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Ageism, the last taboo…

Diane Hall


woman with gray hair faced towards wall

This is quite a personal post. I know from speaking to women in my network that I’m not alone in my thoughts and how I’m judged by society; at the same time, I don’t wish to generalise that every woman walking the Earth feels this way.

I’ve faced judgement from society before, as someone visibly overweight. I’ve had a problem with my size and controlling my eating habits for as long as I can remember, and my emotional connection with food became even more of a crutch when my children were young and I was stressed, tired, bored, happy…whatever my mood, I found solace in food.

Even though I’ve been a size 20/22 for most of my adult life, I’m quite tall, so I carry it fairly well. I have, at times, felt frumpy and a lesser mortal when amongst slim, pretty women, but I can honestly say that my confidence made a difference. If I wanted to be noticed and heard, I could be, despite my size. If I wanted to feel attractive, I could…for me, this was much more of a mental issue than a physical one. I was really only invisible if I wanted to be so.

Certainly, in the last few years, fat-shaming has become a huge no-no. Every size, outwardly at least, is celebrated, and I haven’t felt as embarrassed about my weight as I may have done a decade ago.

Which is a good thing, as I now seem to be battling something else: ageism.

I noticed a few years ago that people were beginning to treat me differently, but since we’ve come out of lockdown this seems to have escalated.

Picture of author Diane Hall

Picture of author Diane Hall

Diane Hall

I’m 47, and once past my early forties, it seems that I’ve become more invisible than I ever was from my weight. If I speak up for myself, I’m a ‘Karen’; if I stay quiet, it’s as if I don’t exist. There’s no middle ground. I don’t get shop staff fawning over me anymore (despite my increased spending power than a decade ago); I don’t see programmes featuring main characters of the same age unless they’re creating a rise out of the negatives that come with ageing. All society seems to think I’m concerned about is the menopause.

In lockdown, and due to the fact I’m 90% white-haired (it’s been like this since my early twenties, but I’ve always dyed it) I decided to go with the flow and embrace my natural colour. That was like flicking the final switch…people see my white hair and just assume I’m more of a pest than a pleasure to be around.

What’s that all about?!

There are far too many perceived negatives about being middle aged. In the eyes of society, I’m just hanging around, cluttering up the joint, until I can be shipped off to an old people’s home, safely out of the way, waiting for death to take me. That could be forty/fifty years away yet—what am I meant to do in the meantime?

Why does no one believe there are any positives at 47? Here are my thoughts on this:

  • At this age, I’m comfortable in myself. I don’t harangue people to appreciate me for my looks, but I do hate that this is deemed as ‘letting myself go’. George Clooney is judged to be more attractive the older he gets. But ageing women? Not so much, apparently.

  • I’ve got more freedom than I had two decades ago. Back then, I was only concerned with settling down and having a family, carving out my career, and keeping on top of everything. Today, my kids are grown, my career is what I choose it to be, and I can go anywhere and do anything I please. I don’t have the stress I had when I was a twenty-something; life really is too short to worry about most things outside of my control.

  • I’m not as selfish. Bringing up kids means putting other people’s needs before your own and it’s difficult to get out of that mindset even when they don’t need you as much. That doesn’t mean I’m subservient, but I have a level of empathy and a much larger heart than I did when I was twenty and the world simply revolved around me and my desires.

  • I have a lot of experience and ideas. I have a decent enough grasp of technology, though I admit that some things have already run away from me. That said, being in the workplace for more than two decades means I’ve seen a lot of what works and what doesn’t within teams, and businesses as a whole. I’m still as creative and as full of ideas as I’ve ever been—this absolutely does not diminish with age.

  • I am prepared to spend more on good brands. Fast fashion isn’t meant for someone of my age or size. That’s fine, as I prefer good, classic pieces that can be dressed up or down and which can be worn in conjunction with the latest fashion trend. The only thing retailers push on women my age is anti-ageing stuff. But is that it? Why are you choosing to ignore this huge demographic with money to spend? Are you crazy?!

There are more positives, but I fear this article is already long enough. Ageism, particularly against women, feels to me like the last taboo. There have been some great moves made against most other forms of judgement and discrimination in society, but age is simply not mentioned.

The ‘Karen’ meme/attitude can be funny (you don’t lose your sense of humour when you reach your forties), but it is used far too generously against any middle-aged woman standing up for herself. If you speak up at twenty, you’re feisty and confident and you know what you want. If you speak out at eighty, your faculties are clearly failing. In-between these parameters, you’re simply difficult, awkward, entitled and pushy if you object to being railroaded by society.

Well, I’ve got news for you…ageing happens to us all, love. The ‘old’ women you disregard or scorn now will be you or your partner soon enough. It’s shocking how quickly time flies.

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