To age or not to age? That is the question

Here’s a recent kerfuffle: an article came through social media about women in their 40s, 50s, and 60s as “ageless,” calling them “perennials.” “We” are very different from “our” mothers, this article said:

In short, women in their 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond no longer associate themselves with a life of lawnmowers and Rotary Clubs, cheese and wine parties, elastic waists, river cruises and walking tours of Madeira. Even the term ‘middle aged’ is fast becoming obsolete.

That quote especially got under the skin of some of my friends. As several said, what the heck do they mean about a life of “lawnmowers and Rotary Clubs”? Whose world is that — certainly not the world of my mother. And some questioned what, exactly, is wrong with “cheese and wine parties, elastic waists, river cruises and walking tours of Madeira”? I could see the point. I don’t care how old you are: you own at least some leisure wear with an elastic waist (yoga pants? leggings?), right? And they’re comfy all as all hell, aren’t they?

But let’s get back to the perennials:

Everywhere we look, highly visible older women are rewriting all the rules. From JK Rowling to Nicole Kidman; Michelle Obama to Anna Wintour, they are at the peak of their power and creativity.

 

They are engaged, influential and often increasingly political.

There’s even a new term to describe people with this no-age mindset: ‘perennials’. It was coined by US internet entrepreneur Gina Pell, 49, who explains, ‘Perennials are ever-blooming, relevant people of all ages who know what’s happening in the world, stay current with technology and have friends of all ages. We get involved, stay curious, mentor others, and are passionate, compassionate, creative, confident, collaborative, global-minded risk takers.’

Despite this new-found confidence, however, of the women in this age-group who were surveyed, 48% said “they felt less confident in their appearance than they had a decade ago, citing pressure to stay young looking.

Some of my friends chimed in with comments about how they are happy to “look their age.” Sam has written before about not aging gracefully. It’s just another kind of pressure on women to conform. More of the same expectations to look a certain way if we are to remain acceptable.

Like the other day when I was traveling through Heathrow Airport, the thirty-something male customs agent looked at my passport and said, “You look very well for your age.” Literally. That’s exactly what he said. I think it was meant as a compliment.

Sam pointed out that willingness to “look our age” is a collective action problem. If we oppose the demands of normative femininity to keep looking young for as long as possible, we can shift expectations but only if enough women do it. Outliers who go it alone will face a social cost. But if a critical mass of women say “forget it! We’re aging and that’s okay!” then attitudes about what is acceptable will need eventually to shift. As quoted from this NY Times article:

“If [a] woman ignores the process of aging and eases more honestly into her inevitable wrinkles, belly fat and gray hair, she is liable to stand out as an anomaly within her personal and professional circles.”

After witnessing the discussion on my Facebook timeline, a friend sent me a link to Sarah Lesko’s article, “I Believe in Getting Older.”

Lesko says:

Well, I have a new grey stripe right over my forehead, and since I’m almost 50 I think I’m done dyeing my hair. And I love being in the sun (especially at track meets!)… I try to be responsible with sunscreen, but I know it ages my skin a lot. The idea of injecting neurotoxins into my face gives me the willies. And I feel like I’ve earned my wrinkles and saggy skin spots the old-fashioned way: with hard work and worry, lost sleep, excessive smiling and laughing, and carrying 3 babies in my body. Life. So, I look how I look.

The “I look how I look” refrain came loud and strong in response to the perennials article.

I felt torn. To me, the idea of women as “ageless perennials” has more to do with attitude, activity level, and self-perception. How we think about ourselves matters in the face of research that says that in lots of ways “aging” is a choice.” Sam blogged about that way back in the early days of Fit Is a Feminist Issue. I didn’t take offense when I first read it. At the same time, this type of attitude doesn’t set me and my mother apart. She still really active and has been an excellent role model for me in so many things, including how I want to enjoy my later years.

TI edinburghJPG

Tracy in Edinburgh last week, age 52 years and 10 months!

And yet I understand the “I look how I look” idea, while still feeling the pressure of wanting to look vibrant and, yes, “ageless,” for some time to come. While I don’t appreciate a random official thinking he has the right to comment on my appearance, even if it’s meant as a compliment (even a compliment of the dreaded  “for your age” variety), I do still like hearing people say I don’t “look my age.” Superficial? Maybe. Not that I even know what it means to “look 52” or, for that matter, what it means to “feel 52?”

I am quite familiar with what it means to be 52, since that’s how old I’ve been since September 24th. Not a secret. Not a thing I lament, feel in any way bad about, or need to apologize for. And above all, not a thing I dwell on. If you ask me how old I am I won’t hesitate to tell you I’m 52 (almost 53).

It’s that no-age attitude that resonated with me in the perennials article, even if I have no clue what the Rotary Club is. And the “no-age” attitude isn’t so far off of the “embrace aging” attitude. Both “angles” on what it is to be a woman of a certain age shake off stale stereotypes about aging women.

What’s your attitude about aging in your own life?

Edinburgh

The Castle in Edinburgh, as seen from Princes Park. Edinburgh wears its age well.

edib

 

 

About Tracy I

Writer, feminist, vegan, triathlete, sailor, philosopher, sometimes knitter.

15 thoughts on “To age or not to age? That is the question

  1. caitlinburke says:

    “Women are sitting around like delicate flowers and then retiring gracefully, to be replaced next season with new ones. Better coin a new term that literally calls them flowers!”

    Maybe remarks like “you look very well for your age” need a big ol dose of “why do you sound so surprised?”

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Interesting read! I am 4 days shy of my 40th birthday and am 6 months pregnant with my second baby. I feel just right for my ‘age’. I feel like I am *finally* coming into my own and am happy to let go of my 30’s.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. catherine w says:

    I am one of those 50-something (I’m 55!) whose life and activities are very different from her mother’s and those of the other older women in my family. But aging, inevitable as it is, is still hard. I don’t really like that I’ve transitioned to being/feeling invisible in crowds, in particular with respect to being looked at. I feel like people don’t really see me. And with respect to my body, my main concern is what being active is going to look like going forward. I’m still struggling with getting back in shape to do some of the activities I want to be able to do (70K+ bike rides, for instance), looking for my new normal. That normal will of course shift, and some of those shifts aren’t very graceful or gradual. So I’m a little apprehensive, but so glad that we can all share those apprehensions here. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. E says:

    Love this. Women, our roles and rights are evolving. I’ve heard some women ask ‘when am I allowed to just let myself go?’-they were struggling with depression (not clients) and saw the dowdy, grey haired, fat lapped grandmother character as a way out of perceived social pressure to participate in life, to make decisions and potentially face judgement. No matter what we choose as women judgement awaits. How we respond is our choice. I feel excited about those choices. It’s taken me 17 years to climb out of my past. I’m approaching 40 and feel like I’m just getting started. I have a career, my health is mostly sorted out and I’m having fun getting dressed for the first time in my life. It probably bothers me to see women confuse having a passion for living with immaturity. I value responsibility, self discipline, creativity, the fullness of my experiences and a little retinol 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  5. KimG says:

    I’m 43. I’m routinely taken for being younger, and I am not sure how to take that. In some ways I certainly don’t feel mature enough to be 43; I have little in common with other women my age who have children (and even grandchildren!), careers, and so on. I have ADHD and it seems possible I may be on the autism spectrum, which goes a long way toward explaining that gap in experience and confidence. I’m working on it…

    Like

  6. Jean says:

    We have to admit many of us, male and female when @ midlife and older, may like the compliment of looking a bit younger than our age.

    However as time marches on, I doubt I look younger in face.
    I agree with another commenter here about experiencing life/enjoying life with some maturity. However we each have a definition of “maturity”.

    However the declaration of each generation of women redefining our lives past stereotypes, just puts additional expectation on self to be innovative, etc. Not sure going that route/attitude is best for dealing with tough times in life. Another set-up for “failure” in self.

    Keep it simple. Doesn’t matter how you live life..as long as you keep in learning, being open to new positive things, listen well and speak well when needed. Know your boundaries, know self..which keeps on changing.

    Like

  7. Hi Tracy, Nice Blog! If you want to see what it is like to be 70, and still think Fit is a feminist issue, you might want to check out our blog, boomerwisdomandwit.wordpress.com. We are two friends of over 61 years, and love talk about aging and other issues. Love your message!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I will be 45 a few days after you would turn 53 this year. Other than impatience with my snail-slow metabolism and thinning hair, I don’t have a serious, what used to be called, midlife crisis, yet. On an objective scale, I don’t body sham, but I am particular that I be fit – the padding of fat outside indicates padding of the innards, which is certainly not healthy. It used to be easier to be fit until a few years ago, now it takes a bit more work and conscious living. That’s fine and while I struggle a little with it for now, I will find my pace soon enough.

    I have noticed a reverse trend where I live – I live in a metropolitan city, in the south of India. Many women here (and I am probably generalising, but I write from what I see) give up on their bodies when they approach forties. Again, I don’t body-sham, but I believe that fitness is more important as we age, and ignoring our body can snowball into all kinds of health issues later on. Many of the 40+ women around me are not only overweight (not due to medical reasons, but due to apathy to fitness and health), but are already riddled with problems like arthritis, cholesterol etc.

    Perhaps I am being a condescending prick, but it bothers me. I have a teenage daughter. I want to send the right message to her about health. It’s very hard when I see around me, women who don’t care. Puts additional onus on me. One step in excess on one side, I would communicate to her that fitness doesn’t matter after 40, one step on the other , she would end up picking at her food in paranoia. I merely set an example by being diligent about my work outs and practicing healthy food habits at home.

    Sorry for the long comment. This is something I feel strongly about.

    Like

  9. agshap says:

    I have always looked younger than my age….it bothered me when I was younger – got carded a lot….but now I get – “You dont look your age!” a lot and that suits me fine. I have those aches and pains as we get older but I still want to do what I can just to keep going. I recently retired and people wondered why – well, I turned 70 – isnt that reason enough. Now I am enjoying retirement, and doing whatever I want! Age is just a number!

    Like

  10. crowdedmind says:

    Ok, this has made me stop, think and reply. I have naturally almost black hair and started to grey about 35ish, encouraged by my mother, I dyed it. The process was, choose an almost black to cover, look like cruella de ville for twoo weeks, look reletively natural for two weeeks then have a grey tramline for the next three. One day thgree years later, I just said no. My hair was brittle and flat. Now I love my hair, it is in good condition, salt and pepper and I do not think about it.. What is interesting is the reactions I get, wow you are brave, how old are you actually and why are common, from strangers, I might add. Another by product has been my children’s growth. from you look like a granny (6 – 10), you would look younger if you dyed your hair (mid teens), to now go mum, be yourself, they are now both adults. I say be yourself, dyed or not, keep heealthy and do not judge. Good reading , I will pop back and maybe even write a piece about my hair.

    Like

  11. dellymari says:

    I enjoyed reading this post. I am turning 53 this August. I am also feeling torn. Part of me wants to scream, “I don’t care! This is who I am!” Relax, and be happy. I feel like I’ve done and been through so much that I deserve at least that. Yet, I can’t fully do it. I’m still investing in every latest wrinkle cream. I’m holding onto clothing from when I was 32. I’m thinking about my breasts that aren’t up in the same position, as opposed to them being healthy, or the bonding that took place feeding my infant. I’m constantly beating myself-up for not looking a certain way, even keeping myself from certain social situations. It’s crazy! It leads to sadness, and not fully enjoying life. Honestly, it sounds ridiculous as I hear myself saying it. We can’t stop aging. If we don’t age, we die young, and who wants that? Maybe being at peace at the current stage of life is feeling happy with our achievements, empowered, content with our relationships, at ease about home, money, etc., and if we’re not things like aging become more magnified because there’s more pressure, less time? Just a thought. Anyway, I think a lot of negative pressure comes from society and what it expects from women and their looks, so I’m glad for terms like, Perennials. We need to keep fit to be at our best for health and enjoyment, and radiate what is our natural beauty at any age. We should find a balance between, who gives a F’, and I do!/Between young at heart, and fierce maturity. I also agree with a group effort to promote acceptance (but let’s keep developing those creams for even skin-tone and less wrinkles!) 😉

    Like

  12. dellymari says:

    I enjoyed reading this post. I am turning 53 this August. I am also feeling torn. Part of me wants to scream, “I don’t care! This is who I am!” Relax, and be happy. I feel like I’ve done and been through so much that I deserve at least that. Yet, I can’t fully do it. I’m still investing in every latest wrinkle cream. I’m holding onto clothing from when I was 32. Thinking about my breasts that aren’t up in the same position, as opposed to them being healthy, or the bonding that took place feeding my infant. I’m constantly beating myself-up for not looking a certain way, even keeping myself from certain social situations. It’s crazy! It leads to sadness, and not fully enjoying life. Honestly, it sounds ridiculous as I hear myself saying it. We can’t stop aging. If we don’t age, we die young, and who wants that? Maybe being at peace at the current stage of life is feeling happy with our achievements, empowered, content with our relationships, at ease about home, money, etc., and if we’re not things like aging become more magnified because there’s more pressure, less time? Just a thought. Anyway, I think a lot of negative pressure comes from society and what it expects from women and their looks, so I’m glad for terms like, Perennials. We need to keep fit to be at our best for health and enjoyment, and radiate what is our natural beauty at any age. We should find a balance between, who gives a F’, and I do!/Between young at heart, and fierce maturity. I also agree with a group effort to promote acceptance (but let’s keep developing those creams for even skin-tone and less wrinkles!) 😉

    Like

  13. Nancy says:

    I’m at that age now (45) where I don’t like to admit how old I am. I feel blessed that I look younger, and I have to admit I think everyday on how to stay that way. While I worry less now about what people might think about how I ACT, I worry about how I LOOK. So how much is wanting to stay healthy & fit, and how much is just vanity? I’m still working on that balance.

    Like

  14. silverliz says:

    The angst of middle age, how are you going to cope with Old Age? I am in my late 70s, I can still walk and talk, the walking is more problematic, I need a little help, walking stick, sometimes a walker which includes a seat. I leave it to others to judge the clarity and perspicacity of the words I use. Perennials, maybe. I am frequently surprised that so many years have gone so quickly and there is still so much I don’t know and with this amazing internet the world is at my fingertips and I’m no longer worried about making my thoughts public. Aha to be brave and young, still words are to be treasured and given away generously.

    Like

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s