Look At Life: Growing Old (Dis)Gracefully

16th June 2017

Why I like my life right now…

by Summer Greatorex

If you believe the mainstream media, I should be feeling invisible. I’m on the verge of middle-age – I’ve begun the slow, inevitable decline into worthlessness and irrelevance. I’m beleagured by ads telling me that my wrinkles are displeasing and that my general appearance needs expensive restoration. Should I just curl up with a good book and a mug of Horlicks and spend the rest of my years applying anti-ageing cream (vainly and in vain)?

Not a chance! We may live in a youth-obsessed world where women as young as 18 are having Botox, but I don’t feel envy towards the younger generation – I’m glad for the adventures ahead of them (though concerned about the pressures they’re under)… On the whole, I feel happy to be me and where I am now. Not convinced? Here are just a few reasons why I feel that older is better…

Let’s take work. I’m so much more confident. Younger me used to giggle and blush when I needed to ask someone to do something. When meetings were taking place, I’d feel excluded – my role was photocopying and filing, rather than contributing to decisions. If anyone did ask my opinion, I’d squeak a response and feel a fool afterwards. Meanwhile, my 50-something boss exuded authority. When she spoke, people listened. She’d march in every morning with her swishy blow-dry and her Mulberry bag – like a kinder and slightly less intimidating version of Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada – and oh, how I wanted to be like her. Now, when I mentor younger people, I channel my early role model, and it feels good. I’d still love a tiny fraction of her gravitas, but I’m getting better at making the right impression.

And then there’s style. I know what suits me today. It’s fun to experiment with clothes and makeup when you’re young, but for every sartorial success, there are a lot of embarrassing moments. I had to learn the hard way that Heather Shimmer lipstick does not go well with home-dyed hair (and that when the packet says ‘intense copper’ what it really means is ‘bright orange’). The never-need-to-go-there-again list of ill-advised clothing combinations favoured by my younger self is endless. Now my hairdresser and I are in mutual agreement about the life-enhancing merit of dark blonde highlights, and I rock a wardrobe full of navy and taupe – complemented, naturally, by my very own, carefully saved up for, Mulberry bag.

Another advantage of my very great age is that I don’t get as flustered or disconcerted. I realised this last week, when I was trying on a pair of jeans. I’d already overcome the challenge of asking the young and slender shop assistant, through gritted teeth, for a larger size. When she called ‘how are you getting on?’ and I shouted out my answer through the closed door, only to realise that she hadn’t been speaking to me after all, I wasn’t embarrassed. Not at all. Younger me would have cringed; older me breezed out, not giving a hoot.

I have more time to myself, too. I’ve spent the last fifteen years raising two children: often, simply getting out of the house was an achievement. When I did, it was either to go to work or for child-centred activities. While I loved all the mummy-camaraderie – and have loads of wonderful memories – I do believe that soft-play centres (indeed, anywhere that toddlers feature heavily) are places of everlasting torment and I’m delighted not to be setting foot in them these days.

After serving our time, my husband and I are just at the stage when we can leave our teens to fend for themselves. The other evening we were able to sneak out to one of those cinemas where you snuggle on double sofas and are served olives and wine; it must have been a decade since we’d last seen a film without superheroes. ‘This is the life,’ we agreed.

I also love spending time with my oldest girlfriends, comparing our battle scars and feeling thankful for how far we’ve come. When I look at their faces, I think they are more beautiful, not less. Our wrinkles represent our life stories – the times we all cracked up over something silly, the times we went on holiday together and thought baby oil would work just as well as suntan lotion (note to the young: it doesn’t) and, yes, the sadder times that have shaped us and brought us closer.

Feminist hero Naomi Wolf says that ageing in women is ‘unbeautiful’ since women grow more powerful with time. So let’s celebrate our experience and our hard won confidence – and the fact that we have so much left to do and to give.

Not an inevitable descent, rather an invigorating uphill climb.

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