Whenever I come across the discussion/ debate on women and ageing, suddenly my memories take me back to my maternal grandmother’s image. She was the first woman I had known who reached old age, however, I never heard the term ‘I am old’ from her. She always used to dress like a newly married young bride with much jewellery and vibrant coloured sarees, neatly beaded hair, regularly dyed black hair whenever she found even one grey hair. What is more, she never hesitated calling others, even her own daughters ‘old’ when they were not properly maintained or showed any grey hair.
I tried to understand her desire to look young, but at the same time often my thoughts were conflicted why is a woman being ‘old’ not accepted gracefully. From the day we are born, we start to progress in life and soon know that one day we will enter into that ‘Old Age Club’; it’s a natural phenomenon. The reason why we don’t talk about it very often is because, for most of us when we are young, being old means grumpy, frustrated, and forgetful and buried in numerous health issues. Even a man of the same age would not hesitate to call his women friends ‘old lady’, and the term ‘old’ for women is used more as an insult rather than to show respect for her experience of life.
In ancient times, women were often considered solely as child bearers, and therefore after menopause or reaching a certain age they did not have any important purpose to serve in a household or even in society. The higher her social rank, the higher was her responsibility to give birth to a rightful successor. However, things have changed now, but deep down we still have not normalized women’s natural ageing process. In this modern age, the social media revolution is taking place and everyone has an equal chance to participate in the virtual world. But, we often come across posts from influencers, bloggers, the health or fitness industry, and skin product industries that show us how to look younger, rather than how to look healthy at our own age. I am not against looking or being healthy or fit, but why can’t we normalize being the age we are, rather than trying to look 10 years younger or older.
However, my perception of ‘old’ as pejorative or weak somehow changed when I visited Japan for the first time and mingled with the older population. As we all are aware, Japan has an older population in general. However, even if Japanese people are quite old, they never give up on life; they follow ‘Ikigai’ and live their lives purposefully. They often mingle with friends of a similar age, go to restaurants, visit new places, and find some new hobbies or continue their old hobbies as after retirement they have more time. For the first time in my early thirties, I realized that growing older is not as bad as our societies portray. Rather, growing old means being more experienced, intellectually mature and more independent. With more time and less responsibility, one can finally live life on one’s own terms without trying to look young, but focusing on living a healthy lifestyle. Passing knowledge on to the next generation, older people find a purpose rather than dying with piled-up medical bills or old age diseases.
Moreover, presently many women are addressing the issues of Women and Ageing. Classicist, Mary Beard, has addressed the issues quite often in her research as well as on social media. Indeed, I am touched by her work as well as a quote “I hope by the time I die, old will be something that makes people fill with pride.” Not only did she write and talk about it but also showed the same grace by living the same lifestyle and not dyeing her hair and growing older elegantly. Very often she even has had to face criticism for her boldness, but shouldn’t all women be proud of her living in her time and getting a chance to reclaim the meaning of ‘Old Women with grey hair and wrinkled skin’ to reflect an Age of ‘Pride, Independence and Freedom’.
I would also like to add here one of my realisation that, rather than living in a rat race, achieving certain things at a certain age, and leading a purposeful life in the slow lane may fulfill our old age with joy and long term satisfaction.
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