Why ageing is a good thing for women

Peig Sayers (1873 – 1958), author, storyteller and iconic figure in Ireland.

Looking older seems to be one of the hardest things for women to accept. Entire industries profit from (and actively encourage) female insecurity, and the work of chaining women to their looks starts young, as early as babyhood. In our beauty-obsessed society, it’s hard to find the key to unlock those chains.

At a social gathering last week, I was part of a discussion about Botox, fillers and plastic surgery. This was a first for me and I sat back and listened at the beginning because there was a lot of new information.

One of the group is a beauty blogger and had just tried Botox for research purposes.  Her message was that creams and supplements will do nothing to stop the hand of time. If you want to tackle wrinkles and sagging skin, you have to go for one of the medical interventions. Several of those present, women in their fifties, were considering doing exactly that.

I think people should feel free to do whatever they want to look better. Whether it’s going to the gym, eating in a healthier way or getting medical procedures done. But if the motivation is fear of ageing or losing attractiveness, I wonder if it’s really worthwhile. Ageing is good, it’s necessary and it should be liberating.

At least that’s how I choose to embrace ageing. I’m 51 years old and I welcome the season of caring less about my appearance. I think trying to look a decade younger at every age is a stressful and futile quest. I want to look well, not young. And how I look will depend on my level of contentment with life, and on my health.

When women post photos of themselves on social media, their friends rush to tell them how beautiful they look. We can’t all be beautiful and certainly not indefinitely. You can look lovely without looking beautiful, and you can look beautiful without looking lovely.

I don’t particularly remember being told I was pretty or beautiful as a girl. This message didn’t really feature, and as a result my looks were not central to my sense of worth, though, like any teenager, I did spend plenty of time looking in the mirror trying to summon beauty. I wasn’t an ugly duckling but I was no cygnet. Qualities in my character or the work I did was praised. Being funny, helping out at home, writing a poem, doing well in school – these were the things that were noticed. The love and approval I received from my parents was what made me secure, not any external measure of my attractiveness.  

In the years when I was working behind the bar as a student, I got compliments and insults about my appearance from punters, and I didn’t take either very much to heart. I would like my daughters to be grounded in the same way.

So what’s good about ageing? Many things, not just your chance to be free of artificial beauty standards. It’s your time to enjoy the good things in life – food, art, friendships, the beauty of others, maybe romance, maybe even grandchildren (in no particular order). It’s about benefiting from the long view, being able to make sense of things, truly appreciating the people in your life, now that you’ve starting to lose them, and helping others who still have a lot to learn. The second half of life, post fertility for women, can also be the time when you finally have the time and confidence to express your own creativity and talents.

Behind the fear of ageing lurks the deepest fear of all, fear of death. We are all meant to die and we don’t know when. But if we get to age first, it’s a blessing, so we should really separate the two fears. An old friend and contemporary of mine died recently. I shared part of my youth with him and the affection I felt for him all those years ago returned intact as I watched his funeral online last week.

So I will continue my ageing process and treat it as a gift from the universe. I don’t know how I’ll feel when old age really hits, but middle age has been good so far, despite the unmistakable traces of time on my face.

But what’s a few wrinkles between friends? There are so many important things to focus on over the next few decades: helping the younger generation to grow up safely, fulfilling my own potential, saying goodbye to the older generation, hoping we can reverse manmade damage to the planet before it’s too late.

What is your own experience of ageing? How do you think your upbringing or life path has influenced how you feel about your looks? I hope you find some encouragement from these ideas, and maybe even find the key to unlock those chains.  

Five Days by Douglas Kennedy

Five Days

After reading Five Days by Douglas Kennedy I now know what it’s like to be inside a toxic marriage. The miracle is how many people stay in failed relationships and it’s an interesting human weakness to examine.

The question could have been more compelling though if the main character Laura wasn’t so saintly and her husband Dan so despicable from beginning to end. Most husbands have some redeeming features!

This is a book of the economic downturn with a compelling portrayal of the financial struggle of the American middle class. For this reason it will resonate with a lot of readers in the United States and elsewhere. Another major point many readers will identify with is the disappointments of middle age – the sense of missed opportunities and time running out.

After the more exotic settings of his previous novels in places like Berlin, Paris and Hollywood, I like that Kennedy has set this story in such a low-key environment. Most of the action takes place in small-town Maine and a cheap hotel on the outskirts of Boston.

The book is a page-turner but unfortunately the strong plot is not always matched by great writing. The interaction between the Laura and her love interest Richard gets a little too sickly sweet for me. OK, the two of them are literature and language buffs and delight in finally meeting someone they can flirt with on an intellectual level but the constant synonym sparring and literary references get tiresome.

The fact that husband Dan is totally unsympathetic takes away some of the tension when Laura is faced with the choice of having an affair or not. Richard also has a horrible wife at home by his own account (or could this be what everyone says about their spouse when they are about to cheat?) so you feel no sense of protectiveness towards either of their spouses.

Kennedy squeezes the action inside five days, although they are not all consecutive so we do get to jump forward and view the outcome of the characters’ choices. There is quite a lot about Laura’s relationship with her children but as you don’t get to know the kids outside their mother’s adoring gaze, they don’t become very interesting as characters.

The best thing about this book is its depiction of the limitations people place on their lives. Kennedy actually says “don’t lock yourself into an existence that you don’t want”. Hopefully it will inspire some people to seize the moment. (On a side note I find it cruel that Americans get so little annual leave.)

Although Five Days fell a little short for me I remain a serious Kennedy fan – I’ve read everything of his so far and State of the Union is one of my favourite novels. I pushed really hard for my book club to choose this novel at our last meeting but it was voted down (we’re reading Téa Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife instead). Looking back now I think it was for the best.