To age or not to age?

A reply to Nadine Cooper’s post

‘I like myself old. I like my grey hair and my wrinkles. I like my flabby bum and floppy tummy. Floppy tits. I don’t quite know why but I didn’t like myself when I was young, pretty, attractive, sexy.

To age or not to age pt2 - articleThis is a quote from one of the twenty women I held conversations with for my latest book, Bolder and Wiser.

When I was browsing the Henpicked website recently, I was put in mind of it by Nadine’s thought-provoking post, To age or not to age?

Of course, there is only one alternative to ageing, and it’s not so great. It’s inevitable that we either age somehow, or die young. I know which I’d prefer.

But age is such a loaded concept in the twenty-first century. It kicks in early, leaving some of us riddled with fear of ageing throughout our adult lives. We have access to an ever-increasing range of interventions to try to keep ourselves looking young on the outside. The choice of moisturisers alone is overwhelming.

About ten years ago, when I first spotted a few grey hairs, I did exactly as Nadine’s mother did. I pulled them out. Then they started coming thicker and faster so I turned to the dye. It was only the process of listening to conversations that led me to question my assumptions about this. For me, I had simply taken for granted that one of the more obvious signs of ageing – grey hair – was to be hidden as best I could. I believed that I couldn’t be taken seriously if I looked my age. That I would feel bad if I gave in to age. That I ‘should’ be fighting each sign of looking older as it arrived.

When I examined it, I reflected that our desire to look young is a little odd actually. If we could indeed drink the elixir of youth, would we really want to look as young as our granddaughters when we’re eighty?

Unchallenged assumptions can be unhelpful. They can mean we spend an increasing amount of our time, energy and money trying to mask a natural process and in doing so, we risk diverting that time, energy and money from other activities that we might find much more rewarding. The irony is that being engaged in interesting, enjoyable and meaningful activities, where we’re using our minds and bodies well, usually results in people who radiate youthful enthusiasm, whatever their age, or grey hair and wrinkle status.

Physical signs of ageing are unnerving. I can’t pretend I don’t still have moments of horror or nostalgia and everything in between. I’m not yet totally at peace with my own increasingly floppy tummy (and the rest).

My answer has been to do as Nadine suggests and to ask those who have ‘been there and done that’. I have been strengthened by the widespread message of acceptance that has come back.

Sarah’s latest book

Most of the women I talked to were certainly interested in looking good – but not interested in looking younger. There’s a big difference.

As another of the women said,

‘Eventually, if you live long enough, you’re going to have wrinkles. Look beyond it.’

Hear, hear.


Sarah Dale

About Sarah Dale

I'm an occupational psychologist and author. I've written two books, Keeping Your Spirits Up, and Bolder and Wiser, and I'm working on more. I enjoy coaching, organisational consultancy, writing and training to help people deal with uncertainty and change, and to make better sense of their lives. Follow me on Twitter

  • Nadine Cooper

    Thanks for reading and responding to my story Sarah. I agree acceptance is the way to go – I haven’t even managed to stick to the Eva Fraser programme I said I’d try. There’s too much else out there that’s more fun to do!

    I think because society’s expectations are that young=good then there is a fine line (at best) between “looking good” and “looking younger”. For example foundation evens out the colour of the skin – making it look younger. I’m not sure we even realise we’re doing it.

    I’d still like the free, safe, elixir of youth… but more to sort out my knees that are suffering following the Moonwalk, and increasingly dodgy eyes, than my lines. I’m not lucky enough to have children so will never have to worry about the granddaughter question. Though I would only take if a sip if my husband could too – I imagine I’d only have a very short-lived interest in toy boys!

  • Deborah

    I met Sarah on one of her Creating Focus courses. We all had a very insightful and fun afternoon.
    If you want to hear more from Sarah (in addition to her books) you can sign up for on her website, or follow her on twitter @creatingfocus or FB – Sarah Dale – author. And she’s one of the speakers at Serena Simmons’Multi-Passionate Women Conference on 30 May 2014.

    • I’m glad Nadine mentioned the other, more daunting aspects of aging—those that have little to do with our appearance. That’s certainly a preoccupation we mostly try to hold in check, but the *real* aging, as far as I’m concerned is the knees and eyes, as Nadine mentioned. Oh, and why do I suddenly have to wear arch supports in my shoes? And is that yet another food that no longer agrees with my digestion? And should I be winded after working out in only 3/4 of my zumba class?

      It’s wonderful, and I’m very fortunate, to have a community like this one here where we can talk about and smile over our aging concerns, small and large. You ladies rock!

  • Thanks for these comments – and I completely agree that it is the things like knees and eyesight that are more keenly felt than appearance. My optician warned me that I would probably need varifocals when I hit 45 – but I was rather surprised that this happened more or less on my 45th birthday! Whilst there is little that can be done to change this, accepting it did at least lead to getting really good lenses in my glasses and better lighting to read by – and, I think, things like exercise and sleep and good food, do more to keep our bodies and minds in as good a working order as they can be for as long as possible. I’m all for good working order if I can influence that at all! And – yes – tackling all these questions with each other for company is SO much better than fretting alone. Hope the knees are back to good working order now, Nadine! That moonwalk is a heck of a challenge 😉 Congratulations!

  • Deborah

    Well I don’t know about Nadine’s knees at the MoonWalk – I’ve seen her power walk! Maybe she’ll slow the pace next year.

    Eyesight is strange. My job-share partner asked why I’d started holding my iPhone at arms length one day. Didn’t realise I had and sure enough a test showed a bigger difference than I thought possible. As fast as that!

    I wear multi-focal contact lenses now. Don’t ask me how they work, they’re quite new I think. We’ve added an article on Henpicked about them now.

  • Deborah

    Recommend India Knight’s book – In Your Prime – love it!

  • I really enjoyed reading this. I find this pressure to stay ‘eternally youthful’ quite disturbing when it quite evidently isn’t physically possible. We are all going to age wether we like it or not. It’s how elegantly and respectfully we do it that matters. Personally I find trying to remember carrying my reading glasses around with me more challenging than irradicating my newest wrinkle. Or that the beautiful clothes I have in my wardrobe will never again get past my thighs. And every time I step from a kerb enthusiastically I risk shattering my knee. But as you mentioned, there are ways of looking and feeling healthy and radiant and I for one thrive on helping women do so. Naturally.