I turned 36 this year, and I told my friend Autumn that I’ve been surprised by how much I’ve liked getting older. To be quite frank about it, I feel like I’ve only gotten more awesome the older I’ve gotten, and I fully expect that trajectory to continue to until I hopefully die at the age of 104, the most kick-ass broad in the whole damn nursing home. The world will not be capable of withstanding the force of just how kick-ass I will be.
This was not how I expected to approach my 30s. Like a lot of women I approached growing older with trepidation, having internalized the idea that my value as a human being would begin plummeting once I was no longer in my youthful, dewy 20s.
But then I got older, as one does, and I realized that, hey, it’s not so bad! In fact, this is actually pretty great! I’m starting to collect life experiences and perspectives and the wisdom that ideally accompanies both. I’ve learned what’s worthy of my attention and what I don’t need to bother myself with. My ability to see through people’s bullshit is in the process of being nicely honed. I still give people the benefit of the doubt – sometimes long after they’ve ceased to deserve the privilege – but at least now I’m making the conscious decision to do it and not because I feel like being a “nice girl” is the price I have to pay for existing on this planet.
I’ve heard a lot of other women report the same experience of getting older: taking less shit from other people, caring less about what others think of us, setting our own priorities for our lives. In a society that spends an awful lot of time casting opprobrium on women for our various choices – everything from how we decorate our bodies to what we do with our reproductive organs to how we spend our time – the spectre of a woman who just doesn’t give a shit is downright terrifying. It means all that social judgment, all those attempts at squishing us into teensy little boxes – it’s all for naught.
I don’t mean to pretend like getting older is nothing but unicorns and rainbows. There’s all the physical aches and pains that apparently just start appearing one day, and the devastating personal losses that continue to mount the longer we live, and obviously the giant question mark that is death. And I will be honest and admit that I felt a little twinge of panic the first time I found a gray hair and the first time I noticed my undereye wrinkles, the incontrovertible proof that yes this is happening, yes I am getting older, yes I will die some day.
But those are the existential realities of growing older, and those are not what we women are told when we are told to fear aging. We are told we will become invisible. That we will be ugly hags that no one will ever desire sexually again. That we will be biologically worthless once we can no longer bear children.
Lies. It’s all lies. It’s not our aging they fear. It’s our power. Confident women still scare the shit out of many people in our society. What better way to undermine that confidence than by making us terrified of the single biological reality we cannot escape no matter what we do?
We’re scary because we see through your bullshit. We’re scary because we don’t need your approval. We’re scary because we don’t need you.
I didn’t understand this when I was in my late 20s but I do now. I’m glad I figured it out as early as I did, as I have known other women who never seemed to understand this and instead spent the latter years of their lives scrambling and hiding from the inevitable. I still remember my poor grandmother, who hated that she was growing old and squandered the last decade of her life in a state of denial. I’m sure there will be times when I curse the fact that I’m getting older, but hopefully there will be more times when I remember the way I feel about it now.
As you can tell I think about these things a lot, and I thought about them again when I read Carrie Fisher’s response to people ripping on her for daring to grow older. If there’s anyone who doesn’t give a shit, it’s the woman who responds to a legion of haters by saying:
Please stop debating about whetherOR not👁aged well.unfortunately it hurts all3 of my feelings.My BODY hasnt aged as well as I have.Blow us👌🏼
— Carrie Fisher (@carrieffisher) December 29, 2015
If this is what it means to “age badly” then I hope I age terribly.
P.S. If none of this persuades you I’ll just suggest that I will happily take growing older over the alternative. That’s all.