A few days ago I posted this sentence on Facebook, “To give in to the anti-aging trends, to chase “youthful” is to deny the beautiful reality of who we have become.” There were some great comments and a little criticism so I decided to expand my thoughts. And I want to share here (with additions and edits).
“Women are bombarded with anti-aging messages multiple times a day. It starts with little girls and is relentless. In my Facebook groups and in magazines I see women write about feeling invisible as older women–which seems to start somewhere around 45, maybe?
I say bullshit to the idea that women become invisible. The message is that older women don’t have value in our society–this adds to the messages we get throughout our lives about beauty and a woman’s place. Only in recent years are we seeing more older women in ads for women’s products, or in any marketing ads outside of constipation, arthritis, osteoporosis or other “illness” type of advertising. The goal of marketers is to make us–older women–fearful, so we’ll buy their products.
Many of us do feel dread, fear, disappointment, and various other not-so-positive feelings when we face our changing bodies. We all fear dying at some point and we have to come to terms with our mortality but emphasis on the superficial aspects of aging are what undermine women. And some of us give in to the temptation to buy those products, to change our bodies, in hopes that it will turn back time. Because “youthful” is more valued than “old”, in American culture.”
Here’s what one reader, an expert on aging, had to say,
“This, needless to say, is an incredibly fraught subject that we all need to approach with no judgment. In an ageist & sexist world, women mask or deny their age for all sorts of legitimate reasons. But as long as we’re competing to “stay young”—a costly, punitive, and impossible goal if there ever was one—we reinforce ageism, sexism, looksism and patriarchy, and give a pass to the underlying discrimination that makes those behaviors useful. Which is why we need a broad-based social movement, predicated on consciousness-raising around systemic ageism the way the women’s movement was fueled by consciousness-raising around sexism.” -Ashton Applewhite. Her website is, This Chair Rocks and her book, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Aging.
Here’s the truth–which no one tells us because there’s no money to be made from this narrative–older women are beautiful, wise, and diverse in our aging bodies and souls. Old, as a label, does not depict the richness of older women. It has become a derogatory term. Aging is natural but women are made to feel ashamed about it. Ageism is real and it’s perpetuated by businesses as a money-making tactic.
As some of my other readers and commenters noted, there are actions women take, treatments or products they try, that make them feel better about themselves. Some older women seek to stay “youthful” looking because of their jobs and the ageist, sexist, culture within the business world. There are women who aren’t ready to go gray or allow themselves to be defined as old with all the connotations it brings. And this statement is exclusively about women, because gray haired men are seen as powerful, distinguished, etc.
These are personal choices that we must respect. Choosing to fight the label of old can take varied forms. And, I would ask us all to pay attention to the ageist messages we see. We can fight them, subtly or boldly. It’s an individual choice, but if we don’t push back things won’t change.
When we buy into the myth that aging somehow makes us “less than”, there are those who profit from our fears. I refuse to give in to those fears. I refuse to be ashamed of my graying hair. I know that spending $100 on a bottle of wrinkle cream won’t get me a date or help me win the lottery. I won’t feel any happier in the morning. Nor will I have done anything other than give some business my hard earned cash, reinforcing the idea that older women can be manipulated. I refuse to give up jeans, or lacy bras or flirting with strangers or wearing dresses that show off my cleavage, because they are not suitable for ‘”someone my age”.
For me, part of this is about language as much as it is attitude. I’m 62. Is that OLD? It is older. I’m trying to fight ageism in my work and in my personal life. I will fight expectations of what I am allowed to do as an older woman–and offer up the options and joys that await women as we move through this phase of life.
And I’d love for you to join me.