We are happier, more confident and know our value
Now I am in my 50s, I can see that there are so many misconceptions and negative stereotypes around getting older, especially for women. Menopause is the most noticeable aspect of ageing for a woman but in reality, it is the expectations of society that are more of a handicap. These are slowly changing but we still have a long way to go before they finally die out. Sadly, many women still believe these outdated and harmful myths.
Here are five myths attributed to women as they get into middle age, and why they are rubbish.
1. Older women have little to offer employers
The idea that once our reproductive days are over our value to society is diminished is particularly offensive. It is bad enough that women face prejudice in the workplace because they might have children, but then to experience it again as we get into our 50s is a double affront.
Especially as, at that time, many women really come into their own.
Why is this stereotype so pervasive, I wonder? After all, by the time we get to 50, we will have had many roles in our life. Most of us will have careers, may have married and had a family and may also be caring for elderly relatives. We have a wealth of experience behind us which should be valued instead of dismissed.
In some ways, to some extent, this may be true. But not because we are not good at our jobs. Instead, I think that the real issue is that as we get older our values change. The things that seemed important when we were younger, like climbing the career ladder, just don’t seem that important anymore.
After all, the values deemed important to business are all about productivity and making money (usually for someone else). The work many women do for free such as taking on caring roles (sometimes looking after children and parents at the same time) is not counted as productive work.
After many years in the workforce, we see all too often how little the average business values its employees and disillusion sets in. I know many women who have got to this stage and decide they want more from life and from work. I know several women who have gone back to college, started their own businesses, retrained in a different field or gone part-time so they can pursue other interests.
Older women are still looking for a challenge but are refusing to conform to outdated views of how work should be. It is businesses that need to change, especially if they want to benefit from the experience and enthusiasm of older women in the workplace.
2. Mental and physical decline is inevitable
As a woman over 50, I thought it would be a good idea to enrol on some over 50s exercise courses. What a mistake. Who knew that when you got to 50 you suddenly stopped being able to walk. I don’t need chair yoga – I can still stand up even at the decrepit age of 57! Yes, as we get older we have to work harder to stay supple and strong but this is ridiculous.
There are many women (and men) in their 80s and 90s who are still active, mentally and physically. How about the inspiring Ernestine Shepherd, who started bodybuilding in her 50s and only stopped competing at 83.
There is absolutely no reason why we should not be able to keep active well into old age, and 57 most certainly isn’t that.
But what about our minds, do they change with age? We all heard the saying, ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.’ How true is it?
Our brains do change as we get older. They are changing all our lives, from birth to death. Our brains are reshaped throughout our life. They adapt and change depending on the mental challenges we face. The trick is to keep mentally active by continually learning new things.
According to Harvard Health, some of our cognitive abilities do deteriorate but some of them increase too. We may have more trouble processing information as we get older but we become better at linking information and seeing the big picture. Many people find that as they get older, they are more able to focus and concentrate. This may be because our brains are still developing into our late 30s and 40s.
If you don’t use you’re the muscles of your body or your brain then they will start to deteriorate. It is lack of use or disease that causes a decline in our mental and physical health much more than ageing.
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3. Older Women are no longer attractive
The stigma around ageing, especially for women, is slowly changing. Even so, there is no wonder many women try to stay looking as young as they can. There is still this idea that the older a woman gets the less attractive she becomes. Men with receding hairlines and paunches are still seen as ‘attractive’ well into middle age, but it seems women are still supposed to look as they did in their 20s when they are in their 50s.
I find it quite disconcerting when I see Hollywood actresses who are in their 50s and 60s posting pictures of themselves in bikinis with no wrinkles or fat on their bodies. For most of us, the effort and money it takes to look like that is not an option. I don’t think it is preferable either. Surely there is only so much plastic surgery and faddy diets you can go on before you start to look your age. You can’t defy the ageing process forever! What is wrong with a few wrinkles and a thicker waist anyway? Ageing is a natural process that brings many benefits. It is about time we allowed women to enjoy those benefits instead of trying to make them feel bad about the way they look.
The other side of the coin is that women who try to look younger are labelled ‘Mutton dressed as lamb.’ When it comes to ageing it seems we are damned if we do try to look young and damned if we don’t. Might as well please ourselves!
4. Once you get to 50 the best is behind you
The notion that you are ‘past it’ when you get to a particular age is ridiculous. Again, it is more likely to be aimed at women than men and seems to be directly related to our fertility.
I think this might be a case of misogyny and sour grapes!
Many women are enjoying their lives after they get to 50. Statistically, we have more money to spend and are still healthy and active enough to enjoy it (see 2). So, by the time we get to midlife we are less likely to be prepared to stroke men’s egos or put up with any crap. No wonder they are so miffed!
I’m not saying that once we get to 50 everything becomes wonderful, everyone’s position will be different. Some people will still have mortgages, have children at home and be looking after ageing parents. But on the whole, for most women their happiness levels increase after 50.
The life expectancy of women in the UK is 83.1. This means that we should have a third of our lives left to enjoy. Ageing is a state of mind to some extent. If you believe the best is behind you then it probably will be. But, if you appreciate what you have and make the most of it then it could be as good or better.
If you look at the other myths in this blog, you can see that the idea that the best is behind you at 50 is obviously wrong.
5. Older women are sad and bitter
I am sure there are some sad and bitter women, as well as men out there, but on the whole older women are more likely to be happy. A study has shown that women’s happiness increases from age 55 and peaking towards the end of our lives.
In both sexes’ happiness increases with age. But, on the whole, women rate themselves happier than men. They also tend to be less likely to suffer from mental health problems. This could be because we usually have closer relationships with family and friends. Have better support networks and are more likely to talk about or see a professional when they are ill. Additionally, as we get older we have a deeper understanding of ourselves and others we may have a better sense of humour and be more compassionate.
A recent survey that women over 50 are mostly happy with their lives. With their relationships and their bodies, especially when compared to women in their 20s.
As you can see, the idea that women are ‘past it’ when they get older is rubbish. In fact, I doubt it has ever really been true. The negative stereotypes that have plagued women once they reach a certain age shouldn’t be allowed to hold us back.
Don’t be afraid to embrace your ageing process – it can lead to many rewarding experiences. If you want it to be, you can make it your best time ever.