As little girls, we couldn't wait for each birthday. As teenagers, all we wanted was to be a little bit older and adulthood couldn't come quickly enough. Now we're all grown up, all we want is to stop the clock - to freeze our age in time.
We want to look young, act young, feel young, and at any cost. Entire industries are dedicated to creating elixirs of youth, to keep our skin wrinkle-free, and hormones and medication to confuse our bodies' natural changes.
By 2015, the global anti-ageing products market is expected to be worth US$290 billion. Why? Because it's always been a young woman's world. The same can not be said for men. George Clooney goes grey and he's a silver fox. Nicole Kidman lets a few grey strands peek through the red hair and she's slated for having a bad hair day. The pressure to retain our ‘youthful good looks' comes at us from all angles on a daily basis. The implication from all this age-defying information is that getting older, or at least looking older, is a flaw - something to hide, something to be ashamed of.
This month we're deciding to embrace our ages. To celebrate the wisdom and maturity that comes with each year of our lives. To stop hiding it and to bring it out into the open - to talk about menopause, fear of death, and how it feels to be discriminated against because of when you were born. Our age does not define us - there's much more to us than that - it's simply a measure of time, like the rings on a tree. And it's time we stopped living in fear of it.
To get the lowdown on what women really think about getting older, we gathered a group of Aquarius readers, ranging from being in their 20s to their 60s, for an evening at Bice Mare, Souk Al Bahar, to talk about how ageing affects us, what it feels like, the highs and the lows. Then we spoke to two life coaches Shana Kad (www.lifeeffectivecoaching.ae) and Evelyn Heffermehl (www.lighthousecoaching.ae) to get their insight on the topic. Here's what we discovered...
"I'm 60 on the outside, 20 on in the inside."
It's not how many birthdays you've had, but how you feel about your age that determines how ‘old' you act, look and feel. One reader said, "In our heads we haven't grown old. I'm in my 60s and I still like to go out and party. So, why shouldn't I?" According to our panel, life's stresses and joys are the same at any age. A reader in her 20s said, "I'm under pressure from my family to find the right guy and to have a career, but I still feel 16... I don't know what I want to do with my life." A reader in her 60s responded saying, "Don't worry, I'm 62 and I still don't know what I want to do when I grow up." Similarly, when the 20-something said it's hard at her age to find serious relationships, a reader in her 30s said she's having the same problems, but for different reasons. She says, "At 36 it's more difficult to meet men as you're used to being on your own and you're more independent." On the upside, when love does arrive, it's equally great at any age. "I met my second husband when I was 56 and it was amazing - it was like being a teenager all over again."
Evelyn says: "Some people are not enjoying their lives - they're complaining about everything and repeating negative patterns. Others sparkle with energy. It's not a question of age, but a question of spirit."
Shana says: "Age is absolutely in your head. If the image in your head sees you at 60 years old, sitting in your dressing gown with a cup of tea every night, you'll conform to that image. If at age 60, you run a marathon, or sign up for a university course, it will change your state of mind and you will feel younger and invigorated, and realise that you can do all of the things you want to do, without fear."
"If Demi can do it, I have to do it."
Most women agree that the age-less beings of Hollywood make the rest of us mere mortals feel as if ageing is unnecessary. One reader in her late 30s says, "The media and celebrities like Demi Moore have put a lot of pressure on us to look younger. We are made to feel like they are ‘It' - in fashion, in beauty and in life. We are fed the lie that life is for the young-looking, not the young-at-heart. In the space of one movie being shown on TV, I counted 17 ads for refirming, luminosity-boosting, age-defying products. How can one remain unaffected by it?" Another women said, "I think society holds women to a higher standard and are less accepting of their faults. Most beauty ads are targeted towards women and it almost feels like the hidden message is that there is no excuse not to look good, and that looking good means looking young." Additionally, when celebrities put themselves under the knife to maintain their youthful looks - and deny it - it creates a misleading impression of how women can look.
Shana says: "We don't know what's going on in our neighbours' lives, let alone these celebrities' lives. We perceive what we see of their lives in a certain way, but we don't know what's going on in their hearts, or in their minds. All you know is how you feel. Ask yourself how you would feel if you had Demi's body and would it make things better for you? If it would, look at ways you can work towards realistic goals in a healthy, positive way. Think to yourself, ‘I could look like that celebrity if I wanted to dedicate my life and my health to it, and if I was willing to put myself under the knife. But I'm embracing my age and my body. If I want to make changes, I will.'"
"She should not be wearing that."
It isn't just screen goddesses who make women feel that to age is to fail. Other women are quick to dig the knife in, too. "Women compare themselves with other women," said one reader. "We almost subconsciously start looking for flaws in each other. Not because we are mean, but because it's inbuilt in us from a young age." Another woman said, "In my opinion women dress for one another. Let's face it - men rarely get the maxi dresses, harem pants, or jumpsuits we perve over. We notice when that lady in front of us in the queue hasn't had her roots touched up." However, it's clear that this scrutiny of other women is not ageist - we criticise women of all ages. "It's not just older women that should think about whether what they're wearing is appropriate," says one reader. "Even young women should be graceful and know what looks good on their body."
Shana says: "We all judge other people in some way or the other. When you judge another women for how she looks, or what she's wearing, you are perceiving what you think would be said about you if you looked, or dressed, that way. Perhaps you are trying too hard to conform to what you feel other people expect of you? If so, maybe you should look at your own self-esteem. Everyone should be free to conform as they want to, without judgement. If you went and spoke to that woman and became best-buddies, you wouldn't care about her short dress anymore. However, if someone is dressing in an extreme way that makes other people feel uncomfortable, that would need to be looked at, too."
"We're not in age denial but society is ageist."
Age discrimination is rife - in the workplace, on the social scene, and even in the gym, but the women we spoke with seemed to agree that the UAE is less ageist than their home countries. One woman said, "When I go back to the UK and see my sisters and friends, they're all dressing as if they're really old and they're shocked at what I wear and the life I lead here. But age doesn't really matter that much here. I'm in my 60s and when I go out to restaurants, brunches, bars and concerts, I don't feel out of place. I dance and have a good time... My mother died at 87 thinking I was disgraceful. She thought I should have been living the life she lived in her 50s, when older people were stuck in a cupboard and forgotten about. But times are changing and the mindset is different now. Look at Meryl Streep in It's Complicated."
Shana says: "When people become expats, it often gives them the freedom to change and start doing things that are closer to their heart. If you go to a concert and can rave like a 20-year-old, then why not? It's not about acting young, it's about what society has said 20-year-olds can do and 50-year-olds can't do. But at the same time, as people grow older, they tend to naturally slow down. A lot of 50-year-olds don't want to go out clubbing, but it's nice to have the choice."
"Don't ask me my age and I'll tell you no lies."
Traditionally it has been thought of as rude for a man to ask a woman her age, the implication being that, if he knew her real age, he may think differently of her. Is this still the case? If so, is it OK for women to lie about their age? One reader admitted, "I don't lie about the fact that I'm 50, but I hide it because I don't feel it." Another reader said, "People often stereotype you based on your age, so sometimes it's acceptable to keep it to yourself." A third reader commented, "I don't think there's anything wrong with lying about your age... there are worse things to lie about, after all, such as your marital status."
Evelyn says: "Lying about your age shows that you put other people's judgement of you before your own ideas of yourself."
Shana says: "If you lie about your age, you have to ask yourself how much you believe your age defines who you are. Age is just a number - the real measure of life is how much you have learnt, who you've inspired, and what you've done along the way. If you lie about your age, is it because you haven't done as much as you feel you should? Is it because you aren't married yet and you feel you should be? What about the other great things that you have done? Embrace what you have done in your life, rather than the number of years you've spent doing it."
"Embrace the menopause."
Many women fear the menopause, seeing the end of their child-bearing years as the end of their role as a woman. One 40-year-old reader said, "When I speak to me friends about the menopause, there is a lot of paranoia. Maybe because women view the end of their productive years with a little pang of grief. Or, because it brings a sad realisation that we don't live forever and that our time here is fleeting. I think the loss of contributing to the miracle of life is poignant." On the other hand, there are definite positives to being post-menopausal, which many women look forward to. One woman in her early 50s said, "I haven't started the menopause yet, but I'm sure looking forward to it. It's going to be liberating. I don't see it as an end of my femininity, but an end of something that has bugged me every month of my life since I was 13."
Shana says: "In the same way that, in the past, menstruation was only talked about behind closed doors because it made people feel uncomfortable, now menopause is taboo. The problem is that people get scared when they can't get the information they need. So, at the very least, women should make an effort to talk about it with each other, so they can grow together and help each other, and bring the topic out into the open."
"Growing old gracefully is about acceptance."
As with anything in life, living in denial of your age will get you nowhere. It may be easier said than done, but getting to a point of acceptance will give you the freedom to enjoy it. The fact is that ageing is a natural process that only happens to the lucky ones. So, next time you're fretting over a stray grey hair, a wrinkle, or a lack of pertness in certain regions, try to think of all the people you've known in your life who would have loved the opportunity to grow old. One woman in her 30s said, "When you can accept your grey hair and the lines on your face, and you realise how futile it is to fight against this entirely natural occurrence, this is growing old gracefully. It's accepting that parts of your body may sag, but knowing that you still look beautiful and carry yourself with dignity, and that the maturity you have makes you glow."
Evelyn says: "Ageing gracefully is an inner state where you accept that time goes by, and that the life within us doesn't die. It's acceptance of the changes around us - the changes in life, in nature - and surrendering to it. Love yourself and connect with your sparkle... don't be trapped within your body and identified only by your appearance. Trust yourself. Know yourself. We are age-less beings in ageing bodies."
Shana says: "If you can't accept yourself, how will the rest of the world accept you? Accepting, embracing and loving your age - whatever age it is - is powerful and it's a way of celebrating each year that you've been alive. Some people don't get to live as long as you have - not accepting your age puts you in a state of being ungrateful. Think to yourself, ‘I've had the privilege of being alive and healthy for this amount of years, on this planet, and I've made my time here count."