Month: April 2020

Embrace the silver, embrace ageing, embrace you

Embrace the silver, embrace ageing, embrace you

It’s been funny, no maybe, curious is the right word, to see how many folks are thinking about their silver roots while we’re in lockdown. It’s made me reflect on my own journey to silver which started about 6 or 7 years ago physically but probably a whole lot longer before that…

My mum has the best shade of silver white hair. She has been grey for as long as I can remember. She never dyed her hair nor was she particularly embarrassed by her grey hair either. She’d started her journey to grey from about the age of 28 (when I was born, coincidence?) and it didn’t seem to bother her too much. My father, by contrast, didn’t even begin to go grey til he was in his fifties, and even then, it was quite steely and not completely grey til much later. I always expected that I would be like my mother and go grey early. My dark brown hair was never quite dark enough for the vampy, gothic-style look I tried to achieve as a young woman and I experimented with many types of black hair dye to keep any semblance of brown far away. I started noticing regular grey hairs in my late thirties. While I was pregnant, I stopped dying my hair and saw a few greys poke through at the front. I’d have been quite happy with a Lily Munster-style white streak but what I saw didn’t quite match that and so post-baby, where the greys seemed even more prolific, it was back to dying.

On my 48th birthday, you can see the salt and pepper streaks.
When I was 20, with my mother and my grandmother. My mum would have been 48.

This became a massive chore. Not one to get my hair salon-dyed, the regularity of having to dye my roots every three to four weeks started to grate. More of an impact though was the break-up of my marriage. I was 44 years old and hadn’t dated anyone for about ten years. It felt grim. In one particularly heated argument with my ex-, he basically told me I would probably join the ranks of all the other bitter, older women who were washed up and couldn’t get a partner, because hey, who wants to be with a wrinkly old crone when you can be with a svelte young thing. I was furious but also scared. What if he was right? What if I was going to be alone for the rest of my life? How do I compete with people younger than me?

It was at that moment that I thought ‘fuck it’. What the hell am I doing? I will not try to be something I am not. I am a mid-forties woman and that’s what I will be.

Fully silver!

I didn’t let myself go (such a soap opera phrase!). Not at all. Actually since hitting my forties, I’m probably fitter than I ever was when I was in my twenties and thirties. And I didn’t throw out my skincare products, stop using makeup (though it’s mostly just lipstick now) or settle in for nights at home with the cat, ok, maybe for a while there. But it was whoosh, out with the hair dye.

I stepped into my own power and claimed it. Sounds corny but that’s what it was. I decided I would meet the world on my terms and if that was grey and wrinkled, that’s what it would be. And honestly, I haven’t really looked back. The transition has been gradual. I wasn’t as grey as I thought I was, which was a surprise. Some friends told me my hair made me look older. My own mum asked me if it was something I really wanted to do?! And I’ve had a few moments of wishing I could try other colours but stop myself when I remember how long it took to grow out the grey. And I do like using the word silver. The other bonus has been how many other women have also ditched the dye and gone silver. Everywhere I look, I am no longer alone. And I like to think I may have contributed to a few people’s decisions to go for silver too.

Ageism, Inequity and Health in 2020

Ageism, Inequity and Health in 2020

As a young woman, I never dreamed that ageism would be something that would affect me in my lifetime. I never imagined it affecting my sister, or my parents or even my grandparents. It could be that I lacked imagination. Or maybe I was idealistic (my mother often said I was). Or that I had a view of the world that was coloured by never having experienced significant discrimination, or at least, never having felt unable to counter discrimination with the obvious logic of my words and my unfailing passion.

I just couldn’t envisage a society where my age might determine my ability to access health care or my financial security or my housing options.

These days though, I’m a bit more cynical and a bit more jaded.

As a woman in my fifties, I acknowledge my age impacts on my life. Especially since I’m smack bang in the middle of a hormonal transition (thanks perimenopause) the likes of which I haven’t experienced since puberty, there’s no forgetting that this particular stage of life is part of growing older. And so are the accompanying effects – my skin is different, I’m getting a wrinkly neck, my tummy is a bit bigger, I can’t drink alcohol without suffering from night sweats, multitasking seems to be a thing of the past and I often find myself with words on the tip of my tongue, not quite able to get them out. These are the undeniable, but hopefully temporary, physical and cognitive changes that come with ageing as a woman.

I remember feeling miffed at being called an elderly primigravida when I was pregnant since surely there’s a more appropriate term (turns out ‘advanced maternal age’ is that term), I was only 37 then and felt as if my age wasn’t necessarily a good marker of my ability to give birth. Of course, medical evidence shows older mothers are at more risk of a range of complications, but I still hated the term ‘elderly’. To add insult to injury, my midwife told me, after a short labour, that I gave birth like a sixteen-year-old. I had no idea what she meant until she said if I was ever pregnant again, I should let them know I gave birth quickly. Her metaphor was a bit off though. I gave birth like a 37-year-old.

But when I talk about ageism affecting my life, what I’m really talking about is not being seen as anything but my age. And my chronological age at that.

That’s exactly what we’re seeing with COVID-19 in many places around the world. Older people are being told they may be in lockdown indefinitely simply because of their age. The opportunity to access care in countries unprepared for COVID-19 has in some cases been dependent on how old you are instead of how good your chances of survival might be. To hear that your life has been weighed up as being long enough and that ultimately, the economy is more important, is not pleasant or necessary.

Older people, geriatricians, gerontologists, and researchers of ageing all know that as humans, we don’t get more similar as we grow older. In fact, it’s the complete opposite – we become more different. Many 70-year-olds could easily outrun me (Simon’s mum, at 71, runs a mile round the back garden at the moment) and some 30-year-olds couldn’t.

During an Age-Friendly Community Forum last year, I heard a story about an Aboriginal tribe in the Northern Territory. The story was told second-hand, so I don’t know if it’s true or which tribe it refers to. So the story goes, when times were tough and food was scarce, the tribe would make have to make difficult decisions about how to share out the available resources among both younger and older members. Both vulnerable components of the tribe. You might assume the tribe would value the younger people more – they’re young, have more life to live and are necessary for the ongoing survival of the tribe. But they didn’t. The tribe ensured the survival of the older members. Why would they do this, we asked? Because the older people were the keepers of the stories and traditions, the oral history and lores that bound the tribe together as well as the holders of knowledge of the land and country. Without them, the tribe would be lost and in danger so ensuring their survival was vital.

While the veracity of this story is in question, the moral holds true. If we don’t value our elders, we will lose our sense of identity as a society, our way forward likely to be based on greed and shrift, not empathy and understanding.  Inequity will flourish and youth will be held up high above all else. Some may say this has already happened. Cynical me agrees. But idealistic me says change is always possible and it’s never too late to start making a difference.

How, you ask?

Share your stories about ageing, the good and the bad. Ageing isn’t homogenous and we shouldn’t make it seem like a joyride or a hellish either way.

Share your stories about ageism so we can name and shame and make change.

Speak out and stand up. Movements aren’t created without a little bravery now and then.

Want some advice on where and how to do these things? Get in touch. Movements are about working together, collaborating and putting all hands to the wheel.  The more the merrier.



Age Justice in a Time of Fear

Age Justice in a Time of Fear

On the weekend just passed, I was meant to be participating at the WOW Women of the World 2020 extravaganza in Brisbane.

How quickly things change.

My ten-minute bite was to be about creating an age justice movement for older women in Australia. And the world. What do I mean by Age Justice?

Well, let’s take a quick look at some statistics: older women make up a significant chunk of all older people. A higher proportion of women are aged 65 and over than men. Older women are almost twice as likely to live by themselves in older age as well and they are also more likely to need help with activities such as mobility, property maintenance and household chores(Source(s): ABS Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers: Summary of Findings 2018).

It’s also likely that for the older people who need significant care, the care and assistance they receive is probably provided by a woman, and most likely, a middle-aged woman.

Not only this, but these midlife and older women are more likely to be less well off financially then their male counterparts. As homemakers, part-time workers and child-bearers, their accumulated earnings are lower and less likely to carry them through a longer old age. Despite superannuation, midlife women are also less financially secure. Which, by the way, is an almost universal phenomenon, except in First Nation communities, where life expectancy is much lower than their settler counterparts.

Now let’s think about how visible these women are to society. Where do we see them? How do we see them? When do we see them? If you can’t think of many examples, it’s because they are indeed, virtually invisible. Their standing is compounded by ageism in almost every system – work, health, finance and the list goes on and on.

An age-justice movement aims to change those statistics. And WOW was to be the site of our first call to action.

Fortunately, we older women are pretty quick to adapt to stressful and uncertain times. WOW has now launched its digital portal, The Well. And I am working out just how to video myself so I can share my ten-minute WOW bite with a potentially even bigger community.  And perhaps, the call for an age-justice movement for women is now even more important. In this strange time of distant socialising, online connection and physical isolation, inequalities seem to rear their head even more.

Now is the time to make change that outlasts pandemics and shifts attitudes. If not now, then when? If not us, then who?


[Photo by sk on Unsplash]