We stood in a little, clustered semi-circle. Three women, not quite yet friends, but acquaintances testing the waters of friendship with tentative toes. Asking ourselves silently, “Will this work? Will she accept me for me? Could we possibly become friends?”
We were waiting for our daughters to get out of gymnastics, a captive time frame, one where there is no easy escape if the conversation turns south or gets awkward. At least not until practice is over. So caution was taken, nothing overly controversial was broached, nothing daring or too revealing. We were still feeling each other out, waiting to see if our weirdness matched up with one another.
It’s dangerous waters when you’re making new friends as an adult. Somehow, though, the topic of aging came up.
We talked about the usual: wrinkles, grey hairs, knees and joints that inexplicably hurt for no reason at all upon waking up (Why does this happen? Anyone?). We laughed about it, recognizing pretty quickly that this was safe territory, something we could all lean into without too much mental exertion or fear. We talked about Botox—who does it, who doesn’t (Me? I’m team Botox all the way). And we commiserated over the general unfairness of getting older.
Then one of us said, “It’s just so not fair. Men get better looking as they age. With no work required. We need a ton of stuff and a lot of money to stay even close to the same.”
And we all quickly agreed.
It’s not fair. Men do get better with age. Hollywood’s leading men can be Hollywood leading men well into their golden years. Look at Carey Grant and Robert Redford. Or, for more of a modern example, George Clooney. Yet Hollywood women are relegated to the mom roles as they age (TIME even took note of this unfair gender gap). They’re devalued and passed over for much younger starlets who are often young enough to be the leading man’s daughter. Which is weird, uncomfortable, and something we don’t talk about enough, if you ask me.
Getting older has a price tag, and it’s a high one.
Yet…is that all there is? Is that what life after 40 has to offer women? Fading beauty and therefore a fading life?
I certainly don’t call the shots on what society finds acceptable, but, still, I refuse to accept this facet of what has become so socially ingrained in our lives that we’ve come to believe it as fact. I refuse to believe that we are required by life—by the world—to be less than, just because our age is more than.
Frankly, of all the things women should be fighting against and insulted by, this might be one of the worst offenders. We should be rallying against it, pushing back against this notion that aging faces and bodies make us irrelevant and unworthy.
Because we are so much more than our aging faces and our less-than-youthful bodies. In fact, in my own very unscientific research and observation, I see women around me, the ones in my generation and right above it, getting better with age. Not physically maybe, though there are those out there who do, but emotionally, mentally, and relationally.
Women Get Better with Age
As our wrinkles start to appear, first gently and then with full force, so does our confidence. We catch our stride, we come into ourselves. We bloom as we get older. Those who used to be wallflowers become bonafide roses. Those who struggled to find their footing get firm and steady and set their course. I see it time and time again.
Women have the unique ability to have a second act of life. I’m not sure why this is. Motherhood, maybe. But I’ve seen it in those who never became mothers themselves, so I don’t think it’s quite that. Maybe it’s because we become tired, so tired, of being ignored, passed over, looked down upon, and silenced.
Maybe it’s because we’re exhausted from being measured only by the yardstick of our appearance. We become frustrated with accepting that we can either be nice and walked over or a you-know-what and speak our minds. Maybe, just maybe, we begin to realize that it doesn’t matter one hill of beans what anyone else thinks of us.
I truly don’t know why. But I do know this: I see it all the time.
As our wrinkles start to appear, first gently and then with full force, so does our confidence. We catch our stride, we come into ourselves. We bloom as we get older.
Look for the Strong Women Around You
I see women blossoming out of middle age, walking in confidence and strength, often found through adversity. I see strong women, smart women, driven women, starting second careers or building their own businesses. I see mothers, still fully and wholly committed to being there for their children and their family, yet also striking out on their own and finding new causes to support and communities to help.
I see my friend Caroline, a mother to young twins, writing her first book in middle age, growing her audience as an addiction counselor and a voice for trauma survivors. I see her courage and her drive to start now to make her life just as she wants it. I love this in her.
I see it in another friend, recently widowed after the sudden death of the love of her life and business partner. I watch her refuse to give in and pack up the dream they had worked so hard to build together. Instead, I watch her with courage and tenacity share both her grief and her optimism with those around her as she grows their business, now solo, with both grit and grace. I stand in complete awe of her strength.
I see it in our founder, Darlene, who decided after “retiring” from her first job in the music business to start Grit and Grace Life, this community for women. She thought instead of just riding off into the sunset with her husband, Dan, she had so much left to give to this world and to the women in it. She knew she was called to pour into the lives of the younger generation and start something brand new when most of us are preparing to actually rest and play shuffleboard at the pool until our last day.
I’m continually encouraged by her.
And finally, I try to live this in my own life after floundering for ages, decades really, trying one thing after another after another. Putting careers and passions and purposes on like new outfits, tossing them after they went out of style or I outgrew them. I get it now. All of that trying, all of that floundering, it was because I was doing what I was doing to get approval from someone else. It was like a quest to pinpoint my identity.
I desperately needed someone to tell me I was good enough, smart enough—worthy. I didn’t really love working in corporate America; there were a million reasons why it didn’t work for me or my family. But I kept plugging away because I was chasing both the money and the approval, all the way down a dark wormhole that left me scrambling to put my life back together after it all fell apart.
But now, I don’t know, maybe I don’t care anymore. Maybe I realized that the only approval I really need is my own and God’s. Or maybe, just maybe, I realized, after all of my failed attempts at finding myself, that failure isn’t the worst thing that can happen. The worst thing that can happen is not getting back up after you fall. I don’t know. But now, here I am at 42, doing work I truly love, building my own dreams, and finally (and I mean finally) feeling like I am comfortable in the skin that I’ve been given, even if it isn’t quite as taut as it used to be.
Ladies, I know society sends us one million different messages a day, trying with all of its might to convince us that we are to be measured only by the size of our waistline or the smoothness and youthfulness of our skin. I know how hard it is to accidentally turn your phone to selfie mode and scare the living daylights out of yourself when you see a nearly complete stranger (and not a pretty one) staring back at you. I know how demoralizing those cameras are in the self-checkout line at Target. I know it all.
But I’m challenging you to look beyond the obvious. I want you to dig deeper. Quiet the noise of what the world tells us, and for the love of all that is holy, stop comparing yourself to the filtered images of fake influencers on the web.
I’m challenging you to look around at the women in your life. The real ones. The beautiful ones, of all shapes and sizes. Watch in awe as these women do amazing things, begin second acts and shape their own lives and own their own dreams. Find awe as you watch a woman you know grow into herself, realizing her beauty and power for maybe the first time, well into middle age. It’s all around us, no matter where you live.
This is our battle cry. This is our rallying call. We do not have to accept that age makes us worse or somehow less valuable. We don’t have to buy into this lie. Instead, we can draw strength and inspiration from the women before us and around us who are finding themselves in this dreaded middle age. We can realize that time and experience allow us to become more fully ourselves than youth ever will, and we can realize that we are indeed like fine wine, ladies…we only get better with age.
One way we can hold ourselves back is constantly trying to people please rather than doing things for our own approval. Check out this podcast episode when a Life Coach joined us to help women overcome this common struggle: Stop People Pleasing Now With Cherlyn Decker – 159