"To deny your age is to deny yourself," Oprah said recently. Amen to that. Conversely, admitting your age is empowering not only yourself but every woman who is made to feel less valuable because she is over forty. Or fifty. Or seventy.
My mother denied her age all her life. She was beautiful and youthful-looking until the day she died at 94. By then she had shaved so many years off her age that she was publicly young enough to be my big sister. But just imagine if women of all ages had the facts and could see how glorious 94 can look.
Or how engaged and effective a woman of a certain age can be. My mother got her Ph.d. at 82! She worked until she was 90, and she took piano lessons until she was unable to go downstairs in her house. We have an increasing number of brave age-honest celebrities -- Jane Fonda (75), Susan Sarandon (66), Helen Mirren (68) and the glorious Judi Dench (78) -- who are putting themselves in the line of professional fire by not hiding behind "a woman's right" to obfuscate. Hillary Clinton is 65. Fluctuating weight and hair aside, she may well be the first woman President, during which time she would turn 70.
We all remember when Gloria Steinem declared, "this is what forty looks like" when someone told her she didn't look forty. She is about to show us what 80 looks like! On her it looks good.
Now we can't all look good as we age, but we can insist on being seen and accounted for. That is easier said than done. We have all had the experience of being introduced to someone (usually a man) at a party and seeing his eyes flit desperately over your shoulder -- even before you have uttered a word. I keep promising myself that the next time that happens I will say, "hey, you. I am probably a lot more interesting than you think. And a helluva lot more interesting than you are!"
Instead of talking back, we are intimated by the ageist obsession with youth. It is ironic that trying to "get away with" looking younger than we are is the one endeavor that our age-group, which is otherwise full of promise, adventure, optimism, can't possibly fulfill. I am getting fitter and fitter, but I will never fit into my repertoire of belts. Cataract surgery improved my vision, but exposed a whole new array of wrinkles in the mirror. So we had better admit our age to ourselves as well as the world at large, and get on with it.
Which for me comes down to hair color. More and more women are taking the plunge and going grey. As I walk down the street, I see role models with chic short cuts or luscious long locks. They are making the ravages of age downright ravishing. What's more, those natural women tell me that the whole undertaking is liberating. In the same way as menopause is a relief from the roller coaster of emotions that go with monthly periods, they escape the cycle of creeping roots, touch-ups, and hours at the salon. Maybe next year.
Why is acknowledging how old we are empowering rather than demoralizing? For one thing, doing so encourages others to get on the bandwagon. Giving each other permission to defy the system makes revolution. For another, by taking pride in how we are doing, we are counteracting the very real prejudices we all have about "old people" -- "geezers" as I call them when they are behind the wheel, although I increasingly suspect they are my age, 72, or younger! The more of us we meet who are practicing truth-in-aging, the more we will not hold age against each other.