How Keith Richards Is Teaching Me How To Age Gracefully

I can’t pinpoint exactly when I decided that being in my mid-60s meant giving up my passions. It may have been the proclamations of midlife women during the Covid-19 lockdown. They were done wearing makeup, loved their grays, and would never color again. I am free to answer only to myself, they proclaimed. I am throwing off the shackles of a sexist, ageist society.

I cringed at all the ways I wasn’t doing any of that. The Botox, the fillers, the low lights and single process touch-ups, the penchant for wearing stacked rings on at least five of my ten fingers at once. My orange suede heels. Making it a mini project to perfect cat eyes with liquid eyeliner. A cart filled with electric blue lug sole boots and two pairs of drop crotch pants.

Sure, older models were having a moment, and fashion bloggers in their 60s and 70s had massive followings, but from real women the message I heard was clear: I am aging gracefully. And so should you.

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I was beginning to feel vain and self-conscious. I was afraid I would come off as desperate.

So, I let my roots go wild and consigned my heels. Fearful that my matte red lipstick and dark grey eye shadow would brand me as trying too hard, I threw them out. As for the third rail of aging gracefully, there would be no more cosmetic injections. I would grow to love my crow’s feet and marionette lines, remembering the old saw about how I had earned every wrinkle.

As for clothes, I stopped reading fashion blogs. I didn’t want the temptation. And I’d be retiring soon, with a wide-open schedule. Where would I be going anyway?

I waited to feel relaxed, at home in my skin. Or like my husband, content, as he nestled into a retired life of empty spaces he happily filled with fishing or reading or doing absolutely nothing at all.

Instead, I felt out of sorts. Yes, I missed makeup and fashion blogs. I missed my highlighted hair. But my blahs went deeper. I was feeling old and benched, one step removed from the world.

If I was supposed to relax, to embrace a quieter life of ease and open schedules, then it wasn’t happening. Yes, I needed to slow down the pace of a hectic, full-time job in public relations. But my grip on the fun parts of that life — the social connection, the interesting projects, the pleasure of a job well done — held tight.

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When it comes to ageism, we often point a finger at younger generations. However, research shows that our own set of stereotypical beliefs — and those of our peers — can undermine our physical and mental well-being.

Falling into line around what social scientists call age norms, i.e., when you should or should not do things based on expectations around age, can be harmful. I had, like many women in my generation, fought against the rules that held us back from living authentically only to acquiesce to this new set of dictums, which to me felt about as comfortable as an itchy sweater.

And then, Keith Richards.

One fall afternoon I happened on his X — formerly Twitter  —feed: his craggy, ornery face beaming, thrilled to be buying yet another guitar in a Nashville music store, his hats, his scarves, his earrings, his exuberant performances, his refusal to stop doing what he loves to do (or looking just as he wants to look). I shut my laptop and headed to the drugstore. Box color would do.

RELATED: Embracing The ‘Invisible Woman’: How I Learned To Age & Stay Sexy In A World That No Longer Finds Me ‘Hot’

On the release of Hackney Diamonds, his first album with the Stones in 18 years, I’m reminded of that lazy afternoon and how Keith set me straight on aging gracefully, authentically, on my own terms.

In less than a week, I had booked the filler appointment, scheduled the color and highlights, bought the blue lug sole boots, ordered more stacked rings from the cool LA jeweler I love, and replaced my tossed eyeliner. I also registered for a writing course, fulfilling a long-held desire to return to a passion that had never forgotten me, even as I made precious little room for it during the decades of building a career and raising a child.

On the cusp of a life change, I found an unlikely pro-aging guru. Like Keith, retirement for me isn’t happening anytime soon. It’s just a matter of envisioning what comes next.

Thanks to him, I’ll do it in style.

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Patricia Garrison is a freelance writer focused on health, wellness, and the intersection of ageism and sexism.

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