In a 1998 Gallup survey, 51% of American women between the ages of 50 and 65 who had reached menopause said they were happiest and most fulfilled at this stage of their lives, as compared to when they were in their 20s (10%), 30s (17%) or 40s (16%).
With statistics like this, one is forced to ask why growing old is such a negative issue for women when it should be a celebrated part of their life. Why are women incessantly encouraged to “reverse the signs of aging?” Why can’t women just age naturally and enjoy the journey? Why is there so much pressure on women to continue to look young as they grow older?
I have promised myself I would grow old gracefully and enjoy it. I made myself this promise because it always made me so sad to watch how women went to such great lengths to look young in their golden years instead of just embracing the natural path in life.
Of course, I know women are pressured by society to “look 25 again,” as if being 25 again is what any mature woman would consciously choose. I turned 44 in February and there is no way I would ever choose to be 25 again, even if someone paid me.
The world allows men to grow old with dignity. Society considers a man distinguished if he is in his 50s, balding, getting grey hair, putting on a couple pounds and wrinkling. However, a woman in her 50s who is greying and getting wrinkles is considered old. Why are women not afforded the same respect as men?
Instead, a woman is expected to colour her hair, fix the wrinkles and even get surgery if necessary or she is at risk of being traded in for a newer model. A woman is subjected to any number of unreasonable expectations and as a result her insecurity grows exponentially as she ages, instead of her comfort with the monumental achievements of her life.
I was saddened by the words of a wonderful and successful Guyanese woman this past week who said, “Nine days to my birthday…..don’t know yet if to laugh or cry.” This is a woman who is beautiful on the inside and outside and has made a name for herself in her field. And yet still, she is worried about getting older.
Here is my response to her: “You are an accomplished woman who should be proud of your achievements. You have worked hard to earn the wisdom and self-confidence that you now possess. Be proud of your years and what you have done in those years. Don’t let society’s shallowness force you into thinking you are doing something wrong by getting older. Wear your age with your head held high.”
The older I get the more grounded I feel with the world and I have no desire to return to the precarious position of being a younger woman. I intend to enjoy every day of my golden years for as long as I have them to enjoy. And I’m not going to let society’s shallowness force me to feel guilty for growing old.
Italian fashion designer and entrepreneur Miuccia Prada once said: “Woman always try to tame themselves as they get older, but the ones who look best are often a bit wilder.”
I intend to be one of the wild ones. My mother only lived to be 48, so if I live to have wrinkles, I will love every single one of them and the same for my grey hairs, which are already coming in. I have always dreamed of growing old with my husband as we watch our grandchildren grow up and if I can do this despite my many health issues, I will cherish every second. To hell with society and its shallowness!
In 2006, ABC News Nightline aired an interview with the beautiful Isabella Rossellini in which she talked about being close to 54-years-old at the time and the way that society handles a famed beauty as she gets older. She said that when people say, “Ah, you don’t look your age,” they think of it as a compliment, but it is the exact opposite.
She put it like this: “Isn’t it a bit like telling a gay guy you don’t look gay or a black person you don’t look black – your skin is not dark enough?” Why is it so difficult for society to accept that women who are in their 30s, 40s and 50s are still beautiful? Gloria Steinem once told someone who told her she didn’t look 40, “This is what 40 looks like.”
The longer women play along with these hypocritical double standards, the longer we will be expected to forever be naïve 20-year-old girls instead of the wise, intelligent and mature women we really are. I refuse to buy into this nonsense. When someone points out the grey hair coming in at my temples, I smile and say, “I know, isn’t it great?”
Sisters, please enjoy this poem about growing older as a woman and be a wild one.
Finding Her Here
I am becoming the woman I’ve wanted,
grey at the temples,
soft body, delighted,
cracked up by life
with a laugh that’s known bitter
but, past it, got better,
knows she’s a survivor-
that whatever comes,
she can outlast it.
I am becoming a deep
I am becoming the woman I’ve longed for,
the motherly lover
with arms strong and tender,
the growing daughter
who blushes surprises.
I am becoming full moons
I find her becoming,
this woman I’ve wanted,
who knows she’ll encompass,
who knows she’s sufficient,
knows where she’s going
and travels with passion.
Who remembers she’s precious,
but knows she’s not scarce-
who knows she is plenty,
plenty to share.
-Jayne Relaford Brown
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