I was reading an article in the London Times the other day about the actress Renée Zellweger and how she is 53 and loving it. Now 53 is still relatively young, but the message was all the more refreshing because it was coming from a Hollywood star. It was accompanied by a photo shoot of her in black tank top and jeans – high end designer jeans, they were, but jeans nonetheless.
‘I have no interest in being 23,’ she told journalist Christa D’Souza. ‘Turning 50 felt like a whole new beginning without the nonsense, the point where you can stop listening to all those voices in your head and all those expectations and projections people have of you and become more authentically yourself.’
This idea of age and authenticity caught my eye because it echoes everything I’d been thinking recently about ageing, particularly in women, and not in just celebrities.
I’ve been thinking about the fact that our entire approach to growing old, particularly in America – and I’m mainly talking about female ageing here – is not just youth obsessed. It’s essentially apologetic.
It says, in effect: I’m sorry that I’m getting older, that I don’t look 20 anymore. I’d better undergo whatever embarrassing or painful move I need to make to convince you that I haven’t changed at all from that first flush of youth.
Or, as Zellweger puts it, ‘Hey look at me with my clothes off and I still look almost as good as I did back then.’ (Zellweger confirmed the statement she’d made in 2016 that she’d had not surgery done on her face and eyes – a circulating rumor at the time.)
Almost as good. Because the bare fact of it is that no matter how many facelifts or eye or tummy tucks any of us gets, we’re just not going to look the way we did at 20.
The best you’re going to achieve is a crude approximation of who you were decades ago.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m absolutely in favor of people looking as good as they can and having facials or treatments that make them feel that they’re putting forward their best self at any age. I want people to feel good about themselves.
But my big problem is the definition of what ‘feeling good about themselves’ entails, the backward-looking emphasis of all this, as though that best self was the one you and I were right out of school.
And of course, it’s a denial of the single biggest reality for women: that for the majority, the 30s and 40s are consumed by relationships and childbearing and putting all those needs in front of yours.
Once women are finally free to make their own contribution, to finally blossom into that glorious best self, they are already beginning to be considered past it. This isn’t true everywhere; in many countries in Europe, the elegance, assurance and wisdom of older women is celebrated. But it is true in the States and is creeping across the Atlantic.
I don’t know about any of you out there, but I see that gamine presence that was me in my 20s, right out of university, and I think of her, with every wrong turn and false accommodation, as a person waiting to be born.
It was much later that I, like a college friend of mine once put it, had arrived at a place where I could say: ‘This, apparently, is who I am.’
My life’s work didn’t show up until well after our children had arrived and I was in my 40s. My first important book on the new science, The Field, was published when I’d just turned 50.
A friend of mine, still attractive, once remarked wistfully: ‘I look in the mirror and all I see is decay.’
What I see when I look in the mirror is a vast landscape of open possibility. Our lovely daughters have grown and fled the nest. We are all close-knit, but they are now on their own path.
I see all the wisdom and skill I’ve gained in all the roles I’ve played in my life, and I think of the time and space that is now mine to put them, at last, to best possible use.
What I see in the mirror is that I’m just getting started.
I think of the late Barbara Marx Hubbard, this effervescent powerhouse undergoing her ‘regenepause,’ as she put it, at the age of 89.
As Zellweger said, ‘I don’t want to be ‘almost what I was.’ I want to be a thousand times better! . . .
And so do I – and I hope you do, too.
Yes, it was vitally important to start #metoo to end the rampant exploitation and sexism of younger women. But there’s another, equally important movement required now, a paradigm shift that would end the diminishment of women over 50, so that women can be confident to be themselves at this age and beyond.
In a nod to Zellweger's role as Brigit Jones, I'm calling it: #mejustwayIam
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