Dr Amanda Hanson is on a mission to revolutionize how women age and how society feels about older women. She believes midlife should be a time of power and joy, rather than crisis. She’s a clinical psychologist and coach. She’s the high profile Midlife Muse on social media.
We talk about:
Recognizing and fighting the narratives about women and age
The role of misogyny
Breaking free of society’s expectations for older women
Lessons from going grey as a woman
The work of Mama Gema
How we can be all the things as we age – we don’t trade sensuality for wisdom, for example
Stepping out of fear when it comes to ageing
Going viral on TikTok
How perceptions shape our reality
Moving to a sense of abundance about ourselves
Choosing to age differently to what we see as the norm
A radical approach to changing the narrative about women’s reproductive rights
Women taking care of their own sexual needs
Refusing to be a victim even though it’s easy to do that
Taking radical responsibility
Building a plan for the menopause transition
Staying curious and proactive about menopause
The power of the feminine
Finding your tribe of women and opening up conversations
Maryjane Fahey is a creative director, writer, storyteller, published author, and founder of Glorious Broads. Her mission is to inspire older women to live full authentic lives with no limitations. And younger women to live free of fear of getting older. This is a funny and inspiring conversation about how to be a glorious broad!
We talk about:
Ageism and how it impacts healthcare
The insidious intersection of sexism and ageism
Giving women great examples of older women
Finding glorious broads around New York
Reducing the fear around ageing
Deciding to go grey
The power of acceptance
Reinventing ourselves multiple times
Doing the work to enable an authentic, limitless life
When I started my Mutton Club e-zine in 2016, one of my first writers was the very lovely Lynnda Pollio who wrote an article about turning 60 and how very strange that experience had been. Lynnda described getting older and particularly turning 60, as entering the youth of her old age.
I’m not about to turn 60, but have just turned 56. This means I am officially closer to 60 than I am to 50. My husband, being ever precise about these things said, you’ve been closer to 60 since you turned 55, a year ago. That’s splitting hairs I reckon.
At least until now I was still officially 55 which was in the middle between 50 and 60. But now I’m 56, which is officially closer to 60 than to 50. That feels quite momentous, even for me.
If you’ve read my work or listened to my podcast, you’ll know I’m very pro aging. We’re all aging from the day we’re born and getting past 50, 60, 70, 80 is a privilege denied to many in this world.
So I don’t see aging as anything bad and I certainly don’t attribute any shame to it. That wasn’t always the case, but it’s something I’ve learned as I’ve gone on my magnificent midlife journey.
I like the silver highlights coming into my fringe. I appreciate the wrinkles around my eyes and the frown lines between my eyebrows. The wrinkles mean I’ve smiled a lot. The frown lines… ah well!
But it still feels significant to be getting ever closer to 60, even for me. I’m sure the next four years will pass in a flash and I’ll be celebrating my actual 60th birthday before I know it.
I’ve already decided, unlike Lynnda, I’m not going to think of it as the youth of my old age. There’s a new term I’ve come across recently and I really like it as a way of describing the next stage of my life. It comes without the negative connotations which sadly are still deeply associated with older and old age.
That word is elderhood and I really like it. So I feel happy to be getting ever closer to the youth of my elderhood. I like the idea that I’m becoming an elder. Being an elder carries all sorts of positive connotations for me. In history, and still in many places around the world, to be an elder means you’ve reached the top of the tree.
Since about 45, I’ve not minded getting older, but I do still mind if anybody thinks of me as old, simply because that is such a finite term. In our modern world, where we increasingly distance ourselves from the binary to appreciating more of a spectrum, age is one area in which we don’t do that.
We still seem to go from young to old with very little space for nuance or variation along what is actually a very long timespan. We forget that even when we’re 60, we’re young compared to a 90-year-old. An 18-year-old is positively ancient compared to a two-year-old. The binary definitions of young and old just don’t make sense!
We also lump great swathes of population into categories without differentiating between them. The European Union still talks about the silver economy as being everyone over the age of 50. That strikes me as such a lazy and damaging categorization.
How can you possibly lump a 50-year-old into a statistical grouping with a 70-year old or 90-year-old? The needs of those different ages are so very different. We wouldn’t dream of putting a 10-year-old, a 20-year-old and a 30-year-old in the same age category, even though there are only 20 years between them, in the same way there are 20 years difference between 50 and 70.
We need to stop being binary about age and believing that as we get older, we turn into one big amorphous, undifferentiated mass which no longer requires the subtlety (or respect) of differentiation.
Yes I am older, but don’t call me old. Don’t put me in a box. I don’t think I’ll be old until I’m at least 90, and even at 90, I’ll be young compared to a 100-year-old. You can call me older and you can even call me an elder. I like being an elder.
Listen to this podcast episode where I talk about how we get better with age on the Magnificent Midlife Podcast
So what am I noticing as I turn 56? I care even less what other people think about what I say or do. I’m more willing to stand up and express my opinion when it goes counter to the prevailing ones and often gets me into trouble.
I’m getting better at appreciating the moment. Whenever I can, I try and slow things down because generally the world spins round at light speed.
I care about people and experiences, not things. So long as I have a roof over my head, I really don’t care what’s under that roof (so long as it’s tidy!)
My body aches when I get up in the morning, but I know that’s its way of telling me I need to go and stretch and do some yoga. And increasingly that yoga has to be done every day.
I’m interested in finding out why my body aches more and I’ve identified that I have very tight hips, so I’m working on opening those up as I get older. Yoga is one of those delightful practices you can get better at the older you get.
The more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know. And the more I want to make a difference.
Gratitude is something I try to practice regularly. I don’t always remember, and I often get swept away in the minutiae of the day. But getting myself grounded in the moment with a bit of mindfulness and gratitude is always a good thing to do.
So these are my ponderings around my 56th birthday. I’m getting closer to my elderhood, but I’m not worried about that. I’m just very very grateful to be here and I’m still busy trying to change the world.
So much of what we’ve learned to accept about midlife and aging is utter rubbish. It took me going through early menopause at 41 to wake up to the fact that women have been sold a load of nonsense when it comes to getting older.
This negativity exists mainly because there’s such a big gulf in our society’s (specifically men’s) perception of a fertile woman and an infertile one. We go through life learning that youth is best and that only the young are beautiful, sexy, creative, full of energy and so on, and we associate those things with fertility.
We find a mate by being our most attractive. Many of us compete with other women to be the most alluring mate for men. Because of this link between youth, vibrancy, beauty, and fertility, the idea of moving from being fertile to no longer fertile often fills us with dread.
What is our role as infertile woman? Where do we fit in? So much of a woman’s identity is wrapped up in her ability to reproduce (even if she doesn’t have children) that when that physical ability goes, many of us don’t know who we are anymore. And we often have a very negative perception of who we are now.
That’s certainly how I felt after my early menopause diagnosis, even though childbearing was only part of who I was. I walked out of that doctor’s office feeling ancient, that the best of my life was over. I let the diagnosis of menopause instantly change who I believed I was. How sad was I, thinking that?
But I had no idea who I was post-menopause. What was I supposed to do, think, feel? Who was I now, and what was left for me?
It’s acceptable for men to get older. There are few negative associations around men aging. They become silver foxes. They don’t become invisible when they have wrinkles and gray hair.
Their stature increases rather than diminishes as they age. And, of course, the ultimate injustice: they can continue to reproduce until the day they die (well, technically, anyway). Nick Nolte, Clint Eastwood, and Rod Stewart all sired a child at 66, and Mick Jagger was 73. But not us women.
Not only do our eggs have a use-by date, but we’re also taught to be ashamed of and cover up the signs of aging. We’re sold anti-aging products all our lives.
Older male actors are paired with women half their age in movies. Older male TV presenters can roll out of bed and into the TV studio, but not their female counterparts. The latter need hours in hair and makeup, and to be dyed, nipped and tucked to within an inch of their lives.
We’re made to feel shame for every wrinkle, sunspot or gray hair. We get the Botox, the facelifts, the hair dye. And we contribute to making older women invisible because we’re not looking the way nature meant us to look at this time of life.
We may believe it’s what we want and that we’re exercising freedom of choice. If you want Botox, go for it. However, I’d argue that the decision to get Botox isn’t just yours alone; you’re not making it in isolation. If you decide you want it, it’s likely because it’s what you’ve been taught to want. You’ve been taught to view your aging face a certain way, and I want to challenge that assumption.
I see wrinkles as the maps of our lives. I’ve earned mine! Crow’s feet show we’ve smiled a lot. I’ve also frowned a fair bit too (the lines between my eyebrows remind me of that), but that’s okay. What sunspots I have remind me that, even living in rainy old England most of my life, I’ve enjoyed the warmth of the sun on my face too.
We may look more tired as we age, but even that’s a personal judgment. Consider also that it’s possible we aren’t aware of the subconscious reasons we choose to change our looks. You’ve been taught that visibly aging skin is bad, or at least not as good as young skin. You’ve been taught to view your own face as less attractive if it shows signs of age or even just looks tired as you perceive it.
I have a confession to make here. As well as actually appreciating my wrinkles, I don’t dye my hair and never will. Apart from a few white hairs at the front, my hair still has its original color, just a bit lighter.
My mother at 87 is strawberry blond rather than the bright auburn she was when younger. She moans about how she’s lost a lot of color. I tell her not to be so daft.
Even though I’m not currently losing hair color, I like to think that if I did, I’d embrace it. I know many women prefer to cover their gray or white hair, but I think the way our hair changes color as we age suits our older skin tone.
Of course, it’s a matter of personal choice, but, like the Botox, I’d argue the decision to cover silver hair isn’t a choice freely made because we’re inundated with messages that older women aren’t beautiful, vibrant, or sexy. We’re told that having natural silver hair ages us, and if we look older, we’ll be sidelined.
Women suffer ageism everywhere and particularly at work, where sexism enjoys having a friend to hang out with. Many women feel they have to cover up aging hair, in particular, to stay visible and relevant in the workplace and so they don’t disappear to those around them or those in authority. We can be subject to this prejudice at home too.
Menfolk who are perfectly happy to go gray themselves can sometimes pressure their partners to keep the dye. I know one woman whose husband is happy to dye her hair himself, rather than let it become the natural color it is. This seems rather sad to me. Even when the husband is himself older, he doesn’t want the world to see him with an older-looking woman. We can’t win, can we?
The marketing and advertising industries, and most importantly, the clients they serve, play a huge role in perpetuating the myth that youth is the best stage of life. They make a lot of money by cultivating our insecurities and promoting misogynistic myths and stereotypes. There’s so much money to be made from hair dye, anti-aging products, Botox, face-lifts, and stay-younger-longer treatments.
Just imagine if all women, as I used to, purchase anti-aging products constantly from age 20, for life! We also tend to try out the more expensive ones as we get older and perhaps have more money available, just to see if the claims are true. Try doing the calculation on your own spending, then multiply it by billions.
The global anti-aging market was estimated to be worth US$44 billion in 2021 and predicted to be worth US$58 billion by 2026. That’s a national economy right there, predicated on the myth that signs of female aging need to be hidden.
Many companies have a lot invested in maintaining these myths. “Youth is best” messages keep us as the captive buying audience. Remember how smoking used to be so cool we all wanted to do it? We finally woke up to the truth behind that marketing campaign.
Youth is when we’re smarter, quicker and most attractive, right? No, I believe we’re smarter, at least in terms of the stuff we know, and potentially just as quick and attractive, as we progress through life.
A perfect body is a young one, correct? No, a perfect body is one that functions in good health and allows us to do everything we want to do. Youth doesn’t mysteriously bestow some magical luster of beauty or perfection. We’ve just been brainwashed to believe it does.
Being a bit older doesn’t change who you fundamentally are. It doesn’t lessen you in any way. I’d argue age can make women more attractive, not less. I see great beauty in older women’s faces, as our character sets in and our bone structure becomes more defined.
I believe my mother is still beautiful at 87, and also that her most “typically” attractive decade was her 50s, when she really grew into her features. Our beauty doesn’t diminish as we age; it evolves. One of the most beautiful women I’ve ever met was the incredible yogi, Tao Porchon-Lynch, who sadly died at age 101.
I met her when she was 99. The beauty that radiated out of her was unlike anything I’ve ever seen, utterly breathtaking and infectious. Her smile was a sight to behold. I’d been a fan for several years when I finally met her in the flesh. I was so overwhelmed, I cried, soft melt that I am! To me, she was the essence of true beauty.
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