image courtesy of Pinterest
There’s a lovely article in the Guardian yesterday written by the MP Margaret Hodge, which argues against the pressure for people to have achieved, or hit the top of their career in the mid-life period. While the title refers to women (who can be ‘penalised’ more for interrupting their work life in order to have children), it equally applies to men. We are quick to judge ourselves failures at life, when we still have quite a bit of it left to go.
We live in an age where, even though we are living longer, youth is prized, or at least the appearance of it is. Not the real youth, who are increasingly marginalised from jobs, homes and political life. I’m talking about the youthful expectations of adults in their 30s, 40s and 50s. In the West, there is less of a division nowadays between youth and adult fashion, music and culture. Those of us getting older, like myself, still feel young at heart and we want to look it.
Women are affected by this more; as actresses reach for the botox and hair dye, men are able to continue au naturel, labelled as a silver fox, with much younger actresses brought in as their love interest. Older female television presenters are often replaced with younger versions, as though the public are unable to take in information from someone with grey hair or wrinkles. We forget that people who have lived a longer time have experiences and understanding of other humans that still counts for something.
In real life, we come across older women all the time, but not often in front facing public life. It’s noticeable when it happens, such as in Marks & Spencer, where the majority of sales assistants are middle aged women. Or in B&Q stores, where an age positive policy means they employ lots of older men: people with decades of DIY experience. Most of the time, unless they are in positions of power at work (and there are quite a few in the public and third sector) they fade quietly into the background, not sexy, not interesting. Invisible.
I’ve been thinking about these things because of my weight loss and health kick. To help me, I’ve joined a private group on Facebook, set up by a former WWer, for people who were part of their now defunct blogging community. It’s a great place to get support, share ideas for eating, and cheer and comfort each other during the high and lows of weight loss. And it’s also a place for discussion and debate about how women (and men) are perceived in our society, and the all pervasive influence of the media and food industry, body shaming, negative self-talk and how to rise above it all. We haven’t quite nailed the last one yet. Especially as I see young, slim, healthy women worrying about their size, or those last few, pesky pounds. Exactly like I was when I was in my 20s and 30s. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
On a side note re progress, the community support and the fact that I’m eating so well is working for me. I haven’t bought any wine, although I have shared some a couple of times, and I’ve cut back massively on drinking overall. On top of that, I’ve been going to the gym two or three times a week and dancing as much as I can. The rule is that I only weigh myself on Sundays, but I took a sneaky peek this morning before writing this post and I’ve lost seven pounds so far. For this, I am glad to be a loser.
Mind you, I’m still a fat, middle aged woman. So I guess I should just be shut up and be quiet, as many trolls on the internet believe about my type. I’ve still got a long way to go in terms of weight loss for my health but I don’t think I’m invisible yet. Chances are, I will remain gobby enough to avoid it permanently…
As Hodge says, it’s a waste of talent for older people to be hidden away. But her more interesting point is about our general need to always be striving for something, planning ahead for the future, instead of enjoying the here and now. What woman, unhappy with her weight or appearance, hasn’t ruined what should be a joyous occasion for herself, by worrying about how she looks and how she isn’t the perfect version of herself she wants to be? Or shamed herself out of participating in sport or exercise because of how she will look among the beautiful, fit people? We can be guilty of not doing things, wearing things or going places until we are ten pounds lighter, stopping ourselves from enjoying life until we think we deserve it.
The philosopher Allan Watts, who popularised Eastern philosophy in the West, argued that to behave this way went against nature and the way of the universe. He said that ‘we are living in a culture entirely hypnotised by the illusion of time, in which the so-called present moment is felt as nothing more than an infinitesimal hairline between an all-powerful causative past and an absorbingly important future. We have no present.’
The universe goes on and so does our wee planet; we haven’t managed to destroy it quite yet. Our human lives may be long (if we’re lucky) but they are short in the scheme of it. Our pasts may have shaped us but they are behind us now. And the future is looking pretty damn crazy from where I’m sitting. It’s probably a good idea to start making the most of it and enjoying ourselves right now.
So I’m letting go of judging myself. Probably not completely. A little bit of self-criticism now and then is no bad thing for any of us, especially when we need our metaphorical arses booted. But I’m letting go of all the ‘I’m not good enough’ crap and everyday self-flagellation over my health, fitness and appearance. Enough already, and down with that sort of thing. Because, apart from anything else, I am lucky to have food to eat and time to obsess over it.
It will be a work in progress, ditching forty odd years of negative thinking. But I think I can do it, mindfully, one step at a time. So can you.
Until next time,