing has been slow and steady.
For my fiftieth birthday present I gave myself ten surf lessons.
I decided I needed to start off as a beginner and took basic lessons to ease myself back into things and get comfortable back on a surfboard.
An Indian man in his mid-thirties who was in my surf class asked, “How old are you?”
“Fifty,” I replied.
“I hope I am still surfing at your age,” he said back.
I think he maybe meant this as a compliment, but I took it self-consciously and wondered why it mattered what my age was.
It is now two years later.
I have slowly gone from a beginner to an intermediate surfer.
As I sipped a hot chai out of a dixie cup on the side of a busy fishing village road, after my morning surf, an older Indian gentleman with grey hair asked me, “What is your age?”
“Fifty-two,” I replied.
His jaw dropped and he said, “I thought you were seventy. You have really bad skin.”
Yes, this really happened.
And it has happened more than once.
Every time it’s happened, I have allowed it to knock the wind out of my sails.
Wow, I think, how is it even possible that I look seventy years old when I feel better than when I was twenty-one?
In all honesty, good skin genetics are not in my favor. Coupled with my love of the sun and spending most of my life outside, it has left me with the skin of an alligator.
I lied about my age up until my mid-forties.
On my forty-sixth birthday, I told a woman who asked about my age that I was forty. She laughed and asked if I was sixty.
But this chai-guy encounter sparked me to lie in the other direction.
What if I start telling these men I am eighty-five? I thought to myself as I drove my Mahindra scooter away from the chai shop. This idea made me smile, and I immediately felt more empowered.
Instead of feeling ashamed of my skin, I decided to hand it right back to them.
I no longer care what they or you think about how I look, and I put zero energy into my appearance.
It doesn’t matter to me because inside I feel amazing.
I practice the whole of Ashtanga yoga’s challenging intermediate series six days a week, which is something I never in my wildest dreams thought would be possible in my forties, and I surf every day.
The young twenty-something Indian surf guys are now giving me fist pumps and saying, “You are really surfing and catching some big waves now!”
And they have stopped asking about my age.
I felt called to share this story because it made me wonder: Why are we not allowed to age?
Why is it an embarrassment to have old-looking skin?
Why can’t I have wrinkles and grey hair and own it?
This is what the body does.
So then why are we not meant to look our age? Or in my case even older!
I have decided to take a stand and turn the tides.
I am claiming my age and my place in the surf line and voicing my truth.
We are allowed to age.