I just turned 44 earlier this week, and I’m SO proud of that. I tell everyone. It is a triumph that I made it at all, much less made it as a successful (if newbie) romance author who just finished her master’s degree and…wow, so many other things! I have survived!
I share my age with everyone shamelessly. If they think less of me for being “an old woman” I feel that is their problem.
But I have a close friend who is just a few years younger than me, and oh what a contrast. She’s beautiful and stylish and smart and has a classic hourglass figure. She’s also very paranoid about people finding out how old she is, for fear that they will treat her differently. She also easily “passes” for someone in her mid-30s, and she takes immense pride in that.
Me, I wonder what the value is in being perceived as a younger. Oh, I get it, from a social/anthropological perspective: our society is awash in ageism, and the idea that a woman’s intrinsic value is tied to her youthful beauty holds sway. Older people are discriminated against, and women over 40 are constantly made the butt of “cougar” jokes and told never to wear bikinis because we’re too old for them.
So, it’s not as if I can dismiss my friend’s concerns as unfounded. We met in graduate school, we’re both recent graduates, and in her case she’s working very hard to get a job in our field that is commiserate with her multiple advanced degrees and her experience. Chances are very good that her age is working against her on the job hunt, given that jobs are scarce and competition fierce.
It makes me profoundly sad, though, that she feels such embarrassment and shame about her age. She feels she need to encourage the idea that she’s younger than she is in order to feel good about herself. And this is what I mean when I ask the question about the value of being perceived as younger. Yes, externally, there are rewards for it. But internally, it is nothing but constant punishment for being who and what you are.
I feel that as long as we conform to the social demands that we, as older women, lie about our age and feel ashamed of being “old”, then we are contributing to the problem. Ageism will not stop being a problem for women until we openly say, “Yes, I’m 44, and damn proud of it; if you have a problem with that then you’re just a bigot.”