Disclosure: This post is made possible with support from AARP’s Disrupt Aging. All opinions are my own.
As I get older, I have noticed myself starting to unconsciously recoil when anyone asks me what my age is. This wasn’t something I ever thought I would do because I just never thought age was a big deal. Age was just a number and I’ve never shied away from bucking the system. Of course, when you’re young, it’s not a big deal. It’s not until you are on the other side of young that you start to consider that you might be old. The funny thing is this isn’t even by my own doing.
Everywhere I look, society is trying to tell me what I should and shouldn’t be doing at “my age”. How I should or shouldn’t be dressing or wearing my hair from the ads on television and in magazines to the articles all over the internet of women judging other women. Why is any of that important and why are any of us leaving our happiness in the hands of the collective “we”? Who knows better what will make me happy than me?
Still, here I am finding myself hesitating when asked how old I am. Becoming indignant when the gynecologist’s nurse dared to ask if I was “perimenopausal” (which I found out any woman can be beginning at age 30). I was downright offended when a grandmother at the playground, asked if I remembered when “we” were young? I’m pretty sure she and I were young a few decades apart but why does any of that matter? And why was I so upset? Conditioning.
The thing is society has taught us that as women get older they get invisible but when men get older they become distinguished. We are seen as objects of beauty and when that beauty fades, we are no longer seen at all. I’m not ready to be invisible. In fact, I kind of like the fact that I can finally be seen for my brain and my personality and not just my breasts. I’m tired of being described by my body parts. Those are not accomplishments.
Still, if you ask me my age these days, I don’t particularly want to scream it from the rooftops like I did when I was 21. It feels about as intrusive as asking me my weight and we all know that’s the worst. So I wonder, how can I know this is stupid to be embarrassed about and yet, still feel completely self-conscious about the question? It’s the conditioning I’ve had from birth; the conditioning every little girl in the world has had. How do we change this? This is not what I want for my girls.
From my own experiences, I’ve made it a mission to raise strong, independent and fierce daughters. I’ve taught them to be proud of their intelligence and their personalities. I’ve taught them to love their body. I’ve raised them believing that they could conquer the world. What I’ve neglected to consider was that I’ve shown them that there is value in beauty which I never meant to do. I’ve written their narrative using adjectives like pretty, sweet and cute.
I learned through a recent conversation with Cindy Gallop that teenage girls are the most disregarded of all the females. At first, I found that hard to believe and then I realized that it is true. No one listens to a teen girl, we are all dismissive and what message does that send? In fact, I am guilty of this myself but I am trying harder.
I’ve been actively stopping what I am doing to listen to my daughters. It’s hard when you have tweens and teens. They tend to talk a lot and it’s not all relevant but it is to them. So while I may not be interested in what every one of their friends is doing at school, I am interested in the fact that my daughters want to talk to me and that makes it worth my time to listen. It’s about giving value to her words, thoughts and feelings and not just her beauty. It’s validation for the right things; who she is, what she thinks and what she says.
We’ve unconsciously allowed the male lens to form or views for so long. We even determine our own worth with how sexually attractive we are through that lens. We need to change the lens.
Young girls are dismissed for being young. As women, we need to make sure those young girls feel heard and gain confidence to become strong and never need a man’s approval on how to live her life. We need to teach our girls to live life on their own terms and enjoy the now. We need to drill into our young girls’ heads that they are invaluable at every age because their worth is based on what is between their ears and not their legs.
Older women are dismissed, as our beauty fades, society has taught us and expects us to disappear…becoming more invisible with each passing year. But we are not invisible and we shouldn’t be treated as such. We shouldn’t be expected to go quietly into that good night. Not me, I’m going to fight to the very end. I’m going to fight for every little girl in the world.
If I could give my girls any advice to live their best life, it would be this:
- Write your own rules.
- Promote yourself because no one else is going to do it.
- Promote what you bring to the table at any age, no matter what that is…wisdom, experience, youth, energy, whatever it is that makes you an asset. We all have something special to offer.
- Understand your value at every age.
- Actively challenge stereotypes.
- Appreciate the life you’ve lived and the stories you’ve made or will make.
- Last but certainly not least, the most valuable piece of advice my dad ever gave me, if you have something to say, stand up and say it. Be heard and don’t let anyone tell you to be quiet.