A Certain Age

How old are you?

And do you tell people?

Time was, a woman simply wasn’t expected to admit to her age. Admit. An interesting choice of word – we also admit to mistakes and we admit to being wrong. Are we expected to feel guilty for getting older every year?

It was like that for a very long time – when Elizabeth Bennet was asked her age by Lady Catherine de Burgh, Jane Austen has her say, ‘With two younger sisters out in society you can hardly expect me to own it’. And she was only in her early 20s!! So, for at least 200 years (Pride and Prejudice was written in 1797) women haven’t talked about their age.

My mother had never told anyone – I only found it out myself when I was 16, and that was by accident. She simply allowed people to believe she was the same age as my father – in fact, she’s 6 years older. It’s only now, approaching 90, that she feels able to admit her age (there’s that word again).

And for many years I did the same. I didn’t lie about it, I just simply didn’t mention it. It was what I thought I was supposed to do. But when I was 45 a younger friend made a very interesting point. She said that if older women don’t say how old they are, younger women will get a false view of what a woman at any given age is capable of. For example – if you’re in your 50s but only admit to being in your 40s, then go off and do a parachute jump, or cycle across America, people will think ‘there’s a woman in her 40s doing something amazing’. In fact they should be thinking ‘there’s a woman in her 50s doing something amazing’. It skews our expectations. We get a false idea of what older women are up to.

So – I’m up front about my age. If someone asks I will tell them. I included my age in my first ever post to this blog – 58 and counting (needs updating!!). I’m told I don’t look my age – but I take that with a pinch of salt, because we’ve already established that women haven’t admitted to their age for a couple of hundred years at least, so how does anyone have any idea of what a (now) 59 year old woman looks like??

These days age is a protected characteristic – like gender, disability, race and sexuality, you can’t be discriminated against on account of your age. I think that’s helped – I can tell you my age because I know that, legally, doing so won’t be detrimental to me.

We’re much more up front about our ages these days (and many other things). I pretty much know the age of all the women I work with. It falls into the long list of things we never used to talk about, but which we now feel able to talk about. I mentioned a couple of others in Wee Need to Talk and A Change for the Better.

I think it’s a good thing. It means we have a more realistic idea of the ‘norm’ for any given age. It also means we don’t have to pretend we’re something we’re not. It’s more honest. And when an older woman does something amazing, we know she’s an older woman – which raises our expectations of what older women can do.

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Deirdré Meyburgh says:

    I am 63 years old! Proud of it! I exercise, run a bit, eat healthy foods, and keep up with my kids and grandkids. I DECIDED I’m not going to let age define me. I think we woman get more interesting with age. It’s all just a mindset.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. That’s the key, isn’t it – deciding. Taking control. Agency. Not letting the stereotypes define us.

    Like

  3. anglosvizzera says:

    It is odd isn’t it? I have never had any issues with revealing my age, other than in my teens when visiting pubs under-age!! I recall one time my boyfriend, who was 19, was asked if he was old enough to be there, and the barman didn’t take any notice of me at the tender age of 14…although admittedly I looked older.

    About 11 years ago, when I was 50, I was working in a language school and invited some of my colleagues out for a drink on my 51st birthday. On the way to the pub, they were trying to guess how old I was…starting at 35, then 38, then 42…to which I said to go a lot higher…and they couldn’t believe I was 51!

    I had been dyeing my hair once it started to go grey in my 40s following a ‘friend’ in the school playground coming up to me and saying she’d been wondering “who that old granny was” on the other side, meaning me, of course! So having dark hair again evidently seemed to take years off my real age…but as soon as I became an actual granny, I vowed to stop dyeing it as it was always a pain to keep up with and I was also concerned about health implications.

    So now I have almost white hair and probably look more like my real age…and who cares? My (now 3rd) husband has similar coloured hair which I find extremely attractive (in fact I was looking for a man with grey hair when I found him on Match.com!) and he loves my ‘new’ hair.

    Age is, after all, just a state of mind, I think – inside I still feel 15 but with a lot more experience!

    Like

  4. That reminds me of when I turned 40 – I was teaching Y1 at the time, and word got out that I was having a ‘big’ birthday. The kids wanted to know how old I was, so I made them guess. I got every age from 13 to 100. Oddly, there wasn’t even a ‘cluster’ of guesses around my actual age. They simply didn’t have a clue (and I didn’t tell them either!).

    Liked by 1 person

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