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Women and Aging: Baby Boomers Can Find Strength in Numbers

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WOMEN AGISM

I am woman, hear me roar
In numbers too big to ignore.

If you're old enough to remember those words, you'll get this post. And you should read it, even if you're not.

Whether you fear it, lie about it or celebrate it, the number 50 seems way too big to ignore. Yet, ironically, the opposite is true.

50 is about the age when women start to disappear. Harry Potter's invisibility cloak is imaginary, but the Invisible Woman is not. The small inner voice -- telling you are losing social status, sex appeal or a sense of what's possible -- grows into the reality of our demographic on a larger scale. Despite some outliers (Susan Sarandon will always be sexy and Barbara Walters will always be Barbara Walters), most women of a certain age are MIA.

Our society's interest in aging is focused on how to fight it. And products designed to prevent wrinkles use models who don't even have any yet. Though our numbers are growing faster than we can count, we don't count in the eyes of image-makers and marketers. When we reach a certain age, we're toast -- burnt toast.

It's all spelled out in a recent piece in the New York Post, which inspired me to write this piece. The gist of the piece is that we don't matter, despite our massive numbers and financial muscle to match. Just one example is the television industry, where ratings determine everything. Our demographic is not only discounted; it doesn't even exist. Here's an excerpt:

Once TV viewers reach age 55: they are no longer counted as viewers... "They... turn invisible," says Alan Wurtzel, president of research at NBC Universal. Alpha boomers (55 to 64 years old) are the fastest-growing demographic in the nation. They make up half the population and spend more money on goods and services -- nearly $2 trillion -- than any other age group. They buy more technology and gadgets -- 40 percent of the market -- than any other demo. They drive elections, accounting for the biggest voting blocs in both 2008 and 2010. Alpha boomers have the second-highest median household income... They own the most second homes in the nation... They own more iPads and smartphones than any other demo and record and watch more programming on their DVRs than anyone else. Alpha boomers are almost completely ignored by advertisers.

Though their children and grandchildren are prime targets of marketers, grandparents influence and PAY many of the bills, including up to half of all private school tuitions.

Marketers have known where the wealth is for a very long time," says Jim Fishman, senior vice president/group publisher of AARP. "They've just decided not to target them.


Says Judann Pollack (no relation), executive editor of the trade publication Ad Age: "....there's a stigma to getting older."

No kidding.

Sure, getting older isn't cool, and often isn't pretty. Yet aging is a natural part of life. The people ignoring us now will reach 50, too... if they're lucky.

And the invisibility cloak certainly doesn't fit the women I know in later life. They don't approach aging as their mothers did -- with a sense of resignation, retirement, a sense of slowing down. Instead, they approach it with a sense of possibility, of potential, of power. Women over 50 taking on new challenges, new businesses and new chapters in their lives -- battling the idea that it's time to fade into the woodwork. Clearly, the fact that we're disappearing strikes a chord, as evidenced by HuffPost readers. This is not surprising, since one look at the statistics predicting life expectancy is reason enough for us to look ahead, not back.

Yet, as that HuffPost article makes clear, there's no evidence that anything is changing around us. Unlike cultures that revere elders and benefit from their wisdom, our youth-obsessed society is determined to push us out of the mainstream.

What can we do, other than whine? Or wine?

We can't change the fact of aging, but we can change the face of aging. We can change the way people think about it. It's a choice, and it starts with us. Whether your approach is to tighten your skin or loosen your belt, age is all about attitude.

We can use the major asset we have as a group -- the wisdom of age -- and turn it into collective wisdom. We can use our numbers and apply the wisdom of age to change the age we live in.

Personally, I'm not ready to fade into the sunset. So, I ignore the fact that I'm being ignored. If we don't plan to spend our senior years in a rocking chair, we can rock the rules -- even when they tell us our skirts are too short and our hair is too long.

Maybe we can't change the big picture as individuals, but we can create pictures for the people around us in the way we lead our lives. Lead by example. Be a mentor. Be a model. Support other women who are doing that. If you don't buy the message you're sent, don't buy the product and tell the company why. Better yet, create your own message. If you don't want to be put in a box, think outside it.

Why stop at re-shaping bodies and faces, when we already have the experience of re-shaping the age we live in? As the first generation of women in history to come to maturity with independent spirits, re-shaping the image of "age" is just a continuation of what we started. We changed the landscape for women, entering colleges, professions, boardrooms, politics -- places that were previously closed to us. After opening so many closed doors, who says we can't open closed minds?

As long as we count ourselves in and count on each other, we can make the numbers work for us, not against us. Let's start with the number "50."

I am woman, hear me roar
In numbers too big to ignore.

It might be corny, but it's worth remembering the lines that come next:

I know too much to go back and pretend
'cause I've heard it all before
And I've been down there on the floor
No one's ever gonna keep me down again

***

Darryle Pollack's blog is called "I never signed up for this..." in honor of all the times she's said those words.

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