What Makes Women Old?
I don’t feel old! No matter what age I have been, I always felt the same — young, hopeful ready for the new adventure. Yet, we age. I see my high school friends, and I realise that I too must be getting old. There is a disconnect there, and I wonder if it is just me, or do all women feel that way. A mirror tells the truth, but only just. At the right angle and light, I catch glimpses of the thirty-year-old I once was. But this is just the outside of course and the older I get, the more I realise that the outside is not the full story of ageing. It is only a static picture that can be manipulated.
There is a picture of Jackie Kennedy-Onassis, in New York City (Ron Galella, 1971) which demonstrates my idea of how women should age. Granted, she was a woman that had been naturally very beautiful and very wealthy, but the picture conveys more than that. She is ageless.
What else is she? Stylish, unpretentious, busy, casual and someone you want to meet. Jackie is a girl you would like in your inner circle. But she is not a girl. She is a middle-aged woman. One that buried two husbands and gave birth to four children. So, what is it about Jackie Kennedy-Onassis that transported her from middle-age to ageless?
The lifecycle of a woman goes like this. Young girl full of dreams and energy. Young woman with ideals and plans. Slightly older woman looking for a husband. Woman who found husband and focused all her energy on her wedding. Woman becomes mother, leaves work (temporarily or permanently) and concentrates on raising children.
Exhausted woman forgets what she wanted out of life and makes sure that her family gets what they want out of life. Children go off to University and woman wonders where her life went. Woman gets involved in pastimes such as charities and gardening while waiting for grandchildren. Woman takes care of grandchildren and then dies.
Often there are spanners in the works such as divorce. A divorce can be viewed as a disaster or an opportunity, and opportunity, which depends to a large extent on the financial situation of the woman. If she has retained her career, it will be easier for her to start over. If she dedicated herself entirely to her family, she might end up much poorer than planned in her sunshine years.
Here are the biggies that catapult a woman into old age:
Lack of exercise is by far the surest way to age ungracefully. From retaining flexibility, reducing muscle loss, preventing the weight from piling on, exercise is the magic wand to agelessness. Middle age woman who exercise regularly have a spring in their step and walk and carry themselves in a noticeably youthful way.
Weight is also a deal killer when it comes to agelessness. Carrying excess weight stresses the joints and results in injuries as well as a kind of middle-age heaviness that is hard to ignore.
Dressing old is often a derivative of excess weight but not always. As women get busier and busier, they overlook their wardrobe and gravitate towards comfy clothes and shoes; grey, black and shapeless like their disappearing youth.
Children are leaving home is a significant life change for women, especially of those who have not managed to replace caring for their children with another fulfilling interest. Women who gave up their careers for child-rearing have a harder time than those who managed to do both. Suddenly their whole purpose has vanished, and that realisation signals the starting point of their decline. Any planning past that point seems to centre around the next stage of grandchildren and retirement, and their demeanour demonstrates this change of circumstance quite clearly.
I don’t want to claim that I prepared any better than most other women when it came to my children growing up and leaving home. What I did do quite well was to turnaround my unexpected divorce to a catalyst for change. When a woman of a certain age finds herself alone, she can look at this in two ways. Either she can spend her days mourning the loss of her companion and the demise of her planned retirement, or she put her life on a new track by celebrating her unexpected freedom.
With the husband and the kids gone and assuming that she is financially independent or has managed some beneficial financial arrangement from her ex, life is her oyster. Suddenly she can have her agenda and do as she pleases. Women who have spent a lifetime pleasing someone else can make plans without interference. Stop for a moment and think about the enormity of this occurrence. With only yourself to think about you are finally released from your bondage and your obligations.
Admittedly it took me some time to fully digest what this meant. Responsibility, even when there is no one to be responsible for, is deeply ingrained in women. But as my kids stopped calling, and my ex stopped making me angry, my spirit rose, and I started reaping the benefits of freedom. Freedom, in fact, came in the guise of a new life, one devoid of guilt a servitude and with that came agelessness.
Agelessness is not Botox – even though it helps-. Agelessness is hope about the future. It is energy and a spring in your step; a spring that comes with an understanding that you can finally do what you want, disregarding conventions and ignoring what people may say about you. It is the most significant gift of ageing, this ability to recognise that life is finite, and you should take advantage of what you got and stop wasting your time and precious years pleasing others. Please yourself. Live the life you want. Make your dreams come true -as corny as that sounds. The key to agelessness is understanding and coming to terms with the limited time you still have. Stop and think about that. If you knew that you have ten years left before you get sick or become powerless, would you be doing what you are doing right now?