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The 6 Ways Women Can Change the Stereotypes of Aging

The truth is: We're not too old for anything!

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illustration of women in different scenarios, changing female stereotypes
Virginia Gabrielli
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As a single woman in her 60s, I wanted to write a book that would help me figure out how to age alone, even though I don’t necessarily want to. So the optimistic book I did end up writing, Not Too Old for That: How Women Are Changing the Story of Aging, was not the story I planned to tell.

As much as I would like to have a romantic partner to grow older with, I can’t count on that. I realized I needed to have a plan. And so does every woman, even if they are partnered now.

Being partnered is no guarantee that you won’t age alone. It’s more likely that you will. Heterosexual women tend to marry men older than they are. They also live longer than men. Some 58 percent of American women aged 75 and older are widowed, according to the United States Census.

As I started researching the book, I came upon way too many studies that seemed to reinforce ageist, sexist narratives about aging as a woman— harmful narratives that no longer speak to who post-menopausal women are today, And I got angry.

So, I wrote a book to bust those narratives and stereotypes. Here are six key things I discovered:

• Get your financial house in order. Like many older women, I was aging into poverty. It isn’t so much that women don’t know about money; it’s more that we get different messages about it, mostly to be careful with it and to save it, not how to invest and grow it. Many older women admit they have regrets when it comes to money, the biggest being that they hadn’t invested more. But working against us is a lack of knowledge and confidence in investing. I finally took that message to heart. It’s never too late to learn with the help of financial experts. Start now.

• Take charge of your health. Societal stereotypes often portray older people as forgetful, passive, weak and dependent. Seen through the lens of sexism — the ideal feminine woman is considered to have many of these qualities. It’s no wonder that as women age, we’re more often thought to be incompetent and deserving of pity.

That, as well as women’s internalized ageist, sexist stereotypes, can become self-fulfilling prophecies, often leading us to exhibit helplessness and self-perceptions of bad health, both of which have real-life consequences for our health and our experiences in the healthcare system. One study published in The Journal of Social Issues found that those beliefs could prevent a healthcare provider from recommending an aggressive treatment when their conditions are similar to men — such as joint replacement surgery for knee and hip arthritis and heart procedures.

All of this means women should demand that their healthcare providers listen to their concerns, and stop addressing them in condescending language. Call them out. And if you still believe that you’re not being heard, get a second opinion, and/or another doctor.

• You need caregiving, too. Caregiving is a concern for everyone, even happily coupled people because, as mentioned above, romantic partners sometimes die or become disabled or ill first, forcing women into the role of caregiver or widow — and often leaving women without someone to care for them as they age.

Some 19 percent of women between the ages of 65 and 74 need help with at least one self-care activity, according to the Institute on Aging. That jumps to 53 percent for women aged 85 and older. Start having those conversations with friends, family and other loved ones now and keep having them as health situations change.

• You’re beautiful “as is.” We live in a society that often doesn’t value a woman who looks her age, and that also convinces us we can’t be beautiful past a certain age. This is unless we spend a lot of time, money and energy on products and procedures that boost our youthfulness.

So, it’s no surprise that many women are unhappy about what they see happening to their faces and bodies as they grow older. In fact, in one AARP survey, three in 10 women shared that their biggest anxiety about getting older is their appearance. For some women, the loss of their attractiveness causes them more anxiety than their fears about declining health as they age, and that anxiety may also put them at a greater risk for depression and other disorders.

Beauty isn’t going to help any woman as she ages, but her health most definitely will. As we saw during the pandemic, when months of stay-at-home orders kept women from getting their hair done, re-upping their Botox or doing any other beauty routines, somehow, they were still likable and lovable and valued employees “as is.”

That was a valuable lesson. We should ask ourselves: Do we really need all those beauty routines or can that time and money be put to better use as we age?

• You’ve got a friend. I didn’t need research to tell me how important friendship is. I’ve known many of my friends for decades — friendships that have lasted longer than either of my marriages, any of my other romantic relationships, or any job I’ve ever had.

But I didn’t always prioritize friendship when I was married. Now I do.

Intimate friendships matter. Research increasingly indicates there’s a need for friends later in life for well-being, health, caregiving, alleviating social isolation, and as a buffer against later-in-life events, such as cognitive decline.

The older we get, the more marginalized we become in this society. Having diverse friends helps us be better allies in the fight against ageism, racism, sexism and all the other “isms” we’d like to dismantle to make for a more inclusive society.

• It’s never too late to find love. Vice President Kamala Harris married for the first time at age 50; writer Anne Lamott at age 65. Many women in midlife and older who want a romantic partner are finding love, shattering the myth that aging means becoming asexual and irrelevant.

One of the true upsides of getting older is that at some point we realize just how many things we’ve been told about aging aren’t true, including the belief that women aren’t desirable past a certain age, and that there’s something wrong if a woman has no desire for a romantic partner.

Now, that’s the kind of narrative-busting I could fall in love with, easily.


Can you relate to the above? Do you feel as though you're taken seriously? Let us know in the comments below.

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