In 2015 older women (and men) are redefining old age, embracing it as a complex, even rich period in our lives. We rail against the prevailing stereotypes of the bent-over elderly person hobbling along with a cane or a disgruntled old bag. We are a diverse group, reflecting a wide range of older adults.
While I fit the cultural stereotype of an older woman with wrinkles and a body that’s slowed-down, I’m much more than my outer appearances. My creative impulses are as strong as ever. My curiosity about the world is intact. I’m old but I still feel vibrant. I find a certain resonance with Julian Barnes, who writes in Nothing to Be Frightened of, that he is “more afraid of death than of old age.”
As I confess to ambivalence about growing old, I’m learning to celebrate what I’ve come to see as the advantages of being an old lady.
I feel more fully myself–less concerned with what others think of me as I allow my eccentricity to blossom. I talk freely to strangers who intrigue me. I’m becoming something of a madcap grandmother. I’m more comfortable attending social functions solo than I was at midlife.
As Gloria Steinem said, “Women are the one group who grow more radical with age.”
As I watch friends age, it’s becoming clear that there is a huge spectrum for aging. Just as in adolescence where we embraced our looming adulthood differently, today older adults define old age in a variety of ways.
There are the resistant ones, refusing to accept their age, exercising like maniacs and succumbing to plastic surgery, or rushing through their bucket lists. Others move into a somewhat hermetic existence, happy to be alone with their books and pets. There are the sad group of elders who get stuck in a depression when they lose a spouse, when they live at a distance from their children and grandchildren, or when they are beset with financial or health problems.
Still others, like the British author, Penelope Lively, now 83, accept the physical aches and pains of old age, while continuing their creative pursuits, finding much to celebrate about old age.
Lively writes in her memoir about aging, (Ammonites and Leaping Fish: A Life in Time): “Old age is not a pallid sort of place, but an almost luxurious appreciation of the world.”
Nor does old age mean we stop growing emotionally and psychologically. One older acquaintance, who just turned 80, and who lost her partner two years ago, told me that she’s discovering that living alone is a new adventure. She finds life “more expansive,” now that she has only herself to rely upon.
Not to be excluded are those older adults who, as lifetime activists, are visible during social action protests. There are on the streets of Paris this week, marching for climate change, or at home working for peace and Planned Parenthood.
None of us want to be sidelined, nor should we be. We still have much to offer the world.
How are you aging in a way that defies stereotypes of aging?