The reality is women are living longer, fuller lives. So how do get what you want out of your fifties, without losing sight of who you are?
LaNae Valentine, PhD, with BYU Women’s Services looks at the positives and the pressures.
The Wonderful New Reality
When I was growing up, 50 seemed pretty old and people who were 50 looked old to me. But now, 50 is just another number, especially for those of us who are past 50. 50 is the new 40 is a phrase that reflects a renewed energy resulting from improvement in diet, an active lifestyle and healthcare. The good news is that some of the things that used to be scary about mid-life, aren’t anymore. Research shows that youthful 50-somethings take advantage of better health, better finances and plenty of energy. Life doesn’t have to start declining at 50. For many it can feel like a passport to freedom.
By 50, the kids are probably in their teens or older and less needy. They have often left home altogether. Also, you’re not struggling to balance family life and carving out a career. You’re free to have friends over more often, to work on projects or do things you didn’t have time for before or simply to enjoy time to yourself. By age 50 many people are more content and more confident than they used to be, because with age comes wisdom and an acceptance of who you are and what you want.
According to research, the majority of 50-somethings expect to enjoy a fulfilling sex life well into their 70s and 80s. Hopefully at this stage in life people are at ease with their body and all its flaws and virtues and can be more relaxed and enjoy physical intimacy. (we don’t have to use this . . . just an interesting fact).
Now is the time to learn French, to write a book, to travel, to volunteer – with our newfound freedom, confidence, health and vitality we can continue to contribute and be useful. It’s definitely time to start enjoying life and all that it offers if we haven’t already.
The Same Old Reality
This 50+ generation is the wealthiest general demographic on earth with the greatest net worth, disposable income, and buying power. Thus we are a large demographic for the beauty, diet, fitness and fashion industries to cash in on. Advertisers are trying to determine how to best reach this most affluent group of consumers on the planet. They will target both men and women, but especially women, as they always have. They will play upon our insecurities about how we look still projecting a beauty ideal that is youthful, thin and sexy. Do we really want to be under the tyranny of this ideal from age 3 to 90? Why does the way we look have to always be the most important thing about us? Why can’t women age gracefully and still be considered beautiful? Why can’t gray or white hair be beautiful? Why does young, flawless and sexy always have to be the standard?
I understand that in the fashion industry there always has to be an erogenous zone showing and the current zone is legs. I read this is a dilemma for women over 40 – because we start developing varicose veins, our legs don’t look that great as we age and we don’t look that good in really short skirts. So does this mean we all have to have surgeries to remove our veins? Why can’t we just accept that – that 40, 50, 60 year old women don’t need to wear mini-skirts and we don’t need to wear bikini’s. It’s great if you want to, but we don’t have to feel guilty about our bodies aging and changing – it’s a normal process.
Freedom from Tyranny
I have a friend who in her 50s had a liposuction procedure to remove some stomach fat she was never able to lose after her pregnancies. She is an avid cyclist, eats healthy and keeps active. But in spite of riding her bicycle an average of 100 miles/week, she could not lose the stomach fat. She finally broke down and had the procedure done. She said it was one of the best things she’s ever done for her self-esteem. Of course I’m happy for her. She is enjoying the figure she had before her pregnancies. I’m glad that she feels better about herself; because I think she deserves to feel good about herself. It just makes me a little sad that in spite of raising a wonderful family, in spite of being an accomplished pianist, going to graduate school, teaching at a university, in spite of being an amazingly talented woman, she couldn’t totally feel good about herself because of how she looked.
But I understand. We live in a world that demands physical perfection. I would just like to see a change -where our self-worth isn’t so dependent upon physical perfection, where we can look deeper and really see one another. I wish we were better at validating one another on who we are rather than how we look. I wish we could all relax and be more accepting of ourselves and one another.
Given the fact that we have more freedom, more money, more health and energy – aren’t there better ways to spend it than on how we look? The stories of aging that inspire me the most are those I hear about women doing age defying things – like the woman who wrote her first novel in her 80’s. My hairdresser who is age 66 runs 2-3 marathons a year. The 50 something housewife who built a school in India. We are doing an education conference at BYU and have been recruiting BYU students to participate in a panel where they share how they made the decision to go to graduate school. I was delighted to see a woman respond who made the decision to come to graduate school at age 71. She still wants to be useful, to contribute, to keep learning and growing. I read an article about the world’s oldest yoga instructor – she’s 93. And yes, I think it’s great that Rachel Welch is still rockin’ at age 71, but I’m more inspired by the woman going to graduate school. She’ll probably never make the cover of a magazine – but I’m inspired by people who develop themselves beyond how they look. I would rather do something amazing at age 50 than look amazing in a bikini at age 50.