What we talk about when we talk about women and aging

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:

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.

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37 responses to “What we talk about when we talk about women and aging

  1. “It’s our power. Confident women still scare the shit out of many people in our society.”

    You’ve hit the nail on the head, my dear.

    I celebrate every birthday with the excitement and enthusiasm of a 7-year old. Each one means I’M STILL HERE. As you said, getting older sure beats the alternative! None of us are getting out of this alive 😉

    Let’s embrace our power. Let’s live confident lives.

  2. An absolutely wonderful piece, and dead on. I grew up around women who told me that it was only in their 40s that they really grew into themselves. I thought that was a great thing to look forward to.

  3. I completely, 100 percent agree with you.
    I’m 27 now, and I love getting older. I’m excited, not scared, to turn 30. I have this belief I am going to rock my 30s.
    With each year that passes, I feel more like myself. No longer do I feel like I have to explain who I am all the time, including to myself. I don’t care what people think; I do my thing. My confidence grows with each year. Getting older means becoming gradually calmer, which is a blessing.
    And I look at women who are older, from famous people like Carrie Fischer and Helen Mirren to family members and friends of my family, and I admire them for their spunk, wisdom and grace. Women of all ages are amazing; we all have something wonderful to offer beyond what we look like.

    • I feel like 27 was sort of the first year I was able to get a bit of distance from myself and go “yeah. Cool.” Before that I was too wrapped up in all the things of your early-mid twenties, but at 27 it’s like I could take a second to breathe and to appreciate all the growing and changing I’d done up to that point and how much more I have in front of me.

  4. Love this!

    I’ve never really understood the fear of aging (no, let me rephrase, I understand the social pressure and bullshit of it, I have just never felt it myself). I love getting older. Each year I feel saner and happier and more competent and, like the poster above, more like me. Growing into myself is this wonderful unfolding that I think will be life-long and so each new year is another year I get to see who I am underneath all of the societally-imposed bullshit.

  5. Reblogged this on Queering the Nerd and commented:
    I’m only 27 but I firmly believe both me and my friends and family have gotten better with age. Experience tends to round us out as humans. Why should this be different for men and women? I will take laugh lines over naivete any day, and rather than bemoaning the big 3-0, I will embrace it. Even if I’m still single.

  6. Right there with you, sister. I will admit that turning 36 (which happened a few months ago) threw me for a bit of a loop and I’m still adjusting to the fact that I am starting to get chest wrinkles (I mean, seriously, wtf?!) but other than that? Getting older and having way less fucks to give? It’s been awesome. I expect things to only get better from here.

  7. I’m approaching my 48th birthday and while not as thin as I was in my twenties I’m so much stronger and fitter. I’m much more confident and proud of my muscles then I ever was with my tiny waist. Also I’ve worked for 25 years in a male dominated industry where my biggest problems were harassment and not being taken seriously. I’m happy to have aged out of those issues so I can actually be heard now.

  8. “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.” 🙂

    Methinks that we have to remember people want to find ways to shut us up…and they do find ways so that they take the limelight, the credit. So the challenge, is to reduce that BS.

    • Absolutely, and I think pointing out the BS when we see it is a big first step. Plus I think a lot of people actually see through it but are too afraid to say anything, so speaking up isn’t just something we do for ourselves, but also for everyone else.

  9. I always make that remark about the alternative. Wait till you get past sixty, there is no feeling like realizing you are cheerfully prepared to tell anyone who has earned it to go pound sand up their asses. (It might be the first exercise they’ve had in a while…)

    • Yeah, I’m not quite there right yet but I definitely see it looming in my future. A woman only has so much energy, you know? Can’t be wasting it on nonsense and silliness.

  10. I really enjoy your blog but I particularly like this post. I remember dreading my 30s until I was 29 and found myself excited to be turning 30. I turned 36 this year too and have also been discarding the fucks I give about what people think. I agree that it’s better realising this sooner rather than later. Look forward to reading your posts in 2016. Happy new year!

    • It’s so freeing, isn’t it? My younger self could have saved me a lot of pain by not being so wrapped up in what everyone else thought of me. Happy new year to you as well!

  11. Turning 42 this coming year….JUST turned 41 in November and pissed that I have to wait yet a whole YEAR until I turn 42. 😉 I have loved getting older. I am stronger. I am tougher. I take more risks now than I did when I was 21. I don’t sweat the small stuff. I definitely do not tolerate any bullshit from people. My sister died this past February from colon cancer. I leaned what was important 3.5 years ago when she was first diagnosed. Family. Friends. Family. When you get older, you get wiser. BRING IT. I am ready. 😉

    • I’m so sorry to hear about your sister. You have a really amazing attitude about all of this, especially in light of such a huge loss.

  12. I hated my 40th birthday. Little did I know my 40s would be the decade in which I would emerge like a butterfly from a cocoon. Competed in and completed my first triathlon when I was 49.

    My fifties were even better.

    I turn 60 in three weeks. Let’s see what happens now…

  13. I’m turning 29 in a matter of months and I can’t WAIT to be in my 30’s. I do not miss younger me. She was a bucket of fears. Not that current me is the picture of serenity exactly, and younger me did the best she could to get out there and do things, but man. I can do things now with barely a squirm of anxiety that she couldn’t have done for all the ice cream in the student union! That took work, and I’m still working, so my 30’s are going to be even better. Also my friends and I are going to do our 30th birthdays in New Orleans (almost all February babies).

  14. Yes, yes, and yes. Thanks for writing this post. One thing I’d like to add is the MILLIONS – perhaps billions? – of dollars in the economy that are made on female insecurity. THAT is why they are preying on us, telling us our skin is too old, our clothes not stylish enough, our bodies not in conformance with whatever ideal is out there today. It’s a damn shame that people are getting filthy rich off of negatively impacting the lives of women. So I thank you for being a voice of empowerment against the beauty-industrial complex. You are awesome!

  15. Yaaassss. I’ve enjoyed my 30s so much more than my 20s. I do wonder and worry about when this will turn the corner, but … why does it need to? Look at Helen Mirren and Judi Dench, we should be so lucky to be as gorgeous and awesome as them at any point in our lives. I like to take the motto WWJDD … What Would Judi Dench Do?

  16. My sentiment had been there same as yours about turning older. As an endurance athlete i find myself with so much more energy and vitality than most people 10-20 years younger than me. But, I’m turning 46 in a few months and for some reason it feels like 50 already. Getting another year older feels different to me this year. it probably doesn’t help that i lost my job recently.

  17. Reblogged this on idigadonut and commented:
    I’d like to see/hear you when you’re 66. I’ll be 96. Squandering, done without denial, can be a good thing btw. We’ll compare notes then.

  18. Amen. I turned 50 this year and I couldn’t be happier. I’m going through menopause now, which has hurt my strength and speed, but it is so worth it to be older and happier than I’ve ever been. I still did 30 races this year, and I did them as fast as I could with very little self induced pressure and tons of fun.

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