Ageism and the middle years

Samantha Nolan-Smith
May 15 · 3 min read

I was recently involved in a discussion where lots of middle aged women — women over 40 — really resented being referred to as being ‘midlife’.

It really got me thinking because in Australia, the medium age of death for a non-Aboriginal woman is 83 years old. (For Aboriginal women it’s currently 73.)

So factually, once you hit 40, you’re middle aged.

I’m an optimistic woman so didn’t technically feel like I’d hit middle age until I turned 45 because I’m pretty sure (based on lifestyle and genetics — the women in my family live on and on) that absent any major accidents, I’ll make the big 90.

And now that I am officially middle aged, I’m really happy about it. I love the level of contentment I feel. I love the security and stability that comes with middle age. (I was peripatetic as a young woman.) I love watching my body change. And when the ageist voice arises within that tries to tell me that it’s important — as a 45 year old — to look 25, I know how to quiet that insecurity. I know how to do that because I’ve now had a good deal of time on this planet to learn such things. I’m not searching around, battered by the wind, hoping to find my centre of gravity. I’m grounded in myself and in my place in the world.

I know so much resistance to the middle aged moniker comes from the ageist narrative that values youth above all else. From a community that’s obsessed with telling youthful stories and showing youthful people on the screen, giving the impression that there are no ageing people worth speaking about in our society.

It’s time to redefine age in the West. To honour the ageing process. The journey of maturation and wisdom gained.

I revel in the permission I grant myself in my 40s that I never granted myself in my 20s or 30s. Freedom that comes with choosing exactly what you want. For you. Freedom to never feel compelled to explain yourself or justify your choices.

I’m aware that my middle age doesn’t necessarily look like other people. I’m old enough to have an adult child but in fact, my son is 2. (I also have many my friends who had their children in the 40s but I’m aware we’re an exceptional bunch! 😉)

Despite the near hysteria in the medical profession about ‘older pregnancies’ I had my son at 43 years of age and it was a textbook pregnancy. No complications. No problems falling pregnant. And no issues with high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia which I’d had with my daughter who I birthed at 37 years old.

To me, that’s a perfect example of why I love my 40s. I’m so much more chilled in my 40s than I was in my 30s. Of course my 43 year old pregnancy was easier! I was easier in myself. I felt completely comfortable in my womanhood. I knew myself. I knew what kind of labour I wanted. I knew how to ask for help. I knew the team I wanted around me and I wasn’t taking unsolicited advice from anyone — friends, family, or the medical profession.

And that’s what middle aged means to me. It means knowing yourself. Knowing what you want and unapologetically expecting people to respond in kind.

It’s something I believe all women have the right to experience and can experience, as soon as we break down the ageist narrative that keeps us all spending way too much money on ‘anti ageing’ products as though ageing were a disease, rather than what it ought to be; a badge of honour.

Samantha Nolan-Smith

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Feminist writer, visibility coach. I support women to be more visible by releasing the social conditioning that keeps us hidden.