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Posted: May 21, 2010 12:00 a.m.

Age is just a number

"Age-defying perfume," read the blurb in a recent Sunday paper. Hmmmm, I said to myself. "Shave eight years from your perceived age," it read, with a new "anti-age perfume." The perfume and maker were named, but I was familiar with neither. The item continued: "Research has shown the breakdown of fatty acid in the skin causes a greasy, grassy odor that grows more prominent after 40. Clinical studies revealed the main ingredients" in this age-defying perfume "mix together to evoke thoughts of youth."

This incensed me. Being far past 40, I - and most women over 40 - take real offense at the suggestion that we might give off a "greasy, grassy odor" because our fatty acid is breaking down. Who says it is? And, so what? Don't ever, ever use the word "fatty" in any sentence involving a woman over 40.
"Greasy" is almost as repugnant in this context, yet "grassy" might not be so bad. Think of a soft green field with dew gilding each blade that ripples in a morning breeze. What's not to like about "grassy" unless it provokes sneezing and weeping eyes?

Now back to "Shave eight years from your perceived age." What's a perceived age and who's doing the perceiving? These are big questions, and I‘ll admit to giving at least some thought to these sort of questions almost every day only because I don‘t want to concede to common misperceptions about aging.

I know very well what my chronological age is and enthusiastically believe there is nothing to do but embrace it. It can't be denied, and it's not going backward or away. However, I do not embrace what commonly might be thought about those of us in our 60s - much less 40s - by a 17-year-old filly in cut-offs that barely cover her derrière.

Years ago when I worked in politics, there was a saying "perception is reality" - and of course, it's as true today as then: Though facts might belie the rumor or story of the day, perception was everything. What the public thought, rather than the truth, would define you. And if one was news secretary to an elected official, "perception" was where you started work everyday, to overcome it, to turn it around and to correct it if it wasn‘t favorable to your employer. (When it comes to politics, as we see daily, facts rarely get in the way.)

Let me turn this perception thing around. Forget about who's looking at you and making assumptions about what you can and can't do at your age. How do you perceive your age? My advice? Fight any common perception that may have you on the sidelines of life at any particular age and embrace the perception you create in your own mind. Don't ever give in to what others might think of you or your age bracket.

My precious mother, now 92, taught me this years ago. We took her out for a celebratory lunch when she turned 75, and I asked how she felt at that milestone. She smiled just a bit quizzically and said, "I feel like myself, nothing different from what I've ever felt." I got it then, but I really get it now.

Age is just a number. It speaks in no way to one's personality, outlook, curiosity, beliefs, hopes and desires. Sure, the body slows down and may break down, but real age is all in the head and a matter of your own perception.

Barbara Morgan is a resident of Covington. Her column appears on Fridays.

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