In the UK today the average life expectancy for women is 82.9, and yet the way we talk about them over the age of 40 is still somewhere in the dark ages. Of course that attitude is changing, but in broad terms that means women continue to shoulder subtle and not so subtle negative references to our age for more than half our lives. It’s little wonder that ageing has taken on some negative connotations, but it doesn’t have to and shouldn’t be that way.
Fear of change
The negativity around ageing comes from a number of places. History, society… Instagram. Much of it however, is about change, and we do change as we get older. There are physical changes, lifestyle changes, hormonal changes and more.
Change, as Liz Ritchie, Integrative Psychotherapeutic Counsellor and Psychological Therapist, recently said to us, often comes with negative feelings but it can also be very exciting. She said:
“A lot of us fear change because it’s the unknown, but I did my best work in my life when I was 45 or even later.”
As with anything, on a personal note, change can be difficult to handle, and of course it can cause challenges. In menopause, many women experience tiredness, depression and anxiety on the one hand, as well as physical challenges on the other - hot flashes, skin changes, fluctuating weight, and more.
Collectively though, the way we talk about age related change is deeply damaging, both to the individual and as a societal whole. A lot of the negativity in the narrative is tied up with deriding the signs of getting older, including but not limited to:
- Line and wrinkles
- Changes in body shape
- Changes in libido
The damage caused by negativity
In essence, we are negative about anything that’s construed as the antithesis of youth - especially in women. This has an impact across the board. For example, Refinery is currently doing a series of articles called Changing Faces, in which they look at everything from selfie culture to how young women really feel about ageing.
In one article, they talked about how young women are getting into credit card debt to keep up with aesthetics treatments like Botox. One women, Shelley (age 27), said she took out a credit card for emergencies and to build her credit score, but soon "began to use her credit card because she felt it was ‘an emergency’ when her ‘forehead was starting to get movement back’ and she had other expenses to account for.”
Now, don’t get us wrong, we’re great fans of the world of aesthetics and we know some incredible, highly trained practitioners - several of whom you will find on this site.Who wouldn’t want to look and feel their best? What that means is entirely down to you as an individual. The issue isn’t in the treatments, it’s in the negativity around ageing.
When a fear of ageing is causing women to get into debt or put themselves in harm’s way by seeking cut-price alternatives and under qualified practitioners - then we see one aspect of the damage the conversation is causing.
How the conversation is changing
Yet despite all the negativity, the conversation is changing and there is scope for us to change it further. By the time women reach menopause, they are powerful and capable people who have survived everything life has thrown at them so far. It helps that there are women with a public platform who are using it to change the narrative.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge (36), the celebrated writer of Killing Eve, included a scene in her hit show Fleabag, featuring the fantastic Kristin Scott Thomas (61) giving a three-minute soliloquy on menopause.
"Women are born with pain built in. It’s our physical destiny – period pains, sore boobs, childbirth. We carry it within ourselves throughout our lives. Men don’t. They have to seek it out. They invent all these gods and demons so they can feel guilty about things, which is something we do very well on our own. And then they create wars so they can feel things and touch each other and when there aren’t any wars they can play rugby. We have it all going on in here, inside. We have pain on a cycle for years and years and years, and then just when you feel you are making peace with it all, what happens? The menopause comes. The f*****g menopause comes and it is the most wonderful f*****g thing in the world. Yes, your entire pelvic floor crumbles and you get f*****g hot and no one cares, but then you’re free. No longer a slave, no longer a machine with parts. You’re just a person. In business."
On another note, Lorraine Pascale, former model, TV cook and author took to Instagram recently to discuss ageing, and on a post titled ‘How to Age?’ said succinctly:
“You don’t have to let your hair go grey, you don’t have to avoid fillers, you don’t have to wear age appropriate clothing. This is your time to live life your way. Just do you.”
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Women over 40 are fabulous
Of course, they are not the only people changing the conversation. There’s a tidal surge of women who refuse to suffer in silence, refuse to be invisible, to shrink into obscurity and to do as they’re told. For their entire lives they’ve been taught to speak up, break glass ceilings and push boundaries, and they’re not going to stop now. However, that doesn’t make it easy.
It’s not easy for women to get the support they need when they’re feeling like their sense of self is being challenged by fluctuating hormones. When their body doesn’t feel quite the same, and when they are suffering from brain fog, they could really do with a little empathy to remind them that they haven’t lost their minds.
Up to 90% of women experience menopausal symptoms, but only 40% ask their doctor for help - 60% don’t. Very few women feel able to ask for reasonable changes to their working environment to support their professional needs during menopause, and more women than we can count have had their own feelings on menopause invalidated by professionals who prescribe HRT without listening to them.
We need to change the conversation around menopause because it’s disrespectful, unhelpful and undermining. However, we also need to change the conversation because it’s damaging - not just to women, but to all of us. These are women who have a wealth of experience, talent, empathy and power to bring to all aspects of life. The very least we could do is give them the respect they deserve.
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