Aside from being a little bit wiser and having to admit that I have an informed opinion about washing machines, I don’t really feel much different to the 25 year old version of myself that I once was. I often think I have a bizarre mental condition where I look in the mirror and fail to see the fact that I have clearly grown older (age-o-rexia?) My mind erases the wrinkles and grey hairs, kindly photoshopping out the ageing process and helping me to pretend that the inevitable isn’t happening. I’ll never forget my 75 year old Grandma looking me in the eye and telling me: “I don’t feel a day over 25 my dear. I often look in the mirror and wonder who on earth that old lady staring back at me can be” – a sentiment I am slowly beginning to understand.
Despite my inability to see it, I am clearly ageing however. The big 40 is looming and I can see the unwanted and mysterious figure of my future menopause waving at me from the horizon. In these times of extended adolescence, you can kid yourself that you’re still young at 30, but by the time you start to approach the next big birthday you really have to admit that you are definitely a grown up now. The fact that I am also responsible for two whole other people and seen as some kind of authority figure only adds to this ridiculous notion. Yes, I am definitely getting older.
We all know that old age is not kind, but it is particularly cruel to women. Not only do I have to contend with some sort of weird second puberty type thing that will do unpredictable things to my body and mind (hormones and me really do not mix!) but I am also starting to have to confront the idea that soon I will become invisible. Society does not care about middle-aged women who are no longer attractive to men and the thought is terrifying.
When I was younger I bought into the idea that a woman’s sexuality was her power. I realised that I could hold men in my thrall, picking and choosing lovers in night clubs like a kid in a sweet shop. I thought that prostitution should be decriminalised – why shouldn’t women make money out of the pathetic men who have to pay them for sex? And, like many young women I contemplated the idea of becoming a lap dancer to earn some extra cash. I had no idea what the future was going to bring.
I had no idea how having two children would swell my body like a balloon, giving me amazing tits and a huge ass, adding half my body weight to my athletically boyish frame. I had no idea about the stretch marks that would claw their way across my stomach and said enlarged arse or what your boobs end up looking like after they’re gone on a crazy journey from a B cup to a G cup and back down again (slightly deflated balloons in case you were wondering) and how this would change my relationship to my body. I had no idea how when my friend used to tell me that I had the most amazing flat stomach that this was a temporary condition to be cherished, never to return again in a post-child world. I was young and invincible and I thought I knew everything.
I can therefore totally understand why young women think that their sex appeal is empowering. Women have precious little power in this world and I don’t blame them for grabbing it with both hands wherever they find it. It’s only now as I look in the mirror at my body scarred from the battle of 2 pregnancies and births and notice the winter creeping into my hair, that I realise my mistake. Youth is a temporary state and one day you will have to deal with the entropy. One day you will walk down the street and nobody will turn their head to look at you. You will do your sexiest dancing in the nightclub and nobody will care. You will try to convince yourself that you are a strong woman and these things do not matter to you but secretly they do.
If women’s sexuality is to be viewed as ’empowering’, what happens when you lose it? What happens when your looks are no longer your selling point and somebody actually has to value you for what’s going on inside your head rather than what it looks like? The more women promote the idea that our sexuality constitutes our power, the more we disempower older women who are no longer seen as viable sexual objects. We can see the consequence of this kind of thinking in the way that older women disappear from our TV screens, highlighted by the case of Miriam O’Reilly who was dropped from the Country File for the heinous crime of being over 50. We can see it in the refusal to take women seriously as experts or academics, our looks always valued more than anything else.
As I grow older, I know that I will lose my sex appeal – it’s an inevitable part of life – but it shouldn’t be this scary. I should not be worrying about how my life will be because I should never have put so much store in it in the first place. Women should be valued for our talents, our intellects, our creativity and our cracking sense of humour just as much as our male counterparts and we shouldn’t be scared of growing older. I’m going to do my best to embrace the wisdom that age brings rather than mourn the losses of youth but society has to change too.