At first glance, there are few evident advantages to being middle aged. Arthritis sets in and getting up from a low sofa becomes inelegant and embarrassing. A moment ago you were draining your third margarita whilst spreading filthy gossip and now you’re heaving yourself upright with stiff knees and a bad back. It’s humiliating, painful. Welcome to 60.
And then there’s the age-related long sight. You can recognise the home of a grown gal by pairs of over-the-counter spectacles found in the kitchen, in the living room, by the television, in the bathroom, by the bed and several broken pairs in drawers for when she can’t find her prescription pair. This is in addition to the varifocals that now lurk in her handbag (attached to a chain so that she doesn’t lose them) that make her resemble a 1950s librarian. Ghastly.
And dare I mention the trips to the hairdresser to have roots touched up. The resorting to sensible shoes. Fury with everyone under 30 with their fingers and eyes glued to their mobile phones on buses and tubes – even walking the streets and in the bloody library? Don’t these people ever read an actual book?
It can appear a grim scene as you gaze down from the summit of maturity onto the foothills of youth in all its soft focus, easy-limbed fluidity. But it’s not the whole picture. There is another view from the craggy peak of 60 that eases the pain of ageing disgracefully, and that view is us ourselves.
I have never felt more entitled to say what I actually think at work, in public and even at social gatherings. Aged 60 I have experience. I have worked all over the world, designed and created things as various as a fabulous cake, a well-crafted short story, a handsome, clever son and a powerful performance. We grown gals are campaigning ferociously, chairing meetings, paying our own bills, employing other people to do things we hate (hello housework, who are you?) and we know stuff. I mean, we really know stuff, we happy band of grown gals – more than the younger, fitter, gimlet-eyed next generation. This is the great, unspoken bonus of ageing: the experience and the courage to say no to things we don’t want, to confront people and be outspoken when the dragons are snapping in the boardroom. We can be genuinely intimidating and gloriously righteous because we’ve been there and done it. We have earned the right to be heard.
So, perhaps getting older does mean getting wiser? The reason we have the confidence to speak out is because we actually have some of the answers. I have faced down decisions in the workplace by making it very clear that they were dreadful ideas – and when the arthritic crone with tequila breath and a designer handbag speaks, people listen. Grown gals have hard-won authority and experience. See us in our droves on campaigning marches, hounding our local councils, challenging the status quo alongside our student sisters!
So, happily, it’s not all creaky joints and dim sight. It’s also loving what we have become. We don’t just have to turn into our mothers (although in most cases, that wouldn’t be a bad thing: these amazing women came through WW2 and raised families in a pre-feminist era; they are unsung heroines), but we have had the freedom and the choice to be different from them. Perhaps we chose not to have children and to pursue a career, or to follow a personal, creative star or maybe we had the courage to leave a bad marriage and completely change our way of living: choices they never really had.
And we can also learn from our younger sisters. We can share our bruises with the next generation and, in turn, be inspired by their energy. Teaching at a university, I benefit from my students who help me to see the world with different, younger eyes. We are never too old to be inspired by young women’s audacity and ambition. Maybe this is how we retain the positivity of our youth and remain passionate about the future?
So, a toast to us! We are amazing; a generation of fabulous women, glamorous and aspirational for an interesting decline rather than a slow descent. Experienced and knowledgeable, with the courage to speak out.
I wouldn’t have it any other way. Welcome to 60.
(Grown Gals contributor)
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