By the time you read this, I will have turned 49. I didn’t think that mattered much. Society says otherwise.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been asked a thousand (ish) times how I feel about being “almost 50”. Uh… should I give a f*ck? What happens to change me the day I turn 50?
In truth, age was something I worried about more when I was 25 than I do now. I’m very lucky in that I was still getting asked for ID well into my thirties (although I hated it, of course). But now, being asked how I feel about my age has made me reconsider, and I’ve become more aware of the advertising and media bias aimed at women of my demographic. Don’t get me wrong, with every day I age I probably fit people’s idea of a cross-stitcher more closely, but geez, those people are in for a shock when they see the Curious Twist store!
You’ll have seen societal bias toward women middle-aged and beyond even if you’re not one of them. Women’s insecurity around ageing is fed long before we develop our first fine line or sprout our first grey hair. We’re taught to find disgust in these things long in advance, not least through the marketing of products that claim to fight the very first signs of ageing, to give us a ‘youthful glow’ and to reduce wrinkles. I’ve bought those products. I’ve used those products. And I’m here to tell you: they’re bullshit.
We age. Every part of us. The aesthetics of this can be delayed, sure, but only through surgical means – and that’s only the surface. There’s no denying it. And society fucking hates it.
I’m lucky to have a complexion that does not reflect my actual age. There’s no secret to this, or miracle product, or regime. I do NOT drink eight glasses of mineral water a day, follow a strict beauty routine or smother my face in miracle creams at £100 a jar. I can’t afford to, AND I can’t be arsed. I’m just lucky with my gene pool: my dad is in his seventies yet still has all his own teeth and a full head of hair with just the right amount of grey to make him look distinguished, alongside being as physically fit as the proverbial fiddle. Sickening, but true. So, I didn’t draw the short straw societally on this. But I’m still ageing, just like you are, sitting reading this through.
It’s clear that as we grow older; and are led to believe, growing less attractive; the so-called rules about what women apparently can and can’t wear become even more rigid. Recently I’ve been questioning the rules about how we present ourselves, what is expected of us and what is deemed ‘unladylike’, especially as we mature. Not sticking to them leads to being labelled ‘mutton dressed as lamb’ or ‘trying too hard’ and ‘clinging to our youth’. Should we dare go the other way and simply fade into the background, we’re accused of having ‘given up’ or ‘let ourselves go’. How many times have we heard someone say “she was beautiful back in the day” as though something can only be beautiful if it is young and satisfies the male gaze? Women are still expected to be just the right amount of visible and that is dependent on our race, our age (or perceived age), our size and how we dress based on each. All before we even open our mouths.
If you’ve ever picked up a magazine or gazed upon an advertising board you will no doubt have seen hundreds of articles and advertisements crammed with advice on styling “how tos” and “do’s and don’ts”. The term ‘age appropriate’ is constantly used when referring to women’s fashion and it frequently seems to translate as some combination of neutral, classic and totally fucking boring. It looks gorgeous on some women: classy, put-together, well-styled. But it ain’t for me. I’m not saying you have to go to the supermarket in a neon green, lycra catsuit in the name of feminism, mind, but if you want to, do it. Be more Baddiewinkle.
Don’t get me wrong, I’d been brainwashed by these bullshit rules for a good chunk of my life – and I still catch myself out. Now that I am “almost 50”, I’ve made a conscious decision to ignore them and do whatever makes me feel good. My inner teenage rebel lives on!
This reflects just upon the impact of these issues on myself, but my sphere of influence is wider than that. As a mother of a daughter, my responsibility to instil in her a healthy attitude towards herself and other women is something that I acknowledge I haven’t always got right. She witnessed my self-loathing towards my body and my looks when she was growing up. We’ve had deep discussions about this since, and thankfully she was able to see how unhappy I was and understands that it was my issue – I would never want to feel like that about herself. No doubt she has her own insecurities, but she balances them, and doesn’t allow them to dominate her daily life as I did. If I could go back, I’d speak about myself with softer language and practice more self-care – and let my daughter see it. A lot.
Now, my daughter is in her 20s and we have an incredible relationship. As a badass, budding feminist she has shared with me the knowledge and tools she has developed to re-educate myself and question everything – including around the societal messages I’m absorbing on ageing. It is a daily education and I work hard to re-address my own internalised misogyny. I’ve formed so many beliefs about what it means to be a woman through external influences, and some of these need to be undone. And booted into oblivion.
You don’t have to dislike men, stop shaving your armpits or give up make-up to develop a more realistic understanding of what it means to be a self-accepting, free-thinking woman (fuck knows, I’m doing none of those things). You can do whatever the fuck you want (keeping it legal and consensual) whatever your age, shape size or role within society. Just keep questioning. Keep doing what feels right for you… and keep your eyes open. Even if there’s wrinkles around them!