The Wednesday Weigh In: Birthdays and aging

vintage clariol ad for women who are losing friends bc of gray hair

Yesterday I turned 25. My birthday was lovely, with friends, family, and my Feministing crew really going all out to celebrate my day of birth. It was quite humbling and made me really grateful to have these people in my life. It also, being my 25th birthday, made me think about aging and ageism.

I would never have classified myself as someone who is particularly anxious or concerned about getting older. Most of the time, I feel good about it. As I’ve gotten older, I feel I’ve become wiser, more self aware, stable, more accomplished, and even more fashionable (in the sense that I’m able to wear more of what I like instead of following so many trends). And I’m not the only one. Plenty of people have written or expressed to me privately that they are relieved to escape the angst of being a teenager, or the tumultuousnous of being in their twenties.

Still, ageism is real, and it is also very much a feminist issue.

There are plenty of messages both subtle and blatant in society that devalue women in particular as they age. Even at the relatively young age of 25, and even though I know that there are plenty of positives to getting older, it’s not enough to keep out the lingering doubts. Do I LOOK older? Am I starting to get wrinkles? Am I less sexy or attractive because of my age?

The questions are there, even if I wish I could avoid asking them altogether.

With that in mind, today’s Wednesday weigh-in is:

How do you feel about getting older? Have your feelings changed over time, and what do you do, if anything, to combat the effects of ageism on your self-esteem?

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman is Executive Director of Partnerships at Feministing, where she enjoys creating and curating content on gender, race, class, technology, and the media. Lori is also an advocacy and communications professional specializing in sexual and reproductive rights and health, and currently works in the Global Division of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. A graduate of Harvard University, she lives in Brooklyn.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

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  • Lori

    I never worried about aging in my 20’s, and in fact, didn’t start to worry about it until about 37. I turned 40 this year, which was hard, but not as hard as turning 39. I think that notwithstanding the nostalgia I feel for certain parts of my youth, I think with age, I’ve become more confident in myself — physically, intellectually and emotionally. I think with age can come maturity and confidence, which are all good things. I keep telling myself that 40 is the new 30.

  • nazza

    I was kind of a child prodigy, so I always felt out of step with my peers. They were often admiring of my intellect, but I wanted to be treated as an equal. And that wasn’t often easy. Using that phrase “child prodigy” sounds presumptuous, so I rarely use it, but I think it’s appropriate in this circumstance.

    But as I have grown older, as you have noted, I have been more okay in my own skin. A friend describes it as becoming a little like a fruit that has properly ripened. But also I’ve begun to start to lose my hair. I will admit honestly that I’ve been using Rogaine for the past two years, which helps enough that I keep using it. I started getting grey hair around my temples a couple years back. That I don’t mind so much, but I do benefit from the fact that it looks distinguished. I have no intention of using dye. I could be completely grey-headed, and I still wouldn’t dye it.

    I’m at the point now that I have to carefully watch what I eat and exercise daily, or I will put on weight. Fortunately, I do both. There are times where I feel attractive and times I don’t. Often there’s no good reason why I feel either. Sometimes I get checked out by someone in public and it’s a nice ego boost. Sometimes I wake up in the morning feeling unattractive and gross. That’s just kind of how it goes with me.

  • Rachel

    At 23 I’m hardly qualified to comment on ageing, but I will anyway.

    I find that the older I get the happier I am. I’m really looking forward to turning 30. To me 30 seems like the magic number. I look so young to people (some have even asked me if I’m old enough to have a job) that I feel like by the time I’m 30 I’ll actually look old enough for people to take me seriously. I also think that when people ask me how old I am and I say “Oh, well I’m 30″ then they’ll automatically take me seriously. Maybe I’m totally wrong about that though, haha.

  • Fiona Savage

    Hi and first I would like to say a belated Happy Birthday! I am a fellow Leo and had my 51st birthday last Saturday (30th). Well, I would like to say that I finally after years of not liking my body, hair etc . . . I love who I am today. Now this took a long time! And a lot of soul searching, therapy and many many tears!!! I would encourage young(er) women to embrace who they are and be proud of how they look. I have allowed men for years to treat me as an object . . . nice ass, nice tits etc. I worried into my 30’s and 40’s OMG what if my ass gets fat. It sounds so retarded now but . . . over the years that’s how I allowed myself to be defined. We are not objects. Never should we allow this treatment.

    Recently, I decided no more make up for me and not only is it saving me time in the morning (and $) but also gives me a sense of freedom. I have been looking into myself and trying to make sense of the past, making sure that I move forward in a positive head space. I’m still learning of course and will continue to grow but I’m one woman who can honestly say I feel free :)

  • Véronique

    At 57, I’m well qualified to comment on aging. :) I’m glad people tend to think I’m about 40, because I’m not all that sanguine about the deterioration that aging brings. But I’m getting better at it. No choice really! In many ways, my 50s have been my best decade.

    My biggest concern is that I am likely to need one more job before I retire. That’s where my vanity about my looks actually isn’t just vanity. I’m glad I can present somewhat younger, because I know that the intersection of sexism and ageism is a potent combination.

  • Veronica

    Happy Birthday!

    I turned 22 a couple of months ago and ever since then I haven’t been able to stop obsessing over getting older/aging. It started when I was talking to my stepfather about life after college. For some reason or another, the topic of med school came up and he said, verbatim, that I was too old for that. At 22, I’m too old to go to med school… I have no intentions of going to medical school, and I know his comment was ignorant, but it still struck me. One day I won’t be able to do or “get away” with certain things without being judged. One day I won’t find myself attractive because apparently wrinkles are ugly. It scares me that I have an “expiration date” that’s unrelated to my death. It makes me feel like after my 20s, it’s all downhill. I’ve been taking my time with college, with figuring out what I want to do, and now I’m in this race with myself to finish everything before I get old (which is when? 30, according to my stepfather). According to society, these are the best years of my life. I’m stressed out with school payments, have a job I hate, have basically no friends because I’m working or studying all the time, and I’ve never even been kissed (the latter I added because I’ve had a bad day…). Really? These are the best years of my life?
    What comforts me? I tend to obsess over things for a long period and then obsession just settles in and I can no longer tell it apart from the rest of my thoughts. Eventually, this one will settle in too…

  • Casey Quinlan

    I agree that I certainly have mixed feelings about aging. As the 23 year old said, and by the way I’m turning 23 soon, there are quite a few disadvantages to youth as well. I’ve had to interview judges, superintendents, state senators, aka older men who think they know everything there is to know about anything and routinely find it acceptable to question my knowledge…often to my face. Sometimes I wish I looked more venerable.

    Ageism cuts both ways for women. I think that either men make the excuse to devalue older women’s opinions, especially their advice to young women on issues of feminism, because of their supposed lack of sex appeal or devalue younger women’s opinions because they have the American interpretation of sex appeal, which I guess means “young enough to be your daughter” to many men in places of authority.

    At the same time I’ve been made to believe that I have to look as youthful as possible and that makes me self conscious when I see the smallest of lines on my face. Today a hairdresser told me she thought I was a high school student and I celebrated that a little, which seems odd to me…shouldn’t I want to look an adult woman with confidence, intelligence and life experience? It’s complicated.

  • Trish

    I’ll be 25 in a week and at this point in my life I can say that the negative (but in another spin a positive) change that has hit me in the face for the last couple years has been “what am I going to do with my life?” – I feel up until I graduated university a lot of things were already laid out for me, the BIG things at least. But once finishing university there are so many options and one choice could turn my life in a completely different direction from the next. So it’s intimidating but also very exciting at the same time. As for another positive aspect that I’ve noticed about myself as I’ve grown older is that I care much less about what others think of me, and while I don’t always feel totally self-assured or self-confident, getting older definitely makes me think less about the opinions of others of me.

  • Nikki

    I don’t really have any thoughts right now on aging – although sometimes I feel old when I look around at some of my friends who have multiple kids, and my kids are the B.A. and J.D. I spent the last seven years working, and somehow I end up feeling guilty that my focus was different (but that’s a whole other rant I suppose) so anyway – I had to wish you a slightly belated happy birthday as a fellow person turning 25 on August 2! 1986 was the very best year to be born, I have to say, so Congrats!

  • Hillary Rettig

    53 checking in. Encroaching physical decrepitude sucks, and I work hard to avoid becoming jaded. BUT, wisdom and an increased ability to help people are great compensations, and incredibly rewarding in a way I hadn’t anticipated. I think the fact that I do activism and hang around activists has been a huge help because activists tend to remain optimistic and engaged. (Plus activist communities skew young, so that helps in terms of maintaining a youthful attitude.)

    The worst part of being a 53 yo woman is definitely the hetero dating scene. There aren’t many single men my age, and many of the ones out there think they “deserve” younger women, or show other signs of patriarchal entitlement. Someone recently wrote a terrific article on the “dating marketplace” problem and older women are definitely seriously devalued in that context, in my experience.

    I consider it a form of activism to be candid about my age, btw. So many older people feel ashamed, and women in particular. However, when you do what I do for a living – life and career coaching – you learn that, physical considerations aside, age is mostly a meaningless construct. There are miserable 60 year olds and miserable 20 year olds; empowered 60 yo’s and empowered 20 yo’s. It’s what you’re doing at any moment, and where you’re headed, that’s really important. This is true even in the intransigent areas of dating and the job market. As Veronique mentioned, there’s a lot of age discrimination out there, but it’s also true that many applicants shoot themselves in the foot.

  • beet

    There’s a nice article on aging at Salon today, by Lillian Rubin.

  • toongrrl

    Wow….I never thought that 25 was considered “aging”

  • Renee

    I am SO not down with aging. I’m in my 40s, and the medical and cosmetic industries are only too happy to ‘help’ me, with my ‘problem’ . The prevailing message in our culture is one of ‘empowerment’ through ‘self-mutilation’ aka ‘cosmetic surgery’ at significant impact to my finances. Not one advertisement for wrinkle cream or facelifts or botox or butt lifts or liposuction or any of the other myriad options states at ANY point that is normal, natural, okay, and in fact, INEVITABLE to grow old and have various body parts succumb to gravity. I simply want to live in a culture that tells me it is OKAY to get old so I can allow the natural processes of aging to occur: wrinkles, gray hair, flatter breasts and buttocks, slowing metabolism and therefore weight gain, and that bankrupting myself with more and more expensive treatments and ultimately surgery OR exhausting myself through a daily routine of rigorous exercise and restricted calorie consumption in the ‘fight’ against aging is totally unreasonable and ultimately, anyway, I cannot win. Aging is not a disease, but we sure have framed it that way.

    Because of the relentless focus on women’s appearance–(Are you hot or not? Answer–if you are female and over 32, don’t bother trying. Despite this new ‘cougar’ meme, the underlying message is that a sexually desirable woman over 40 is freakish)—the ‘reasonable’ expectation is that if you are upset about aging, well you have all these options to choose from to alleviate your own personal discomfort. There is no serious examination of the notion that it is in fact not the aging that is the problem, but the expectation that there is something that must be DONE about it in the first place that causes the discomfort.

    And of course, NONE of the advertisements that I see for any medical or cosmetic service feature men as the target client. I hope 50 will be better, (no I don’t think it’s the “new 40″ again the whole underlying message there is that the age you are is not as good as being 10 years less–and thus YOUNGER.) I hope I will be freed of this cloying expectation to retain youth and beauty despite its ever-quickening departure.

  • andrea

    I’m still really young, but I can totally see and feel the effects of ageing. It takes more work for my to remain healthy now than it used to (or, rather, I feel how unhealthy I am when I neglect it more than I used to). I’ve started graying, but that’s something I’m actually quite excited about. I’ve got the very beginnings of the start of the wrinkles that will come in my 30’s. . . but that’s not the worst.

    My biggest problem isn’t so much with ageing, but with life stages. I can’t dye my hair funky colors anymore, or wear miniskirts with bikini tops on hot summer days. I’m a teacher in a conservative country, and that means I look boring and. . . well, old. Older. Older than I want to look, older than I want to present. I miss my purple and blonde hair and ripped t’s. Now I look like a kindergarten teacher. If I must grow up, I want to do it on my terms. Not on my job’s terms.

    Maybe life stages is a totally different topic, but I feel sometimes like I’m being forced to grow up in a way that I’d rather not.

    • honeybee

      This hits home with me. I still feel like a kid and in many WANT to still be a kid – maybe not a kid but someone in their carefree 20s (I’m 34 now).

      The biggest thing for me is I’m starting to feel like I’m running out of time in life to do everything I want to do. When you’re young, it seems you have forever, and you can thus accomplish anything you want. As you get older – which usually also means you have less free-time, I know now I’ll never be able to do everything I want to do in this life.

      God I hope there is reincarnation! I need at least a few cracks at this life thing in order to even begin to do everything I want to do!

  • Heather Lindskold

    I will be turning 35 in September, and I still haven’t gotten to the point at which I’m worried about getting older…when it pertains to me personally. What I DO worry about as I get older, is that it means my parents are getting older, too, and THIS I’m having a very hard time with. How did my parents get to be 60 and 64? When did this happen? Where have the last 20 years gone? Because I can tell you, it feels like those 20 years went by in a matter of hours (or maybe even minutes). I often have to stop myself from thinking about it, or I get very upset. I’m not sure I’ll ever get to the point where I worry about myself getting older, but I do take issue with the people I love getting older (including my husband).

  • boxoatoc

    I am about halfway through 27, which is the first time that I have felt old. I have started getting gray hairs and landed my first career-type job. It was the first time that I considered using makeup or leg-shaving to ‘fit in’ to a work environment — I didn’t go through with it, but the social repercussions of this are much more palpable than when I wasn’t working a job that considered itself to be of a ‘professional’ class.

    I also realized that 27 is decidedly late 20s and people have stopped commenting that I look so young. That’s good, since I looked like a teenager for EVER and perhaps now I finally look like I have some life and work experience (which I do, in spades — but I also did when I was 24, but got discounted because I still looked like I should be carded for trying to get into a R-rated movie).

    I really love Amy Goodman at Democracy Now! for aging as she ages and not trying to hide the ‘shame’ of being an experienced badass.

  • Jen

    I’m not old, soon to be 29, and I still look young enough to get carded all the time, even when my husband, who is several years younger, does not. I am, however starting to go gray. Lately someone points this out to me about once a week. “Wow, I never noticed how gray you’re getting!” “You’re too young to be going gray!”

    Am I the only person who thinks this is totally rude? I was starting to think about dying my hair when I saw the grays, but now want to rock the gray as an FU to the haters.