Perhaps the most challenging thing about turning 50 is confronting the idea that it means you are old. It's a big number, I get that, but it's a number. The day before you turned 50 were 49. One day or one year or ten years do not shift the essence of you that much. Sure, there are changes to your countenance, the result of gravity, sunlight, inflammation, diet, hormones, and exercise, and as you get older you evolve or devolve in your thinking. Still, the core of you is the same, what has changed is what you've experienced and how that has helped you become more...you. There are 50-year old people who act and look 30 and 50-year old people who act and look 70 and all of the myriad of states of acting and being in between.
A number does not define you. You define you. Society may have some set of unwritten rules about what it means to be 50 or 52 or 60 or 70, but rules are made to be broken. Unless they're rules about how to handle classified information, in which case, cut that crap out, Nunes.
But I digress, I was talking about numbers and limitations and perceptions. Keep calm and carry on, Madge.
We infantilize older women in this culture. (This starts when women are younger, but it hits an apex as we age.) I think this may be the core of why some women opt for a little or a lot of architectural preservation. It's why some women lie about their age. I also think it's part of why people are so offended by women who opt to nip and tuck, because they're not "aging gracefully" and accepting their inevitable infantalization. It's particularly insidious at the workplace, where older women are disproportionately disenfranchised. I think it's why we find older women who opt to stand out and wear outrageous fashion so intriguing. They aren't willing to become invisible. They aren't interested in being patted on the head and treated like toddlers. They want to feel vibrant and fearless and fabulously alive. They are disrupting aging. I get that, because it's how I want to feel and what I want to impart to women who share that sentiment. I don't think how we choose to present ourselves is the only way we can defy aging, either.
There is a de-sexualization of older women after menopause which is likely biologically driven, but I think the desire to stand out or blend in is not always driven by the desire to be or not be desirable. The male gaze is not the driving force behind every choice women make about how to festoon themselves. In fact, that may be the best part about being in my 50s. I don't care if men find me attractive any more, and it's unbelievably freeing. It's not that I don't feel attractive, it's that I no longer need external verification. I think this is true regardless of your sexuality, but I'm a cisgender white married woman living in the US so that's my lens, were I still single perhaps I'd have a different take on things.
What say ye, other people of other backgrounds over 50? If you're in the dating pool, how does that work? Do you feel pressure to be sexy? Do you care?
Curious, am I.
I think we should stop telling women how to age or what to wear or what to do with their bodies at a certain age. When we do that, we're expressing our own fears about growing older and being infantilized or made to feel irrelevant. I support women in doing what makes them happy, whatever that means to them. Our bodies are really just meat suits and clothes are just things we use to cover our bodies, and it's none of my damn business what someone else does with their meat suit. Why should I care? Why do any of us care?
Pierce it, shave it, tattoo it, cover it up, nip it or tuck it or let it swing in the breeze! You do you, darling.
It's also interesting to ponder social media and older women. So much of that lens is on appearances because so much of social media is visual. At what point do we also start celebrating older women for what they do and think and say? How can older women command the respect they've earned through their accomplishments? Why don't we see the immense value in experience, in life lived and lessons learned and talents developed? Because to me, that's the shit. That's what older people have that younger people lack. That's what we have to bring to the party.
I don't want to be limited by or defined by my age. I'm fearlessly facing fifty, but that's only part of my story. It's a facet of the totality of who I am. I am limitless, and so are you. By accepting the limitations of the status quo, we are imposing our own limitations. The hell with that noise.
PS: If you like this, you might like my new book Fifty and Other F-words, publishing May 1st. (Affiliate link.)