Reading between the lines

It’s looming — one of those birthdays that are deemed significant because they end with a zero.

Yay! Cause for celebration — I’ve made it this far and I’m still standing, still growing, still flourishing (cue happy face emoticon). It’s also time for a little gentle reflection.

Getting older has a really really bad rap in our culture. Especially for women. It’s not just Hollywood that’s guilty. (Though deeming a 38 year old actress too old to be the love interest of a 55 year old male — ye gods — what’s that about!) Have you noticed how women over the age of 35 become increasingly invisible everywhere — in the public eye, in show business, in magazines, as shop window mannequins …?

Of course there are exceptions. Occasionally an advertising campaign comes along that features some glamorous iconic female who is considered ‘still’ sexy, ‘still’ attractive (as if sexiness and attractiveness come with built-in obsolescence). There are amazing older women, doing extraordinary things, who are role models for us all. But they are the exceptions rather than the rule.

Invisibility is actually hugely liberating and empowering. Harry Potter understood the value of that magic cloak and the extraordinary powers it gave him. Oh the freedom of being able to dress and behave exactly as one wants, freed from the rigours of fashion and peer pressure. Taking pride and pleasure in one’s appearance and dressing simply to please oneself. Because no one is noticing — except perhaps the people who love us anyway and wouldn’t mind even if we dressed in bin bags.

So if invisibility is a positive, what about all those other memes associated with growing older? Mid-life crisis … past one’s prime … over the hill …mutton dressed as lamb … (mutton happens to be amazingly delicious, if properly treated!) Ad campaigns and cosmetic companies do their best to convince us that our wrinkles and creases are bad, ugly, unattractive, to be hidden, concealed, disguised. Generally at vast expense. Why?

Youthful bloom is attractive, of course, and it sells things — even though we know all about the magic of photoshopping and that no one, NO ONE, ever looked quite that perfect. But why don’t we honour and revere our crows feet and laughter lines? Why don’t we wear them with pride? After all, they bear witness to lives filled with all the richness of human experience, with laughter and tears, love and loss, passion and compassion, with nights spent nursing sick children and nights spent dancing under the stars. We just need to learn to read between the lines.

Cars and wines become vintage, old masters increase in value — why do human beings, and women especially, lose value in the eyes of the world?

There’s one very persistent meme around which is that, as we get older, our body lets us down. ‘It’s my age!’ ‘All of a sudden, bits are dropping off!’ ‘My body’s betraying me!’ Not so. It’s all about cultural programming. The mind/body link is a close one. As we believe, so it shall come to pass. It doesn’t have to be all down hill. In fact research shows that if you believe you’re in your prime, you can reverse the physical signs of ageing simply by living ‘as if’ you were in your prime. And keeping moving and eating right.

If you talk about ageing with people they will, quite without being aware of it, start to move slower and with more of a stoop. Even if they are still in their twenties. Such is the power of suggestion. Remember the social experiment done with a group of elderly people who were put in a house filled with associations of the period in the lives when they were at their most vigorous? Within days, key markers of their health (blood pressure, inflammation, stiffness) showed significant improvement. They became physically (if not actually) younger. And noticeably more cheerful!

I feel way more comfortable and secure in my skin now than I did when I was younger, largely because I tell myself I do on a very regular basis. ‘Every cell in my body is smiling!’ is one of my favourite affirmations (I defy you to say it three times without smiling yourself). I’m fitter, stronger and slimmer — not by accident but because I choose to be and because I exercise and eat accordingly. I’m enormously grateful for the body I have, even though it creaks and groans and sags a bit. Enough of my peers have had to give up occupation of their body for me not to take opening my eyes to greet each new day for granted.

There was a definite glitch around menopause, I confess, as those wonderful hormones that served me so well through my child bearing years recalibrated themselves. I visualised the power surges burning away dead cells and old, disempowering beliefs. I re-interpreted my panic attacks as ‘excitement’ attacks. Sleepless nights allow for plenty of introspection, so I consciously converted my mid-life ‘crisis’ into a mid-life reassessment, a delicious turning point, an opportunity.

The kids have left home, retirement is approaching — it’s the perfect time to redefine our self and our purpose, to choose a new direction, to start valuing our own dreams and desires above concerns about what others think and expect of us. Time to let go of that unfulfilling job and struggle at something we love instead of something we loathe. Time to get unstuck, to celebrate entering the age of the ‘crone’, who in many cultures is revered as the wise woman, not the has-been who’s past it (whatever ‘it’ is).

All that life experience, whether happy or challenging, is precious. It’s not been won easily and it deserves to be properly valued. So do we. And that starts with us valuing ourselves and being proud of who and what we are, not just despite our age but because of it.

Happy Birthday, me.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.