“In the West the dominant trope for aging has been the decay and decline of the body. Time or age, we will say, writes itself on the body. For the most part we fear what will be written there. We repress the subject of aging. We relegate aging to others. We do not recognize it in ourselves.” — Kathleen Woodward
My father told me recently he got his last 10-year driving license. After someone reaches 70, an application is required every few years. It’s strange to think of them as actually getting older, of being 70. My parents are married 40 years this year. I clearly remember my grandparent’s 40th wedding anniversary. My father then was the same age I am now. The mind boggles. Only recently I was given the first indication of my own aging self when my physiotherapist said that the resistance in one of my muscles might just be a thing I have to live with. Really?
One of the threads which has been spun off from my conversations with older people in Blanchardstown is that of our aging reflection. I’ve never really given it much consideration. My laughter lines are only beginning.
A woman in her 60’s brought this up a few months back, which caused me to write something down in my notebook. Her thing was that she started to notice a new face at 40, and at 50 she started to see her mother looking back at her. Now in her 60’s she has to get used to another face, which will change again in her 70’s. I talked to another lady today, a former model in her 20’s, and she told me that when she looks in the mirror, she knows what to expect. It’s when she’s accidentally confronted by her own full-length reflection from a shop window that she sometimes gets a shock. Another woman said she didn’t like looking at photographs. By doing so, she sees herself as others see her.
Ernest Jones, in his biography of Freud, wrote about Freud’s elderly mother Amalia. Upon being given a beautiful shawl, she refused to wear it because “it would make her look too old”. Amelia was in her 90’s. Commenting on a photo of her in a newspaper, she said that it made her look a hundred, that it was a “bad reproduction”.
Everyone has stories that mirror this observation. In the course of this project, a participant told me her mother would go along to senior citizen events, she a senior citizen herself, and would serve tea but would not sit down with the other senior citizens. Not doing so allowed her to be feel younger than the group she helped out with, even though their ages were the same. We all will carry our youthful self with us till the end, and as Woodward so eliquently puts it, old age is something that is relegated to others and not recognized in ourselves.
As part of this project, I photographed each participant engaging with their own reflection in their own mirror, and got their views about aging with their mirrors.
 Woodward, Kathleen, Aging and its Discontents: Freud and other Fictions, 1991, p.3