American society values beauty and youth. It’s a fact of life. Look at any movie—Hollywood or independent, it doesn’t matter—magazine (aside from AARP), or television show (Golden Girls went off the air a long time ago, people) and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a gray hair or wrinkled brow among them. And the portrayals you do see of older people are often hackneyed stereotypes of asexual, grouchy killjoys or someone having a midlife crisis.
Change the script about getting older
“Let’s change the conversation about what getting older means,” says women’s health expert Dr. Christiane Northrup in her book Goddesses Never Age: The Secret Prescription for Radiance, Vitality, and Well-Being. “Our culture tries to tell us how to move through time and tell us we only have so much time left,” she writes. She suggests rewriting the script by realizing chronological age just measures time, and by calling it getting older, not aging.“Getting older is inevitable, but aging is optional,” she writes.
Let’s look at how we can challenge what we are told about age in our culture to have a more positive mindset about getting older.
1. Stop calling it a midlife crisis
We should probably save the word “crisis” for the real deal and not for another pass around the sun. Plus, the bulk of research shows that there may be a shifting of gears in the 40s or 50s, but it’s often one of renewal and exhilaration, not crisis, writes Barbara Bradley Hagerty in her book Life Reimagined: The Science, Art, and Opportunity of Midlife.
Read the rest of my article: 8 Ways to Thrive in Midlife and Beyond on Live Happy.
Have you ever noticed people try and age you? When I was a kid and acting in a way my mom didn’t like, she’d say: “You are almost (fill in any age here)!” Meaning I was too old to be behaving the way I was behaving. It didn’t matter that my Birthday was just a few months back and I wasn’t almost “X.”
Then there’s my dad. He almost suffered the big one with my single status in my thirties. I didn’t follow his tidy view of how life is supposed to unfold: college, marriage in your twenties, career, and babies. Mine was more like: college, waitressing, handful of guys my dad didn’t like, career, marriage and babies. Sure, my dad brags to people about my national writing gigs, but at a recent wine tasting, he asked a table of strangers: “Can you believe my daughter didn’t get married until she was 41?” as he shook his head from side to side.
Today I’m blissfully married with twin baby girls and now people want me to enter menopause. I am open about my age and how marriage and babies didn’t happen for me until I hit my forties. (Gasp!) So now, even the slightest mention of a fluctuation in my body temperature or whining about an irregular cycle and suddenly people whisper: Is it menopause … do you think?
No, I don’t think. It’s not menopause. I am only 43.
And if I dare say those words, soon I am listening to a story about someone who knows someone who hit menopause early. Thank you for that uplifting story. I am sure night sweats, hot flashes and mood swings are waiting for me, but what’s with the rush?
Some people ask me if I dye my hair and when did I notice my first gray hair. Really? Is this the riveting conversation people in their thirties can look forward to? If my grandparents are any indication, I could live another 40 plus years. This isn’t what I want to talk about. Oh, and newsflash, I don’t have any grey hairs yet thank you very much.
Others ask: Is your hair thinning out as you get older? That’s cheerful. Uh, no. I don’t currently clip in fake hair, but as soon as I do I will be sure to do a public Facebook post.
Then I get the warnings from some well-meaning peeps about running. Forget that it’s one of my favorite things to do, how it keeps me in shape and how I placed top in my age group in a couple of 5Ks. Nope, I don’t get people cheering my passion. Instead, I get free public service announcements about how hard running can be on your body and how it might lead to runner’s knee or stress fractures.
Okay people, you are totally depressing me now. I get it. None of us make it out alive. If I listened to other people, my vision of my life would be a menopausal woman with thinning gray hair, hot flashes and a running injury.
If you must know, I think about getting a little Botox in between my eyebrows. I call it my crease of confusion—wrinkles from my puzzled face—wondering why people aren’t kinder to one other. I’ll be old soon enough damn it. Meanwhile, let me live. And quit trying to age me.