So what does ageing gracefully actually mean? We are, it seems, a society obsessed with being young. Our culture revolves around youth; our media glorifies it. If you’re not young in our world, particularly if you’re a woman, you’re marginalised almost to the point of invisibility. A constant stream of alarmist messages is piped into our collective consciousness – age is bad, youth is good. The pressure to stop time in its tracks, or even to turn back the clock, at whatever cost, is almost overwhelming.
Standing up to the pressure is hard, and getting harder. Society decrees not only that women CAN look younger, but that we SHOULD. And, collectively, we fall prey to public opinion. We buy into the myth. And there’s no doubt that youth sells: there’s a massive lucrative industry built on our insecurities about our ages, our faces, our bodies.
How did this happen? Who’s making the decisions? Why is growing older seen as something to fight against, often to the point that worrying about our ages gets in the way of living joyful lives? When did ageing become an illness?
The truth is we’re all ageing, from the moment we’re born. Our bodies are in a constant state of flux, no matter what age we are. So at what stage are we supposed to start ‘ageing gracefully’? Forty? Fifty? THIRTY? And who defines ‘gracefully’? Does it mean ageing naturally, with a quiet acceptance that we will fade gently into the background as the years roll by?
There’s something wrong with the fact that our world equates beauty with youth, and that women are succumbing to this view. Why do we let ourselves be persuaded that female ageing and loveliness are incompatible? Why does physicality matter so much anyway? Surely our worth – whatever our age – lies in our character and capabilities rather than our looks? Still, despite believing that with all my heart, I am far from immune to the insidious and powerful pressure exerted by the communal ‘anti-ageing’ campaign.
We all choose how we present ourselves to the world – physically, emotionally, stylistically, wholly. Some of us make a point of embracing the ageing process, priding ourselves on “being natural,” while others do everything possible to hide the tell-tale signs of the passing years. Yet it seems that as the years go on, we can’t really win: whatever our choices about how we age, someone will have an opinion about it.
So where does that leave us? I believe that every one of us should make our own choices regarding what makes us feel good about ourselves and our bodies, and how we make peace with the ageing process. Plus, we need to understand why we make the choices we do. Does the media influence how we feel? Do celebrities set the standard? Why is looking younger important to me and to others? Why are younger-looking women valued more by society, and is that relevant to me?
I don’t for a minute deny the challenges – as Bette Davis famously said, ageing is not for sissies. But I’d like to rise to those challenges and transform them. I’d like to manage my own life and speak my own truths rather than being swept along by societal pressure. I’d choose to accept myself at every stage of the ageing process with joy and celebration. I would hope to embrace what I am now rather than what I once was, to focus on what I have rather than what I don’t have or used to have, and I hope I’m working out how to do that with some degree of dignity, reality and fun.
Actually, I’d like to change the conversation and reconsider the words. I would like to age, not gracefully – but boldly, colourfully, adventurously, lovingly, joyfully, interestedly, compassionately, courageously, wittily, vibrantly, authentically. Come to that, I choose to LIVE, rather than to age.
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