In an image-obsessed world that seemingly values youth above wisdom, it’s no wonder so many of us dread our birthdays. But where does this fear stem from and can we overcome it? We chatted to five Aquarius readers aged between 32 and 56, about our society’s fear of ageing and felt inspired by what we heard.
Empowerment through age
If you were to take all the adverts for anti-ageing creams and treatments out there at face value, you’d think that grey hair and wrinkles were an unnatural scourge of womankind – something to be hidden and be ashamed of. But is there a flip side to the ageing coin? Our women certainly think so...
Chantelle: I’ve just turned 40. It’s been a crisis mentally and emotionally for a lot of my friends, but I am honestly loving it. I feel I have come into myself. I know what I want out of life and I accept myself more than I ever did. I accept my big bum and floppy thighs, my ‘twin’ tummy from giving birth to my now-16-year-old boy and girl. I love myself for who I am without being vain about it. And because I am happy, I can offer so much more than I used to. In your teens and twenties you’re trying to find yourself – you’ll do almost anything for people to accept you. You focus on the negative. But I don’t regret it. My experiences in my twenties and thirties, both negative and positive, have made me into the person I am now.
Kathryn: Yes, we don’t appreciate what we have until we’ve lost it. It’s like that email that was going around recently: “I wish I were as fat as I was when I first thought I was fat”. Now I’m in my 40s, I feel I am exactly where I am supposed to be. But if I hadn’t had what’s happened to me in the past five years, I might not feel how I do today.
Anna: I’m 32, and since I’ve left my twenties behind I believe I am now taken more seriously at work. I get more attention in a meeting room, people take my opinion into consideration. I now have the life and work experience to inspire people around me, who see me as wiser.
Debbie: I’m 59, and I’ve found it useful, as I’ve matured, to identify when I’m having ‘toxic’ thoughts. We all age, we all die eventually, but I’m not going to spend my years worrying about something that’s inevitable. The closer to 60 I get, the younger 70 seems. I don’t like growing old, but I am not fearful of it.
Lionela: I like myself more at 35 than I ever did as a teenager. I feel this is my golden age – but in 10 years’ time I think it will still be too.
Pressure to stay young
Even though our ladies are very happy with their ages, everyone has some awareness of the social and media pressure to stay looking young. We asked how this affects them…
Kathryn: There are so many stereotypes surrounding women and ageing. It’s often thought that if you haven’t passed certain milestones by a particular age, such as marriage and kids, then you have ‘failed’. I went through my 20s and 30s always fearing that I wasn’t good enough. Now I know that I don’t have to please anyone else. I know that I only have to do what makes me and my family happy.
Chantelle: I’ve found it can affect your friendships. Friends who haven’t reached where you have at the same time by a certain age can feel resentment or want to distance themselves.
Lionela: Yes, there is a lot of competition between women. We don’t regard each other as support systems sometimes, but as rivals. Especially in Dubai, when you don’t have the support system you grew up with, women can be very judgemental of each other. We’re all constantly trying to project this image of perfection, even if it’s just on an unconscious level. It’s heartbreaking. We should be more supportive of each other. If we all accept ourselves for our age and who we are, we can be ourselves, without having to pretend to be something else.
Kathryn: We are our own worst enemies. If we are critical of each other it is because of our own insecurities.
Chantelle: I think accepting yourself comes with age. Now, at 40, it’s not that I’m not worried about my husband looking at a younger woman, but I know who I am. You start loving yourself completely. You realise all the things you used to be so concerned about are immaterial. You can identify the women in your life who are not helping you and do something about it.
Debbie: I think we all have undealt-with issues. For me, I was abused at a young age. The self-loathing and poor self-esteem that stems from that goes on for years. Just because you get married or someone says ‘I love you’, it doesn’t make that self-loathing disappear. It’s about being insecure. In that context, ageing is just another way in which you can feel bad about yourself. Dealing with those underlying issues, wherever they come from, can help. If I feel someone is judging me because of my age, I will discipline myself on it, make myself look at it objectively, and nine times out of 10 I come to a place where I realise that even if they are excluding me or judging me because of my age, I don’t care. It doesn’t matter.
Botox and surgery
Although there’s still somewhat of a stigma attached to ageing interventions like Botox, fillers or surgery, these are becoming much more commonplace. One of the points our ladies raised was the dishonesty that surrounds these sorts of interventions – if everyone from your friends to Hollywood celebrities are claiming that they naturally look this good, but are secretly going under the needle or knife, it’s bound to leave other women feeling inadequate. We asked what our ladies think about the ageing interventions out there...
Anna: I’ve realised that what’s important is not looks but personality. Appearance is secondary – a few wrinkles, grey hair. They don’t matter, whether you fix them with hair dye and Botox, or not. Those are the unimportant things. If at some point I decide I want a little ‘fix’ like that, I might do something about it, and I wouldn’t be ashamed – I wouldn’t lie about it. But it’s what is underneath that really matters – being able to laugh at yourself, to be self-ironic. How we see ourselves in the mirror all comes from the inside. It’s easy to fix a nose, but it’s hard to fix a personality.
Lionela: Would I ever do Botox or fillers? Maybe. And if I do then good for me.
Chantelle: I don’t know why we put ourselves through all the pain and heartache that we do. I used to wear a lot of make-up. My husband used to ask me why, and say he preferred me without. We’re putting this pressure on ourselves. I also always used to want a boob job. I can feel that urge has gone away. I’m happy that a push-up bra has done the job I need it to, without me having to go as far as surgery.
The influences on how we feel
Our children are growing up in a very different world to the one we grew up in. How will this impact their self-esteem as they grow older? The mums in our group wondered:
Debbie: Parenting plays a vital role if we are to grow up embracing our age. The role of the father is particularly important as it shows daughters their first example of a man and how women should be treated.
Lionela: Yes, it all starts when we are little girls. I was a tomboy, but I was always told not to get my dress dirty, to behave like a lady. Before I was born, my mother had a picture in her head of what I should be like, and while I was growing up I had to live up to that. And now, as adults, we all have pictures in our heads of how we should be, how we should look. We need to forget those pictures in our heads.
Chantelle: I don’t think any age is an easy one. I’ve got two 16-year-olds. That is such a tough age. They want to be adults but are actually still kids. I feel social media has ruined our kids in a way. I never had this when I was young – the selfies, the Hotornot.coms, the constant obsession with appearance and approval based on that. My heart bleeds for parents raising their kids in this technological world. It’s all so new. I feel happy with myself now that I am 40, but what will the children of today, in this selfie-obsessed society, feel about turning 40 when they eventually get there?
Lionela: Yes, social media puts so much pressure on looks. In the short term selfies might heal the insecurity, but in the long term they feed it.
Kathryn: It is the same with popular culture. Some of the lyrics of the songs on the radio nowadays…
Anna: I think it’s important for parents to inspire their children in terms of ageing. I am inspired by my mum, who began travelling in her 40s, and learnt to drive in her 50s.
Chantelle: I feel that I am able to say I accept myself at the age I am because I am not addicted to social media, I don’t keep up with the Kardashians. This sort of thing is toxic for our minds, and we weigh ourselves against it. It’s the peer pressure of the world and by not constantly being on social media, I make sure it’s not on my shoulders. As I’ve got older, I care less now about the irrelevant, and more about the relevant, and all I can hope is that will happen to my children too.