Almost five years ago I turned 50. I wasn't shocked... just unsure of what it all meant.
It was time for a quick assessment: When did those post-menopausal pounds get attached to my body? What was it my doctor was telling me about being a tad too close to osteopenia (the first step before osteoporosis)? How did my hair end up looking like road kill from years (decades, really) of blow-drying, over-washing and over-processing? And, why were my hair, skin, eyes -- and a few other places -- so dry? What are my risks for certain cancers and other diseases now that I'm over 50? Can I still wear my 7 for All Mankind jeans?
Fortunately, I figured out how to handle the "physical" aspects of turning 50 -- the weight gain, potential health issues, style considerations, money questions and so much more -- after interviewing experts in every field, and following their recommendations, the details of which are in my book.
The thing that I found the most difficult to work through, though, was the years of media messages that had wormed their way into my brain, causing me to want to pull the proverbial blanket over my head, ready to give up and give in. I started to believe the articles, research and reports telling me that women over 50 are invisible, powerless, adverse to change, glum, cranky consumers, unsexy, and should step aside to make room for the infinitely more beautiful, desirable, hirable, acquisitive, and loveable younger generation. Worse still, the advertisements, magazines, TV shows and movies finally convinced me that the only true path to happiness for women as we age is to... look younger!
But, as I was in the middle of writing the proposal for The Best of Everything After 50, it hit me and I knew I had found the right message for myself and all women:
Don't fight your age. Embrace it... whatever it is.
It is a very simple, but powerful, message for all women -- let go of your younger self, and embrace and love your aging self. Treat yourself with kindness and respect, and take care of you -- body, mind, and soul -- as you would your children, your family and your friends.
"Embrace your age" has been my mantra and compass ever since. It's not always easy, and sometimes I fall off the wagon, especially when I look in the mirror and see my crow's feet (which come out in full force when I smile, which I do often). But, then I remember: those wrinkles are a part of my life story, and a part of who I am now. And who I am now is exactly who I want to be.
The greatest gift I have received since writing my book is I get to engage in discussions with other women, all of whom are confronting getting older, just like me. Whether it's here on Huffington Post, on Facebook and Twitter, or after an interview or talk that I give somewhere in the country, one thing is perfectly clear: women want to change the way we look at -- and talk about -- aging, starting with the myths and misconceptions that can lead women to want to either run for the hills... or to the nearest plastic surgeon.
(Note: women should be allowed to do whatever it is that will make them feel better about themselves, without judgment, and that includes having surgery or less invasive procedures such as Botox. Our bodies, our lives, our choice. But, I would only caution that women should first make sure that whatever they do, they are doing for the right reasons. An article I wrote a few months -- "Plastic Surgery on Your Mind? Before You Do That, Do This" -- addressed some of the most important things to consider first.)
It's time to change the discourse about aging, starting with throwing out some of the more infuriating fibs about women over 50, which only serve to undermine women's self-esteem and confidence, such as:
Women over 50 are invisible
Picture this: We are part of the largest demographic in the history of the world. Every 7 seconds someone turns 50. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, a projected 57.8 million baby boomers will be living in 2030, and over 55% will be women. Invisible? Far from it, and getting less so each year. There are enough of us to enable our voices to be heard. We just have to raise them.
Women over 50 are undesirable consumers
Wrong again. According to Pew Research Center and AARP, Americans over 50 control 70% of all U.S. wealth, generate $2 trillion in annual income, own more homes than any other age group, account for 50% of all discretionary spending, and purchase 41% of all new cars. And yet, advertisers simply do not want to be associated with aging. While the 18-34 demographic remains the most coveted among advertisers, the 50- to 64-year old group is the fastest growing demographic in the nation. We spend more money on goods and services -- nearly $2 trillion -- than any other age group. We buy more technology and gadgets -- 40% of the market -- than any other demo. We drive elections, accounting for the biggest voting blocs in both 2008 and 2010. We own the most second homes in the nation. We own more iPads and smartphones than any other group and record and watch more programming on our DVRs than anyone else.
And we are almost completely ignored by advertisers.
Women over 50's biggest fear is how we look as we age
This could not be farther from the truth. Sure we all would love to have the same skin we had before we hit our 50s, but we don't fear these changes. We have much bigger fish to fry. It's all about money. One of the biggest fears among women over 50 is not having enough money to live a good life as we age, or even enough to just get by. Many of the women I interviewed for the article I wrote about this fear a few months ago admitted that they wish they had made better and smarter financial choices earlier in their lives. Divorce over 50 is on the rise, leaving women in precarious economic situations. Mix that with the poor job market, and you've got a perfect storm for fear. But, women are also the driving force behind micro-enterprises in this country, fueling the growth of small businesses. The best thing we can do is get a handle on our spending and saving, and turn anxiety into action.
Women over 50 can't get our bodies back
Simply not true. This idea can often be used as an excuse for letting yourself go, which serves no purpose whatsoever. It's also a very effective tool for marketers who want us convinced that the only way we can lose the weight and get in shape is by buying their specialty weight loss products and/or purchasing expensive memberships to gyms and trainers. I gained 15 lbs. -- slowly but surely -- after I went through menopause. But with a commitment to healthy eating (including small, frequent meals throughout the day), and moving my body every day (walking with running intervals, and back-to-basics strength-training exercises such as sit-ups, push-ups, squats and the Plank), I am in better shape now than ever, lost (and kept off) the 15 lbs., and am keeping osteoporosis at bay. Even if you haven't worked out since your 20s or 30s, you can still get your body back.
Women over 50 are averse to change
Life after 50 is all about change, especially for women. Our bodies are changing due to menopause. Children are growing up. We're reviewing our lifestyle options: retirement, career, relationships, everything. We want to know what the opportunities are. We're eager to learn, start businesses, forge new relationships. We're taking stock and figuring out what our next chapter will be. It's all about change. If there is a single demographic that understands, accepts, even relishes change... it's women over 50.
Make no mistake: there is a revolution brewing and women over 50 are moving it forward. We demand nothing less than a societal sea change on how women over 50 are viewed in this country. To that end, here are a few thoughts to carry with you as we march forth on this journey... together:
50: It's more than an age. It's a movement.
Love yourself, love your life, stay as healthy as you can, move your body, be informed, stay engaged, use your mind, keep a handle on your finances, be bold, be brave, walk with confidence, live with style . . . and then . . . you will know how truly wonderful life after 50 can be.
* * *
For more information about living your best life after 50, visit www.bestofeverythingafter50.com. Staying connected is a powerful tool. "Friend" me on Facebook and "Tweet" me on Twitter (BGrufferman). Stay in touch and be well!
2011 New York City Marathon Weekly Training Countdown (5 weeks to go!)
I'm running in the NYC Marathon in November to celebrate my 55th birthday and raise money for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network in memory of a friend who succumbed to the disease last year. Here's an update on my training schedule for this week:
Monday: 8 miles using a run/walk ratio of 3 minutes/30 seconds
Wednesday: 6 miles using a run/walk ratio of 3 minutes/30 seconds
Friday: 12 miles with using a run/walk ratio of 60 seconds/30 seconds
Every other week, I'll be adding another mile or so to the long run (keeping the two short runs the same distance), and I will be adding "speed work" to my training. Stay tuned!
Follow Barbara Hannah Grufferman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/BGrufferman