Can you name a single gray-haired female CEO or member of Congress?
Neither can we.
Despite the fact that celebrities like Diane Keaton and Jamie Lee Curtis are widening our view of what it means to be a "silver fox", there is still a massive double standard on how men and women age. We think it's time to change that.
Fine Wine vs. Glass of Milk
We don't know who originally coined the saying, "Men age like a fine wine, women age like a glass of milk", but we'd like to sit them down for a serious chat.
As women, we all know the frustration of not being able to shed a single pound, while our male counterparts seem to lose weight in their sleep. And while a single gray hair can spark an existential crisis for a woman, it's seen as a sexy mark of distinction in men.
We all know aging is a natural part of life, but accepting it is a whole other thing. The truth is, women suffer an impossible paradox — embrace your age, but stay beautiful in the eyes of society. Or, in the words of comedian, Tina Fey, "'You can have it all and be serious,’ but also, ‘It’s great to get Botox,’ and ‘You should be really skinny but don’t be, but don’t not be!'"
It's confusing to say the least.
What happens to men versus women as they age
Despite the giant rift in the way we view aging, and the harmful stigmas around menopause, the process itself is fundamentally the same for all human bodies. At the end of the day, we all age.
But even the World Health Organization (WHO) points out some important differences in the way men and women age — differences that reach beyond basic physiology. "Aging differs between men and women, through mind, body, and their emotional capacity. The aging pattern for each gender greatly depends on the society an individual was raised in and their personal smoking, alcohol abuse, infectious disease, nutrition, poverty, access to education, work conditions, violence, and health care," says the WHO.
For women, the mental and emotional aspects of aging can have a major impact on their lives. In fact, according to a 2014 study, most women begin to feel invisible by the time they're 51. The same study also found that 75% of women felt ignored by men when they walked into a room and 50% felt as if they’d been “left on a shelf” or judged negatively because of their age.
But the worst part? Only 15% of the women surveyed reported feeling confident in any area of their life.
How can we change the narrative?
The good news is change is underway.
In one leading example, Allure magazine recently announced it will no longer use the term “anti-aging”. “Whether we know it or not, [the term is] subtly reinforcing the message that aging is a condition we need to battle — think anti-anxiety meds, antivirus software, or antifungal spray. Repeat after me: Growing older is a wonderful thing because it means that we get a chance, every day, to live a full, happy life," says Allure Editor-in-Chief, Michelle Lee.
Michelle also recommends removing the qualifiers from our language when we talk about women over 40. For example, "She looks great...for her age". You might be surprised how small changes in the way we discuss taboo topics can make a big difference in the way we perceive them.
In another leading initiative, two aging advocacy groups in the US have joined forces to launch a project known as Reframing Aging. Their mission is to drive collective change in the way we think and speak about aging. Ironically, one of the key tricks to it is to not overthink it. The more we dwell on aging, the bigger an issue it becomes.
But let's be honest. Most of us are going to end up thinking about how we're aging, at least sometimes. In those instances, we recommend taking a page from Sue Ellen Cooper's book. Sue Ellen is the founder of the Red Hat Society, a playgroup celebrating women age 50 and over. "First impression doesn't tell you a thing," says Sue Ellen. "Some of these people have had incredible lives and careers and still have a great sense of humor and a lot of intellect, and the culture will write them off: 'Oh, she's an old lady...'".
These women – and you – deserve to not be written off. Who you are matters so much more than how old you are. Celebrate the confidence and wisdom you've acquired. Embrace your growth. BUT, if there are certain physical changes that shake your confidence, don’t allow you to enjoy certain activities or exercise, or take pleasure in intimate acts, know there are tools, like vFit, to help.