By Rachel Lankester, founder Magnificent Midlife
There is so much negativity about women over 50. Let’s bash a few myths and write a new story!
You’re never too old and it’s never too late
You may have been taught and come to believe that it’s all downhill for women over 50. You may have been thinking this for a number of years already. But remember that average life expectancy for women in the West is about 81/2. If you think about what you achieved in life before you were 50, say from 20 to 50, that’s 30 years. If you’re aiming to get to 90 and you’re in your 50s now, you have 30+ years in which to make a difference.
What decisions will you make now about your life knowing you have that much time left. The amazing yogi Tao Porchon-Lynch took up ballroom dancing in her 80s and competed on America’s Got Talent at 96! She might be considered a super-ager but that doesn’t mean you can’t also reinvent yourself and try something completely new at any age. So don’t put limitations on yourself.
Ageism begins between our ears
Ageism begins between our ears, says Ashton Applewhite, the anti-ageism activist. It starts with the narratives going round in our heads. These have been learned throughout lifetimes of inherent ageism focused particularly on women, such as messages to cover up gray hair, buy useless products to hold back wrinkles and age-spots, and undergo injections and surgery to hold back the “ravages” of time.
Our beliefs are the product of our learning and experiences. But we can change our beliefs. So next time you think you’re too old for this, or too old for that, stop yourself and think about where that idea came from, whether it has any validity at all and whether you can just chuck it out with the garbage. Maybe you think you have to be a certain way because you are a certain age. Never put yourself in a box because of your age!
Anti-aging is about as much use as anti-night-time
It isn’t going to get you very far! I want us to be pro-aging or age-positive. I believe women are beautiful at any age. Youth doesn’t bestow some magical lustre of beauty and perfection, we’ve just been brainwashed to think it does. We need to change our perception of beauty, not give it an age cutoff. All those anti-aging products reinforce the idea that getting older is bad, that we get less if we age. Aging is a gift and we get better with age not worse.
I hear women talk of the perfection of youth and how they are, therefore, now less than perfect. I say, “rubbish!” We are perfect exactly how we are: big, small, old, young, all colors, all shapes, and all sizes. We don’t discount the beauty of autumn leaves in favor of spring blossom. Each is beautiful, just different from the other. Our beauty doesn’t diminish as we age; it evolves.
You don’t need to hide your visible signs of aging
There are few negative associations around men aging. They become silver foxes. They don’t become invisible when they have wrinkles and gray hair. Their stature increases rather than diminishes as they age. And, of course, the ultimate injustice: they can continue to reproduce until the day they die (well, technically, anyway). But not us women. Not only do our eggs have a use by date, but we’re also taught to be ashamed of and cover up the signs of aging.
We’re made to feel shame for every wrinkle, sunspot or gray hair. We get the Botox, the facelifts, the hair dye. And we contribute to making older women invisible because we’re not looking the way nature meant us to look at this time of life. We may believe it’s what we want and that we’re exercising freedom of choice. If you want Botox and hair dye go for it. However, I’d argue that the decision to get Botox, or cover the gray, isn’t just yours alone; you’re not making it in isolation.
You’ve likely been taught by the media that visibly aging skin is bad, or at least not as good as young skin. You’ve been taught to view your own face as less attractive if it shows signs of age or even just looks tired as you perceive it. And that gray hair makes you look prematurely old. Make a decision to ignore what the media tells you and age however you want.
You’ll likely get happier from now on
It’s been scientifically proven that we’re happiest at the beginnings and ends of our lives with a big dip in the middle like a letter U: the U-Curve of Happiness. Research shows that 47 is our unhappiest age, the depths of midlife malaise. If you’ve been feeling down in midlife, the U-curve of happiness is there to back you up and pull you forward. Things will, for most of us, get better in the happiness stakes as life goes on.
There may be nothing in particular making you unhappy; it’s just a natural phase of life. It’s the middle that can get us down simply because it’s the middle. Feelings of discontent, restlessness, and even sometimes worthlessness are not unexpected. Big birthday soul-searching can make it all the worse.
We’re still tied to those outdated ideas of what we should and shouldn’t have achieved by any particular age, forgetting, as we are wont to do, that we all have different lives and are on different trajectories. Comparison is the thief of joy. (If I ever get a tattoo, it may well say that.)
I don’t want you to fall into the trap of midlife malaise like I did for a while. There are many steps you can take to make this the most magical time of your life, so far. Sometimes a little knowledge can be so powerful. I wish I’d known about the U-curve of happiness when I was in the pit of my struggles in the first half of my 40s. How much easier it would have been if I could have stopped beating myself up about feeling bad and embraced this natural transition then. Now that I know about the U-curve, I’m even more excited about the years to come.
Menopause is not the end of meaningful life, but a catalyst for a better next chapter
So much of the language used about menopause is negative. We over medicalise it talking about “reproductive” or “ovarian failure”. Often it’s such a taboo subject that women start going through perimenopause and don’t even realize what’s going on. There’s a lot of embarrassment and shame attached to it which I’m determined to stop!
This article is an edited abstract from my book, Magnificent Midlife: Transform Your Middle Years, Menopause and Beyond. I went through early menopause at 41 which at the time was devastating, but now in my mid 50s I see menopause as a gift. I like to say that the end of my fertility has become the most fertile time of my life.
Menopause allowed me to take stock of what was working and what no longer served me in my life, and to make changes accordingly. I was able to re-evaluate how I was living and start taking much better care of my health. I’m doing things post menopause that I never would have dreamt of before.
In many cultures around the world, women get more status the older they get, not less. I’d like that to be the case for women everywhere in the world. The world needs our wisdom and experience.
It’s important to be more whale!
One of my favorite things I’ve learnt about menopause is that there are two creatures on this planet who go through menopause, human females and whales. When whales go through menopause, at about the same age as us, they then go on, sometimes for another 50 years, to become the leaders of their pods. Theirs is a truly matriarchal society.
In traditional societies, such as hunter-gatherer ones, older women were respected and valued because they knew how to keep their communities safe, what was poisonous and what herbs could heal, and how to enable people to live together well. I like to extrapolate from the whale story, that like those wonderful creatures, we women are more value to our communities as we get older as leaders than as breeders. Doesn’t that put a whole different slant on menopause and getting older?!
I hope you’ve enjoyed my 7 key things to remember for women over 50. There’s so much negativity about getting older in Western society, especially for women. I talk about this in more detail in my book, as well as helping you craft the next chapter of your dreams.
Never forget – you are magnificent, you will be magnificent and the world needs you in all your magnificence.
Rachel Lankester is the founder of Magnificent Midlife, author, host of the Magnificent Midlife Podcast, a midlife mentor and editor of the Mutton Club online magazine. After an initially devastating early menopause at 41, she dedicated herself to helping women vibrantly transition through the sometimes messy middle of life, helping them cope better with menopause and ageing in general, and create magnificent next chapters. She’s been featured in/on BBC Woman’s Hour, The Huffington Post, The Sunday Times, Thrive Global, Authority Magazine, The Age Buster, Woman’s Weekly, Prima Magazine, eShe, Tatler HK and Woman’s Own amongst others. She believes we just get better with age. Get her book Magnificent Midlife: Transform Your Middle Years, Menopause and Beyond which was recommended in the New York Times.
Last Updated on January 18, 2023 by Editorial Staff