health

"I don’t know what a 32-year-old woman is meant to look like."

Sarah Megginson

I constantly flirt with the idea of quitting Facebook, but last week, I read a post that stopped me in my tracks and reminded me why I haven’t committed to deleting my account altogether.

It was written by one of my former magazine editors, and it almost felt as it was written just for me.

Nila’s just turned 50, and her attitude towards this milestone birthday was one of celebration and joie de vivre.

“I’ve been waiting for this day like a child’s first trip to Disneyland. Why? It’s a BIG feat to reach 50!” she wrote.

You see, I’ve been feeling slightly crap about myself recently. I have two kids, including a nine-month-old, and bouncing back into shape hasn’t been quite as the easy second time around. Worse still, I recently found a wrinkle – a really big one on my forehead, in a previously smooth and wrinkle-free space.

Now, I’m fully aware that this is a shallow problem to focus on. I have a husband who struggles with depression, two gloriously demanding little girls, a busy career, electricity bills that defy logic (our last was $1,750!), and my dad is being treated for pancreatic cancer. There’s plenty else going on.

But still. That bloody wrinkle. I see it every time I glance in the mirror, every time someone snaps a photo.

I know it’s not about the wrinkle. Other women my age have crows feet and laugh lines; it’s completely normal. Isn’t it?

That’s when I realised the problem. I don’t know what a 32-year-old woman is meant to look like.

In the supremely edited images we see on TV and in magazines, in our social media feeds, on blogs and in advertisements, there are very few realistic images of what real people naturally look like.

30-year-olds look 20.

40-year-olds look 30.

And those in their 50s, if they dabble in plastic surgery and the like, enter that alien-like, ageless space where only their hands can truly reveal which decade they belong in (until plastic surgeons invent hand stretching?)

“Elle Macpherson hasn’t changed in two decades”.

Check out some of the celebrities turning 50 this year; Elle MacPherson hasn’t changed in two decades. And Sandra Bullock has looked virtually the same since Speed!

I struggle to think of a celebrity aged in their 40s or 50s who actually looks their age. Maybe Cameron Diaz?

A few weeks ago, Michaela Jones, talked about becoming anorexic at 18. She said the images she saw in the media also made her question, “Is that what a normal woman is supposed to be like?”

She was referring to the ridiculous images of body perfection we absorb on a daily basis, but the same applies to how women age (or don’t age) in the media.

I find myself asking the same thing.

What does a normal woman look like?

We’re a culture obsessed with youth. But why are we always aiming for ‘younger’? And what is so bad about ageing that we try to avoid it at all costs?

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Is it because as we get older, we feel less desirable? Less visible? Less relevant?

When I analysed my own wrinkle-induced pity party, these were some of the feelings I came up with.

Around the same time, I read Bec Sparrow’s fabulous article about ageing, where she quotes Cameron Diaz as saying, “It’s almost as if we have failed if we don’t remain 25 for the rest of our lives.”

Bec urges us to stop whinging, whining and despairing about getting older. I wholeheartedly, 100% agree. It felt like a call to arms.

Yet, while I read Bec’s article and nodded along and agreed with everything she had said… the next morning I still poked at my wrinkles, wished they didn’t exist and pondered botox!

So what’s the solution? I don’t have all the answers, but this is what I’ve come up with as a starting point:

1. Work out how you really feel.

Image is important, no doubt – but our value as women, as friends, as wives, mothers, employees and sisters? It’s about more than how we look. If you truly think you’ll feel better about yourself if you get botox, or dye your hair, or put on a full face of make-up every morning, then I reckon you should go for gold. Whatever floats your boat – as long as you’re doing it for you, and not because you’re feeling unrealistic pressure to “defy ageing”.

Avoid buying into the myth that younger is better.

2. Rethink your idea of beauty.

We can be gorgeous, desired, confident, relevant, capable, powerful women – and we can be ALL of those things, regardless of how many candles we blew out last birthday.

In the wise words of Pink, who sums this point up better than I: ”A girl like me is someone who doesn’t rest on her looks, who’s had people tell me from day one, ‘You’re never going to get magazine covers because you’re not pretty enough.’ I’m totally comfortable with that. I know my strong points: I work hard, I have talent, I’m funny, and I’m a good person,” she says.

“Beautiful has never been my goal. Joy is my goal – to feel healthy and strong and powerful and useful and engaged and intelligent and in love. It’s about joy.”

3. Avoid buying into the myth that younger is better.

We need to stop defaulting to this over-riding myth that younger is better, or prettier, or more interesting, or more valuable. Sometimes it is, but it’s not always the case.

My former editor, Nila, is a prime example.

Her Facebook post about turning 50 read, “I feel fantastic! I love getting older. I love the sense of freedom and confidence that comes with age… I love the sense that ‘I’ve been here before’ and know instinctively how to handle the challenges that come my way…. ”

“I’m no longer afraid to take more risks, after seeing how many opportunities have slipped my fingers by being too cautious. I now welcome the unknown, knowing that everything happens for a reason. Here’s to hitting the golden years!”

Amen to that.

For a little inspiration of women who have aged oh so gracefully, have a look through this gallery.

What’s your attitude to ageing? Do you find it hard or scary?

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