Featuring insights from Madeleine Albright, Melissa Etheridge, Jane Fonda, Jane Goodall, Goldie Hawn, Elizabeth Lesser, Pat Mitchell, Gloria Steinem and Alice Walker
The other day, someone close to me complimented me on a photograph I was in by enthusiastically raving about how young the photo made me look. My first instinct was to feel flattered and I thanked this person graciously. But as that person started plying me with questions about what I had done differently to look that young, saying it must be the makeup, I suddenly felt a bit miffed at her implication that I must usually look much older or that there was something wrong with looking my age, being my age. I launched into a somewhat self-righteous tirade about all the inane pressures on women to look young and to be ashamed of and hide their age. It is hard not to be sensitive to this as a woman. We are barraged with so many airbrushed images of older women, so much marketing for anti-aging products and specialized procedures and faced with so many disempowering messages about getting older. We need to look beyond all of these negative messages about aging and view it as a positive experience, as a time when we come into our true wisdom and power.
I turn 45 this coming August and am proud and happy to do so -- I am so relieved to be far out of my confused, insecure twenties, knowing that each year, I come into a deeper understanding of who I am and the meaning of life. Each year of my life has brought new and meaningful life experiences from which I have learned and grown.
On my journey, I have been blessed to know, work with and interview some incredibly inspiring older women, women who are still doing amazing things and are very active, happy, healthy, vibrant and fulfilled in their work and life. They speak positively about their experience and perspective about getting older. I'd like to share some of their insights here. I hope their wisdom will serve as a reminder to celebrate each birthday with anticipation and gratitude for all we have experienced and all that is yet to come.
Reflections on Aging from Inspiring Women:
"It would help not to treat age as if it were any less of a pleasure than it was when we were six and saying, 'I'm six and a half.' You know, we could be saying, 'I'm fifty and a half' and say it with joy. Each age is different and has different discoveries and pleasures." - Gloria Steinem
"Aging is an unfortunate thing that happens. I mean, yes, you can have millions of face-lifts and all these different things that women have done to their bodies... But personally (a) I haven't got the money for that, (b) I haven't got the time for it, and (c) there are more important things to me than how you look. I think the most important thing is to keep active and to hope that your mind stays active. " - Jane Goodall
"The reason that they make us all youth-oriented and vain and try to think that if we get old we are of no use anymore is because we get wiser, and they know that. And when I say 'they' I mean those who are fearful of change. We are getting older, and we are getting wiser, and we are getting freer. And when you get the wisdom and the truth, then you get the freedom and you get power, and then look out. Look out." - Melissa Etheridge
"I think we need to very intentionally have women friends, and we need to seek out women who are braver, who challenge us, who can teach us... together with them we can face age with more courage. " - Jane Fonda
"We are redefining every age of our lives. All of us are. I mean twenty-year-olds today, they aren't where I was at twenty, and they're in a very different world. So how can we say that we're not different, we're not a different kind of sixty- or seventy- or eighty-year-old? We are! So I'm just hoping for myself and for the women around me and that I come into contact with, I just hope that I'm still learning. As long as I'm learning every day of my life, I will never feel old. Never. And I don't feel old; I feel in my head and in my heart, I don't know, ageless! That's I think because I'm still learning and still growing as a person. " - Pat Mitchell
"Well, I don't like getting older; I have to tell you that... But I think that what I have loved in my life are the intergenerational activities. I teach at Georgetown. It gives me an opportunity to stay very connected with the younger generation in terms of conveying information, but also getting information from them. I have always enjoyed having people of different ages around me. I have thought that was fun. I do think that one needs to have respect for people who are older. I really do love the idea that one can respect generations." - Madeleine Albright
"I don't think about it. Sometimes I look and I go, 'Oh my God, I'm old; I'm older then I have ever been.' [Laughs] I don't relate to time very much, I think that's what it is -- I don't understand time, and that's kind of a philosophical thing, in terms of what is it, really? So I sort of live in terms of day-to-day. I dream long and far. I'm not living in time constraints, where suddenly I feel, well, I better do that, because I'm going to die soon -- because nobody knows when they're going to die, anyway. Obviously, I want the optimum experience, I want to stay energetic, I try to take care of myself, I understand what makes me feel good, so I make sure I get that in there. I'm conscious of my internal life. The external part of it, you do the best you can do. Some people age better than others, some people's skin is better than others, in terms of being a female, I try to keep my weight down. But other than that, I don't live on a sense of age. Do you know what I mean? I don't deal with those parameters. " - Goldie Hawn
"I was thinking about how elders -- and this has been traditionally true in most cultures and still is in many cultures today -- elders really need to be listened to respectfully. Even if you don't agree. And then elders have to be willing to assume the role of the person who gets to speak about society and where it seems to be going and what it needs. And because everybody in our society up to now has been trying to stay 30, there's a problem with people knowing how to be, and how to speak, and how to take on the role of the person who can actually speak to the young, with some kind of integrity. This is shifting I think." - Alice Walker
"I think the main problem people have getting older, whether they know it or not, is that you're closer to dying. We may fixate on not wanting to look a certain way, but it really is just the clock ticking, that it means, 'Oh, I am not immortal!' Instead of fixating on the physical aspects of aging, it's good to contemplate the deeper source of our anxiety. That can be liberating. That being said, I don't enjoy the diminishing agility of the body! I had knee surgery recently, and I can no longer go do three yoga classes and run. You know, it's not as much fun, physically. But emotionally, it's way more fun. I am so much happier and contented and less agitated; I'm just calmer. So it's like everything in this human existence: it's a trade-off. It's like you trade the virility of the body for the agility of the spirit." - Elizabeth Lesser
Portions of the above appeared in Daring to Be Ourselves: Influential Women Share Insights on Courage, Happiness and Finding Your Own Voice by Marianne Schnall. Excerpted with permission from Blue Mountain Arts.
Marianne Schnall is a widely published writer and interviewer whose writings and interviews have appeared in a variety of media outlets. She is also the co-founder and executive director of the women's web site and non-profit organization Feminist.com, as well as the co-founder of the environmental site EcoMall.com. She is the author of Daring to Be Ourselves: Influential Women Share Insights on Courage, Happiness and Finding Your Own Voice based on her interviews with a variety of well-known women.
Follow Marianne Schnall on Twitter: www.twitter.com/marianneschnall