I took my niece to a bar for celebratory drinks shortly after her 21st birthday.
She was finally legal, a little tipsy and wanted to make a bet.
“Auntie, I bet I can get a guy to buy me a drink before you get a guy to buy you one.”
I’m 20 years older than my niece. I looked across at her beautiful, unlined face, her youthful ebullience, and I was reminded of a scene from a Star Wars movie when young Luke Skywalker first confronts Darth Vader. I smiled.
“Ryan, your powers are strong,” I told my niece, “but you are not yet a Jedi. I am a Jedi.”
Then I proceeded to walk up to a guy and said: “Look here, baby, my niece and I have this bet. Would you mind buying me a drink?”
Sure, he agreed.
“No fair, Auntie!” Ryan howled.
I regarded her coolly. “You didn’t set any ground rules,” I said. “That’s the first way you know you’re not a Jedi.” Then I waited for my wine.
I was reminded of that conversation not long ago. Ryan is spending the summer in Washington and wants to repeat the bet. The first bet was seven years ago. Now I just turned 48, and this time, I’m not confident I would win.
The most surprising age-related change between then and now is that I don’t feel like I have to. That doesn’t sadden or frighten me. For the first time since my early teens, I’m more peaceful about my physicality.
Philosophers and poets have weighed in on the female form for ages, rhapsodizing about a well-turned ankle or a Mona Lisa smile. Around the time Ryan and I bet, I was still moving to an anthem expressed in the late aughts by poets Flo Rida and T-Pain:
Shawty had them Apple Bottom jeans (jeans)
Boots with the fur (with the fur)
The whole club was looking at her
She hit the floor (she hit the floor)
Next thing you know
Shawty got low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low
Demetria Newman of Waldorf, Md., can relate. Newman, 66, is one of five winners of this year’s Harper’s Bazaar “Fabulous at Every Age” campaign celebrating female empowerment. She spent her early adulthood heading amarketing company in New York and modeling on the side. “Then I reinvented myself,” Newman says. She got a master’s in philosophy, started writing, traveling and teaching yoga and meditation.
In her forthcoming book, “The Beauty Enigma: The Art of Ageless Beauty from the Inside Out,” she emphasizes that aging is part of a natural process, “and when you fight against it, that makes it hard.” The best thing about aging “is that there’s a greater freedom to embrace all of who you are.”
This means customizing your physicality, not letting go of it. Newman focuses on fresh foods, nutrition and exercise, but “there’s no one diet or lifestyle that fits everybody,” she says. “We get the message that we have to be the skinniest, the prettiest, not the brightest, but the youngest, and the most perfect.” If you spend your time “wondering about what you’re going to look like tomorrow, and worried about losing what you had yesterday, you lose out on today.
“When you embrace who you are, there’s sexiness in that. A confidence. It’s uplifting.”
It’s something I started to realize when I won the bet with my niece — not by batting my eyes but by simply asking for what I wanted. A confident presentation can carry the day. As we age, we become women who know things.
In the last stop on our bar hop, Ryan and I met up with our sorority sisters. A guy introduced himself, gave me his card, ordered a round of drinks for the table and left.
Ryan was awestruck. “Auntie, he bought drinks, then just left. You didn’t even have to spend the whole night talking to him. You really are a Jedi.”
I’ll see her next month and we’ll bet again. If she wins, I will quiet my mind and be at one with the forces of nature. If I can’t manage that, I am prepared to slice her youthful outlook in half with my lightsaber.
For more by O’Neal, visit wapo.st/lonnae.