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