I turned 43 years-old on Monday—not a particularly momentous age, but one that got me thinking about how much I’m enjoying getting older. I feel more like myself than ever before, I love the family and friends I’ve cultivated, and—best of all—I really and truly don’t give a fuck what people think about me.
After decades of letting other people’s opinions shape and control my life, it’s quite a feeling. And one that’s completely unexpected.
Like most Americans—women, especially—I was taught to fear aging. Told that getting older meant I would be less attractive, socially irrelevant and hopelessly uncool.
What a fucking scam.
And a smart one, at that. Because when women buy into the idea that getting older is awful, we spend all of our time (and money, and energy) trying to soften the blow. We get painful surgeries or spend too much money on skincare; we cover our gray hair every four weeks and try to dress in the sweet spot of fashionable enough not to be a hag, but age-appropriate enough to not be seen as desperate.
The irony is that all of this work to look and feel younger actually staves off the best thing about aging: Not giving a fuck.
But I imagine that’s the point. Our culture depends on women caring—deeply—what other people think about them. It’s foundational to American patriarchy and consumerism. The worse we feel, the more we buy. The less we like ourselves, the more we depend on others’ opinions. And the longer women hold onto those insecurities, the better it is for the sexist status quo.
That’s why a fear of aging isn’t just ingrained in older women, but hammered into young women’s brains, as well. When women in their 20s are getting ‘preventative’ Botox and thinking about how to remain attractive to men (and therefore valuable to society), it’s more likely that they’ll care about these issues long-term.
In the event that women start to show signs of not caring, society has a surefire way to get us back in line. Women with any visible markers of not catering to men’s attention—dressing comfortably, let’s say, or going gray—are “letting themselves go.” (When you actually think about this phrase, it sounds quite nice—just letting go.) What better way to stop the power of women who don’t give a fuck than to deride them as useless slobs!
Teaching women to fear aging is just culture’s thinly-veiled hope that we won’t catch on to how great it actually is.
This isn’t to say that getting older is all good: I could do without the aches and pains, to be sure, and I think a lot about what the combination of age discrimination and sexism might mean for my career or life in the future. Older women are more likely to be economically insecure, and America’s abysmal health care system won’t be doing any of us any favors.
Still, every decade gets exponentially better. My 40s are better than my 30s by a landslide; and while I had a great time in my 20s, I’d never want to go back. I spent so much time worrying about how I seemed to other people, I never gave much mind to how I actually felt to myself.
So to the young women out there who are anxious about getting older: I promise that you will feel hotter, more secure, and happier than you do now. You will care about the things that matter more than the people who don’t. And if you’re like me, you’ll laugh over how worried you were.
Great article. Please include that you forget all those that trespassed on you.