I’m a woman in my 50s. It’s about being brave, not accepted
There’s been a bit of a ‘to-do’ in the media over the past few weeks and it’s about the reboot of the programme “Sex and the City”, which in its day was about four 30-something women in New York. It was a bit of fun, with a bit of glamour and a few taboo-busting lines and scenarios. It was in its own way, refreshing and for a while it provided an enjoyable escape from the realities of normal life.
Now it’s back, and three of the four women of the original cast have dusted off their Manolo’s and come back too. Now in their 50’s, their anticipated return to the screen has unleashed a social media frenzy. But not in a good way. They have been criticised for being too old, for having grey hair, for letting themselves go, for having too much cosmetic work done, for trying too hard, for not trying hard enough.
This is crazy I thought. They are three women who are simply doing what we all do, which is grow a little bit older with each year. Men do it, women do it, trees do it, our pet dog does it. We all grow old. Although of course sadly some of us do not get to grow as old as others.
They are three women who are simply doing what we all do, which is grow a little bit older with each year. Men do it, women do it, trees do it, our pet dog does it. We all grow old. - Georgina Langdale
In response to the Sex and the City fallout, I was contacted by a journalist who asked me if I would be happy to speak about women and ageing and menopause and being in one’s 50s. I have some experience in all these things and due to my NatFem products I find myself speaking to other women in this 50+ age bracket every day, so I said sure, why not.
We chatted on the phone about ageing as a woman in a society that reveres the young and where beauty only seems to be perceived as skin deep. Women of any age (me included) will have their moments of worrying about whether their bum looks big in some outfit or other, but middle age can give us the opportunity, the confidence, to also see ourselves beyond this physical detail. So, sure I want to look nice, but I no longer feel the need to try and become some unattainable idea of what a woman ‘should’ look like. To be honest, i'm more interested in my intellectual, creative and spiritual life than my body image these days. I’ve earned these grey hairs and lines on my face, and I love them for reminding me how far in life I have travelled. I want to look ‘good’ as a woman in her 50s, not as a woman in her 50s trying to be 20. The thing is, as I journeyed through my early 50s and menopause, I saw my body changing naturally and actually rather marvelled at it for doing that. I have a personal motto now that is, “I cover more and worry less”.
The cover-up in society though seems to be of women themselves, especially the ones of the greying-hair, thickening-waistline, 50+ type. And being part of this journalist’s story about the barbs in the Sex and the City tale, has shown me that right up close.
In due course, the article appeared in today’s Sunday paper. There is always that moment of sheer embarrassment about seeing one’s name in print, but that quickly gave way to an overwhelming sense of sadness. This was because the journalist said right up front that when she asked women she knew if they would be prepared to talk about ageing, they said no, and the other two women she did quote in the article said yes, only on the condition that their full names were not published for fear of any backlash. I felt sad, and then I felt a little bit afraid, and then I felt sad again.
I felt sad because here were women in their 50s not only feeling invisible, but also requesting invisibility so they did not come under attack for speaking out. And I know we've all been that woman at some stage. One of them was quoted in the article saying, “It’s all well and good to say we aren’t bothered by what people think of us, but that’s about being brave, not accepted… if I really didn’t care, I’d let you use my last name, eh?”
I felt such sorrow that they felt they could not say their name in public. They could not outwardly own their stage in life – a place they have got to no doubt with ample helpings of tenacity, joy, loss, heartbreak, achievement, failure and curiosity. Life can be hard work, but how much harder does it become if we are made to feel we cannot own it, that we cannot stand on the stage and under the lights of our own journey? And then I felt afraid being the only one with a name and a face for people to throw stones at. I just hadn’t expected that I would be the only one who would actually say-my-name.
And finally, I felt sad again because what are the nameless muted messages we are passing on to the younger generations growing up after us? Us the women of our 50s and over, not seen and not heard. I truly thought we had got more confident than that. My respect for those women who do say their name and show their face grew exponentially over the course of this strange day. And I gave thanks to the women who have spoken out through the ages, or at least tried to.
What are the nameless muted messages we are passing on to the younger generations growing up after us? - Georgina Langdale
Society wants us all to remain forever young, but personally I have found growing older to be liberating. I have more confidence in my 50s than I ever had in my 20s. I have a better idea of who I am and what I wish to do with my life in the time I have been bequeathed the gift of it. I’m not saying that life has been a piece of cake, or that I have got everything right, because whose life is like that anyway? But what I am saying is that with life experience comes a bit of knowledge and the opportunity for wisdom to take seed in one’s soul and grow with the years – and that can be truly beautiful.
Since Carrie and co graced our screens back when they were younger and fit the perceived ideals of beauty, there has been a bit of chipping away at female taboos and these days there is a bit of talk in the media about menopause. Hooray for that and I love seeing women sharing their experiences more, but even so, there is very little talk of the positive side of this life transition, about how it can help one get clear on who we are, or even that all the hot flushes and ups and downs will also pass. The conversation still seems locked in the negative trope of the ageing woman. There is still a lot of fighting against what is a natural process. But we do grow older. It is that simple. By accepting that there will be changes and that there may be some good days and bad, it can take a whole lot of pressure off. There is something to be said for simply going with the flow.
The question I have is, if we women standing in the middle of the stream of life feel fear about showing ourselves to be ageing naturally, what are the role models we are giving to the women younger than us? What are the messages we are giving them?
In earlier times, when we lived in a way that recognised the patterns of seasons and cycles in our lifetimes and throughout nature, key life transitions were celebrated: birth, puberty, weddings, birth, leaving home, the menopausal transition to elder, and then death. We had ceremonies for each of these moments. Each step was a natural part of the process of living life naturally. These ceremonies helped create the glue of community they helped with the handing on of knowledge and wisdom. They provided a pathway through life where every stage was honoured.
What those ceremonies tell me is that we can love youth for its beauty and wonder and zest for life and that we can see this not only in people, but there is beauty in everything and every stage – the exuberance of spring turning to summer growth, the rose blooming, the tree going from bare boughed winter to luminous green, to gold and back to bareness again. Nature reminds us there is a time for everything and there is beauty to be found in every season.
So, let’s just enjoy four women on the screen, who are at a different time, a different season in their life than the time we saw them before. Let’s respect them for saying yes, when they got the call. Let’s let them age, each in their own way.
Let’s celebrate the fact that they’ve been brave enough to let that show on the world stage with their names in lights. And let’s think about the stories we wish to hand down to the next generations.
My three tips for embracing the beauty of being 50+:
- Be kind to yourself. You are amazing to have got this far and don’t let anyone take your experiences, your story away from you
- Growing old is natural. When we become conscious of the seasons and cycles in nature it can help us accept our own seasons and cycles too
- Let’s be visible so that the young women growing up behind us will be able to see there is more of life to explore once the bloom of youth has passed
The article in the Sunday Star-Times was written by Virginia Fallon and can be read here.