Being over 50 doesn’t mean you’re past it, but it also shouldn’t mean having to pretend to be younger than you are.
Doing family logistics all week [even while you’re sleeping], trying to keep the domestic finances afloat, managing menopause-related exhaustion, longing for the weekend before the previous one is even over, ‘juggling’ wider family caring issues…there’s not much time for a break when you’re over 50. And now it appears there’s one more pressure to add to the list. To look and act like J-Lo.
I’m all for a positive view of being over 50, but when you read some of the tweets and articles about J-Lo – ‘this is what being 50 looks like’, etc, etc – it just makes me laugh. Really? Yes, not all over 50s have grey hair and look like Miss Haversham, but some people who are over 50 do have grey hair and don’t look like J-Lo. J-Lo no doubt spends a large part of her time – and money – working on looking like J-Lo – because that essentially is her job.
Many people, myself included, squeeze any kind of attention to what they look like into the often very limited time they have between dragging themselves out of bed and doing the 10 billion things they have to do to get everyone to school and work on time. You could call that a morning work-out, but it’s probably not going to give you the J-Lo look.
I can totally understand where the ‘this is what 50 looks like’ thing comes from. It’s all part of a generational shift where more and more of us are in the over 50s category and facing ageism and everything that comes from it, women in particular. But it’s like all those positive ageing books which talk about the freedom post-50 to ‘rediscover yourself’. I am sure there are people who are in that position, but it doesn’t tell the whole story by any stretch of the imagination. Many people over 50 feel trapped, rather than free for a variety of reasons, ranging from economic to family responsibilities to health issues.
I know it’s easy to focus on only the negative too and that the positive ageing stuff is a reaction to that. Perhaps it is a necessary one, but the thing about being over 50, just like being over 40 or over 30 or whatever, is that there is not one way of doing it and we have a duty to reflect as much as possible the variety of experience in as true a way as possible.
I have spent a lot of time interviewing women who have set up their own businesses. Very few of them describe the view of entrepreneurship that you read in the glossy magazines. They are much more interesting than that and people who are trying to set up their own businesses want to read the real stuff, not the fantasy.
The same goes for case studies about working mums in senior roles. I recall one press officer remonstrating with me about a senior part timer. “It all sounds so hard and stressful,” he said, preferring a more soft-focus, coffee table approach. I told him that nobody who is doing those roles or aspiring to them is under any illusion about what it takes and they want to read what it’s like, warts and all. In fact, especially the warts because that is what helps them to see a way through.
I was in a meeting the other day when someone suggested that we promote over 50’s through the ’50 is the new 30′ slogan. I’m over 50. I definitely do not feel 30. I do not even want to feel like I did at 30. I want to be over 50, but not treated like I am past it. I want the view of over 50 to change, but not by pretending to be something I’m not.
Over 50s come in all shapes and sizes; they have all sorts of rich experience to draw on; and they are definitely not past it. We need to confront ageism, but pretending over 50s are 30 year olds or look like J-Lo is surely part of the problem. Does all that experience not count? Are we only valid if we think of ourselves as younger than we are?