You Still Are Your Own Person. When you read that, what is your first reaction? I suspect for many of you it’s a “duh,” or something a bit more challenging, “Of course I’m my own person.” But I’d encourage you to just sit with that a moment and make absolutely sure it’s 100% true, as it initially seems. Do you ever find yourself saying “Oh my gosh, I don’t believe I just said that! That sounds exactly like by mother!” Or before deciding whether or not to go somewhere, wondering who else is going. Or thinking as you look in the mirror in the dressing room at the shop “If I wear this, I think I’ll look more. . . . .” or “. . . .more like. . . “
It’s not easy to admit that you’ve thought some of these or similar things. Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that you grew up in a culture that encourages comparison, so it’s not surprising that, even into your “older adulthood” you can still find yourself sometimes doing that.
Impact of Messages
A problem with this is that as you get older, the messages you get about who you are and how you should be tend to be pretty negative. Generally speaking older women are not depicted particularly positively in movies, tv shows, advertisements, etc. So you’ll need to be alert for what may be a pretty steady stream of images of incapable, unnecessary, irrelevant, helpless older women. And this is largely unconscious, but still makes its impact day after day.
If none of this sounds familiar, then double check that you’re not just oblivious to it. But if you see it and it has no impact, good! I’ve had women I coach tell me that they’ve become very aware of all the negative messages they’re exposed to about the “proper role” of older women, and they reject them all. This is a huge step in the right direction.
Recently I heard myself say that if I were starting over, I would study some branch of behavioral neuroscience. I realized I have said this many times. This time I just stopped, and really heard myself. OK so I can’t “start over,” but I can find courses at local universities and sign up for them and learn. Although it’s unlikely I’ll get a BS, MS, and PhD in behavioral neuroscience, and then get some interesting research position, it doesn’t mean I can’t learn about it.
I think about the images on TV of gray-haired women in cap and gown surrounded by their adult children who are cheering their success. And yes, it certainly is a success. But wouldn’t it have an impact on younger women to see groups of gray-haired women in cap and gown. The message: this is just what many older women do not just one particularly outstanding one. You can still move towards your dream!
These are the kinds of messages inside our heads and from the media we need to become more aware of. For the next couple of days be alert for any messages in your head that are in any way denigrating older women, including yourself. Listen for the jokes people tell about getting older. These usually aren’t gender specific, but I was in the card shop the other day, and there was an amazing number of cards about all the horrors of becoming an older woman. For the next couple of days be aware of any messages on TV and in any magazines you may be reading. These often are very subtle, especially in ads.
You Still Are Your Own Person
You may think that you’re not going to change much of this, but think of the changes that, working together, we have made. And a change you can make for yourself is to become even more aware of how cultural messages may be affecting how you feel about and see yourself as an older woman. And this will have a major impact on how you decide to live your life for the next 10-20-30-40 years.
I’d love to hear what you’ve discovered after reading this piece. Please go below and share your realizations with us and remember, You Still Are Your Own Person!
Thanks for this article Sara. I have and do say “If I could do it over, I would have…”
I’ve been doing this since I was 40!!
I felt a shift when I read your article. xo