But what if I don’t want to wear purple when I’m old?

star wars aging
Double standard ageing: Star Wars style

I don’t really know how to start this, as there are so many taboos and niceties banging against my consciousness, as a woman, as a feminist. But here it is: I’m nearly 52 and men don’t notice me any more and it turns out that I mind that quite a lot.

This new awareness was brought home to me at Easter whilst on holiday in the south of Italy. The first week I was staying with friends; middle-aged parents with young children and, fully released from the grief of childlessness I found I was able to open my heart to these children without any sadness surfacing. Wonderful. An unexpected joy. I had long hoped that one day being around children wouldn’t be so painful; I didn’t dare hope that it could be joyful. The second week, which I spent alone (as planned) so that I could write was also full of unexpected feeling, this time a new grief: the grief of ageing.

Vintage wine is savored. Vintage cars exclaimed over. Vintage clothes coveted. Yet the vintage woman remains uncelebrated. [Skylar Liberty Rose]

I’d been an au-pair in Rome for a life-changing year in my very early twenties, and somehow exposure to the dramatic southern Italian way of being a woman helped guide this gawky English girl into a more confident womanhood. In Rome there was a sense of admiration for women that was alien to my Anglo-Saxon upbringing and living around it woke something up in me. I came back to London after that year feeling that I’d got the best of both worlds: an English sensibility and feminist mindset topped with a froth of Italian bravura and polish. Subsequent visits to Italy over the years have always reminded me of this, and I’ve loved the way that Italian men were able to show me by their courteous behaviour and admiring looks that they appreciated my presence, in a way that British men simply couldn’t manage, unless you include the coarse and intimidating comments yelled at women from building sites.

Although I’ve been circumstantially and peacefully celibate for several years now, I did have it in my mind that perhaps I might, should the opportunity present itself, have a little dalliance with the opposite sex in Italy. It wasn’t a fully formed thought, more a ‘let’s see’ and I carried the idea lightly as I relish and cherish my single life after many years of partnership from fifteen to forty-five. I had an image in my mind of some of those films where middle-aged woman find love in Italy. But life isn’t a Hollywood film and the reality was that I discovered, to my shock, that I have become completely invisible to Italian men; that I had become ‘Signora’. And I realised that if I’d become invisible to Italian men, then I’d become invisible to men generally!  I used to joke that all a woman had to do in Italy to get male attention was to wake up and have a pulse. I was wrong; she needed to be in her child-bearing years (even her infertile child-bearing years as I’d been.)

Since that holiday, I have tried to discuss this realisation with a couple of people and, with the exception of a few more reflective souls, most have seen it as me fishing for compliments about my looks: ‘No, that’s not true!’ they’ve exclaimed, in mock horror or, ‘Don’t be ridiculous, you’re still a lovely looking woman!’ and, of course, ‘But look at Helen Mirren… it’s perfectly possible for an older woman to be foxy…’  (The fact that I’ve never aspired to ‘foxy’ as long as they’ve known me suddenly irrelevant!) And yet, when I’ve pointed out to them that my looks weren’t what I was talking about, but rather about my feelings of loss as I come to terms with this part of my identity as a woman ebbing away, this loss of something ineffable which I’ve taken for granted, this loss as I shed the skin of youth and enter the new, and not-yet-known territory of my ‘young elderhood’, it’s as if they can’t hear me. I talk about the (very normal) menopausal weight gain around my middle which so effectively unconsciously signals my non-fertility to men and they cannot believe I am really talking about this, ‘Are you depressed? they say or, ‘Have you tried internet dating?’ The fact that I am not actually talking about wanting to be in a relationship, but about how differently I am seen by society, and men in particular, seems to get missed.

The tone of these conversations felt so familiar to me and then I realised why – it’s was like trying to talk about childlessness all over again.

One of the main reasons I stared writing this blog five years ago is because when I tried to talk about the pain, grief, isolation and devastation of my childlessness, people would say the same sort of things to me: ‘Oh, don’t worry, you’ll meet someone!’ or, ‘But you look so young for your age, you’ve got loads of time!’ or, ‘But look at Helen Mirren, she hasn’t got kids and she thinks it’s great…’ I gave up trying to talk about the difficult feelings of coming to terms with my childlessness because nobody could hear that I wasn’t asking for reasons to not give up hope; I was talking about what it felt like after you’d given up hope. The loss itself and finding my passage through it. I gave up in the end as it was like shouting into the wind.

Once again, it seems, by talking about the feelings of loss that ageing has stirred in me, I’m trying to have a conversation which is not socially acceptable, a social taboo even, because it involves irrevocable loss, the spectre of loneliness, the decline that leads to death. All the stuff we don’t want to think about or talk about.

Many of my friends and quite a few of my clients are dealing with very ill and dying parents and one of my contemporaries is in a coma, not expected to survive. My darling cat is getting on in years too, and often when I come in and she’s asleep I have a moment of anxiety followed by a flood of relief as I gently call her name and watch her consciousness flicker to life. I’ve taken up gardening with a passion and I think now I understand why older women love it: it’s good to be able to make something grow when so much around us is reminding us of death.

I’ve noticed that the media discourse around women ageing seems to fall into two camps: either it’s a disaster (which we could have avoided if we’d be more prudent) or it’s a carefree time of adventure (cue skydiving pensioners). It’s like the binary dichotomy of childless vs. childfree all over again! (Although the more women I meet without children, the more I understand that dichotomy to be false as so many of us exist on a continuum between the two). However, whichever one you are seen by others to belong to, disaster or adventure, it does seem to be about how you look predominantly. I had been collecting images of older women on a Pinterest board but after a while I began to notice that nearly all the images of naturally grey hair always seemed to sit atop very slim, attractive, Caucasian women in their 40s and 50s. I stopped pinning those, and instead felt drawn to the individualism of the ‘Advance Style’ brigade, but then that began to bother me too – a kind of ubiquitous ‘When I am Old I Shall Wear Purpleness’ eccentricity (inspired by Jenny Joseph’s poem) that isn’t me either. I’m not a flamboyant dresser now, why do I have to become one because I’m getting older? And my hairdresser tells me that if I get a head of silver hair, it won’t be till my seventies, so bang goes that look too.

advanced style
www.advanced.style

Although I have never been particularly vain about my looks, I have lived since around the age of fifteen until recently in a body which, by the whims of history and culture, has been deemed ‘attractive’. I never claimed any credit for this accident of genes and, having never been admired or praised as a child for my looks (I was more used to be called ‘odd looking’) I found the attention bemusing and never took it terribly seriously. I was a bookish child and quite a serious young woman. Around the age of forty-five, when my last-chance-to-have-a-baby relationship ended, I was so relieved to be free of a very stressful relationship that being single was a relief. And from that inauspicious start I’ve discovered, to my delight, that the solo state suits me very well, much more so that I expected. But deep down, I’ve been holding on to an idea that if I wanted to be in a sexual/romantic relationship again, I could find one without too much difficulty (finding a good one, maybe not so easy!) What I hadn’t realised until Italy is that during those years from 45 to 52 as my hormones shifted from perimenopause to post-menopause, so had my phenomenal signals to the opposite sex and I’m shocked how much I much I minded, although I’m getting used to it. Writing this blog is part of getting used to it. It feels like I’m ‘coming out’ again, just like I did with childlessness. I feel vulnerable, worried what you will think: ‘How can she be so vain, so self obsessed?’, ‘Why is she worried about something so banal as her looks?’ David Hockney recently said that ‘your face belongs to other people’ but I don’t want them to have that power. I resent it even as I know my face has opened so many doors for me in my life.

I’m with Carrie Fisher who, whilst acknowledging that her youthful body had been key to her role as ‘Princess Leia’ in the original 1977 Star Wars, pushed back on Twitter against those who vilified her for having the temerity to appear on screen in the 2015 sequel as a older woman:

Carrie Fisher tweet aging comeback

And it’s not all about sex, about the ‘male gaze’ either. It’s about being treated with respect as an ageing woman in a society which accords very little space for us, and only then if it involves being (or having once been) partnered: being a wife, a mother, a grandmother. The only socially acceptable roles for an older childless woman are to be an aunt or godmother, but once again these roles involve some kind of connection to the nuclear family order. Without that, things very quickly slide off into caricature and cruelty: the crazy cat lady, the witch, the dried up old maid, the frump, the harridan, the career woman, the sexless spinster. If a woman’s only currency within patriarchy is her youth/fertility (which is therefore at service to the ‘male line’) then once this window has closed, unless she’s involved with the care of the male line, she’s redundant. Hence the invisibility. It’s brutal and it’s basic and we can dress it up in as much empowering language as we want, but here is a nasty bit of conditioning to be faced, and through being faced, transcended.

We cannot change what we will not talk about.

There was a moment in Italy that summed it up for me: I was in a restaurant having dinner alone, quite at peace with that. I’d finished and wanted to get my bill but when I tried to get the waiter’s attention I couldn’t. I looked to my left and saw that at the reception desk just a few metres away, a woman in her late twenties was having a mildly animated conversation with the head waiter, and ‘my’ waiter was gravitating towards that. I noticed, almost anthropologically that there was a kind of mating ritual in progress and understood that until this had been concluded, neither of the young male waiters would notice my signals for the bill. I understood it as a biological fact and felt no rancour. And then the woman left, and the moment she did so I signalled for my bill again and they immediately saw me. She was still potentially fertile; I was not, and biology wins. Yes, I have other qualities; no, I do not define my value purely on biological terms. But in that moment it was all about biology, about hormones, about pheromones. It was as if the young men came out of a trance after she’d left and remembered where they were and what they did for a living. She was not an exceptionally beautiful young woman, and the exchange was not, to the casual observer, a highly charged flirtation. It was something much deeper, much less conscious…

All change, even good, hoped for change, involves loss. And whilst I’m looking forward to my elderhood and already enjoying the renewed mental clarity and emotional stability that being post-menopausal offers, letting go of my youthful self is bringing up a lot of grief. I know grief, I respect grief and I trust that this loving energy that has got me through so much change before will get me through this one too, and that on the other side is a reality that I can’t yet know, because I’m not that person yet.

I don’t need an ‘anti-ageing cream’ because I’m no more anti-age than I was anti-youth. Each has its time and its power. But now I understand why my mother’s generation called the menopause ‘the change’; because it comes with a powerful side-order of loss.

Later this month I’ll be part of the 2nd ‘Ageing Without Children’ conference organised by AWOC.org, an organisation I’m proud to be a founding member of and (unbelievably!) the only one speaking up for and supporting the 1 in 5 adults in the UK (men and women) ageing without children, as well as those estranged or geographically distanced from their children, or whose children have predeceased them. Ageing + childlessness = a double taboo, yet if we don’t get past the social injunctions not to think or talk about this, we can’t imagine and implement the many creative solutions there are. Please come along.

Ageing doesn’t have to be a disaster and somehow I’m sure that most of us who are the skydiving types will have done it already, but I feel there’s a lot of wiggle room in-between these banal social caricatures. And it’s that in-between space that I’m aiming for as I do my best to transition mindfully into my ‘young elderhood’. And no doubt once that’s complete, once I’ve shed the skin of youth and have embodied what comes after, it’ll be time to shed that skin too and move into the next stage. And I’m sure I’ll have worked out what to wear by then. I just know it won’t be purple. It’s never suited me.

About Jody 91 Articles
Jody Day is a British author, trainee integrative psychotherapist and the founder of Gateway Women, the global friendship and support network for childless women. She’s a founding member at AWOC.org (Ageing without Children) and a former Fellow in Social Innovation at Cambridge Judge Business School. She's the author of 2016’s 'Living the Life Unexpected: 12 Weeks to Your Plan B for a Meaningful and Fulfilling Future Without Children' (Bluebird/PanMacmillan). Gateway Women hosts online communities, workshops, retreats, courses, social events and private sessions for childless-not-by-choice women. Jody lives alone in London with her cat, a stereotype that she warmly and humorously subverts.
Contact: Website

38 Comments on But what if I don’t want to wear purple when I’m old?

  1. Hi Jody. My name is Pamela Zitron. I live in Alexandria Virginia. I am 69 years old. Childless, not by choice and have gone through all of the the emotions you and your readers have gone through. Plus, there will be some more as time goes by which I can share at a different time. I am writing you today to let you know that I have responded to and linked this particular post at my blog: http://www.newageaging.com. PLEASE read it. It will give you and your readers hope and another point of view about feeling invisible and finding love after 50 and beyond. It’s called: 5 Reasons to Believe in Love after 50. Please let me know what you think. Thank you.

  2. I remember turning 50 and going through the same thing. I became obssessed and lost weight and started wearing body hugging clothes and walking around in platforms……then one day I saw a woman crossing the road in super tight camel toe jeans, shoes so high that she could hardly stand in them let alone walk and I realised how utterly ridiculous she looked….and why….so she could appeal to men and get their approval. That was it for me, from that day,I knew that I was not going to give my power away to men, STUFF THAT!, especially when its quite alright for them to go bald, and rock their nose and ear hair….I also came to the realisation, and this was from observing the women around me, that as childless ladies, as we age we dont have the safe stereotype to fit into. Im talking about Granny mode. I see them effortlessly walking around with the grandchildren in their sheepskin vest and sensible slacks and shoes comfortable in their own skin.
    I will continue to make an effort , wear stylish clothes and take pride in my appearance……………….but will never compromise myself in order to attract the “male gaze”.HA, what a joke, and the joke is on us fair ladies.

  3. Jody, thank you for this. I’m a bit older than you, so I’ve been feeling it longer. It does hurt when you’re no longer someone that men look at and flirt with. Unlike you, I’m not at peace with being celibate either. We’re still the same inside, but outsides tell a different story. I’m sure people assume I’m somebody’s grandmother and that’s my total value. But that’s not who I am at all. Bless you for “coming out” with this.

  4. Jody – I would like to make the following observations on your topic regarding middle aged women and invisibility:

    I too have recently returned from a holiday – one to Portugal and one to Croatia – on a group tour for one and two weeks respectively. Its uncanny, but exactly the topic on which you have so bravely and honourably written came up.

    I am 50 years old – I am fairly attractive for my age – young in looks, spirit and fairly fit. I travelled on my own on these tours – I was totally unprepared for the vicious, spiteful and downright rude way I was treated by most if not all the other people on these tours – both couples and groups of women – either travelling in twos or threes.

    It seems that they perceived me as going on this tour to pick up men – I never gave any indication of this intention – nor did I give any indication in my behaviour – it seems that my looks/physique alone encouraged this – as did, I suspect my jour de vive!

    At one point, I had to take issue with two couples who asked me directly such a question, after a single man (a friend of the tour guide turned up on one outing). These couples never bothered to engage me in a constructive conversation at evening dinners about my life etc. I replied that I was not in the business of picking up men on tours – indeed I had not made such a group tour for nearly 30 years. I told them that indeed I had a partner and then I said, ‘…and anyway, middle aged women become invisible to men…’.

    This was like a red rag to a bull and a number of the women that were travelling on this tour changed in their attitude towards me after making this statement – indeed, one in particular became aggressive towards me. I suspect that a couple of the women actually were hoping to meet someone and that I had accidentally hit on a thought that they had been trying to ignore – probably because it was too painful to face.

    Further, the insults and sly and snide comments about being a childless woman were there in bucketloads – the poor, smelly older woman; the woman who FAILED to have children; the odd woman who will end up ON HER OWN (how dare she!!) – probably just sharing her life with a cat. All thoughts/attitudes that these people were determined to offload onto me. I believe popular culture is responsible for encouraging these sentiments over more recent years. I think it must be debated more openly.

    I believe women without children have a responsibility to bring the debate on this invisibility subject OUT INTO THE OPEN – and the sooner the better!!

  5. Do men really want “fertile” women…and the responsibility that arises when “virile male” meets “fertile female?” I get that pheromones may have something to do with it, but to me somehow men seem more obsessed with the sex and less with hooking up for offspring. Yes, straight men of all ages like youthful female bodies, tight and lifted, slim yet still curvaceous…(and not necessarily beautiful faces, agreed). Objectification of women…still.

    • Hi Hayleigh – I think men are attracted to ‘fertile’ women by pheromones, but evolution hasn’t caught up with birth control, so it’s not necessarily (or consciously) about seeking paternity!

  6. Dearest Jody, Thanks again for this post. I totally and absolutely relate to the loss of the male gaze. “Its got nothing to do with lacking in our sense of ourselves as women” I was shouting out as I was reading your blog. It just is! Its a loss!!!! I remember walking past building sites and being whistled at in my youth in London and after spending several years in the USA and Japan having a lot of attention given to me as a young woman. When I came back to London and as the years have sped by I have very much noticed and become aware that the male gaze is no longer on me. I was aware of this even more so, when I was single. It was a shock, let me tell you ; 0 ). The loss of an era, the loss of youth and the loss of the sexual attention. Being a part of it all and being acknowledged. Being part of the story – marriage, children, schools etc etc etc. Yes, even though I didn’t need the attention for my self esteem, it was there and then it was not. At times I hated the attention, but it was still there – being able to be part of the expected and acceptable.

    I don’t think this has anything to do with our attractiveness and beauty. I know that I am attractive and beautiful, as I know that you know this about yourself too. Its different! You hit it on the nail – its another part of the fertility loss. Moving forward into the realm of mature woman. Gosh can I actually even say it – Crone! The only positive words I found on the internet were these: Empowered, Wise, Self-defined. The rest were negative – old, alone, ugly, hag. Arghhhhh – how horrible!

    We have to redefine – make a stand – recreate who we are in society and where we belong. Because I think if we wait we will be waiting for a very long time. Thank you Jody for standing up – I stand and walk right by you and so will a lot of other women. We are amazing and we are dealing with so much loss in our society (I don’t even think its just in our society – it just bloody well is!) We are moving forward and talking about how we are feeling – not something our mothers did and not wanting to be small and insignificant. Something is happening in our society – a transforming and you are being a big part of this. ; 0 )

    Helen xx

    • Hi Helen – thank you for your thoughtful, candid and supportive response. We have a lot to do to reclaim ourselves as women from this awful conditioning, and it starts with US becoming more conscious of it… as I hoped being open about this subject would do. Thanks for proving me right and trusting that my vulnerablity would resonate with other soulful women. Hugs, Jody x

  7. Jody, you’ve got me thinking. I’ve always had a good figure, but have never attracted the male attention you describe, even when I was younger. So at least I’m not suffering that loss! One of my sisters was always the one to attract plenty of unwanted male admiration and I was always jealous. I now wonder whether the men sensed that she was super-fertile and I was not…I’m sorry you are feeling this grief now. Hugs xxx

  8. I actually have a different take on this…it’s easy to buy into the premise that men only want young and cute…but older women are more and more healthy and attractive these days. Men’s real issue is that they’re scared ****less of a mature woman because she’ll take them mentally, emotionally, spiritually (and yes maybe even physically) to a level of depth where they just don’t want to go. Men go for young and cute because it’s the more shallow route, spiritually. We live (globally) in a very shallow culture, and the “issue” is only ostensibly about looks. Jody, it was said about you that you “have a gift for going very deep,” and the right man will want to take that journey with you.

    • Hi Sylvie – I guess what I’m thinking about in this article is about the unconscious ‘glance’ from men that is driven by biology rather than the type of thoughtful connection with a more conscious man (who would also have this unconscious side to him). When I was married (for 16 years) my then husband, who has an eye for beauty in all things (including rocks and pebbles!) often responded to young women in this way. I didn’t take it personally as he was hardly even aware of doing it.
      My current thinking is that my ‘invisibility’ isn’t really about ‘my looks’, but about my age, specifically being past my childbearing years.
      I’m not looking for a relationship right now (it was just the idea of one on my holiday in Italy!) and am very happily single. If I were to meet a deeply conscious and soulful man, I might change my mind though. However, I do wonder if this idea of the ‘deeply conscious man’ is yet another incarnation of the ‘prince’ in terms of female fantasy? I don’t think the men in Italy were ‘scared’ of me; I don’t think they could see me at all!

  9. Dear Jody,

    Thank you for your intelligent and beautifully-written piece. I identified with everything you wrote.

    I don’t think you are vain in the least, to feel grief at the realisation of the loss of male attention – I think it’s the most natural thing in the world to want to be attractive to others and if you are a heterosexual woman, to want to be attractive to men.

    The ironical thing about it is that I used to be and I both despised the abuse it brought and at the same time, I loved the sexual power it accorded me.

    I have been in many relationships, some fun, but mostly disastrous. However, I always thought that one day, I would find a loving man I could settle down with and be happy. Sadly, it never happened and now I am 60 this year and still live in rented accommodation. I lost my job last Christmas and since then, I have felt increasingly lost and without value. I live alone and have no family. I have struggled for years to improve my life and went to uni at 45 and got two degrees and got what I thought was a good job and travelled, but now I feel like I have been thrown on the scrap heap. I still do my volunteer work and help people where I can, but as time passes, so has my interest in life and I now hate waking up in the morning, knowing I have to do it all again.

    I am sorry this sounds so bleak, but I still do have moments when I see hope for my future. Apart from telling a counsellor now and again, I have never shared how I really feel – I spend all my time pretending to be ‘normal’ and content, but it is a relief to be honest with someone, even if it is on the internet.

    I will keep plodding on and doing my best and you never know. Thank you for all your comments and I wish you all the best.

    Regards,

    Susan

    • Hi Susan – thanks for your comment. I’m OK with ‘bleak’ – life’s not all about the happy moments and yet somehow we’ve developed a culture in the UK where it’s not OK to not be OK sometimes… thought that’s perfectly normal (and sane)! I’d really recommend that you join our private online community as the kind of things I share in this blog is the kind of stuff that we share – deep, soulful, painful, difficult stuff. As well as rants, jokes and everything inbetween!
      Hugs, Jody x
      http://www.gateway-women.com/community

  10. Dear Jody,
    This post put words to a universe of thought and feeling I was previously unable to articulate. I read with a lump in my throat (because the topic hurts) and joy in my soul (because I felt not alone).
    Thank you.

  11. Thanks Jody. I love your journey and feel I am in also on it. I’m through most of my grief regarding childlessness now and can see aging as the next challenge! Will you ever come to New Zealand?

  12. Hi Jody
    I think that this is an honest, open, courageous, thoughtful post about a subject that is not often talked about. I love it.

  13. Hi Jody!

    Thanks for naming what I also noticed on my most recent holiday to Bali. We were twelve in a small tour – two twenty-something women, four thirty-something women, me at 46, two fifty-something women, two 70 year old women and one thirty-something man. By chance.
    It was fascinating to see the mating dance between the younger ones and the reactions of the older ones (they all have children) and the younger ones we are all single and childless. And there was me, in the middle. Poor Mark. He may need therapy after his Bali experience LOL!

    Having done my grief work on my childlessness I realised, like you did, that I am no longer young. That my “youth” is gone. And that my paces in that biological dance is over. I am so glad to have gone through the childlessness grief – I think this bridge will be much easier to cross. In fact – it is just a month or so since my realisation and I am actually very much OK with it, even celebratory of my freedom and the space it affords me.

    However – I so agree with you – our institutions and mental models of what life is, should be are outdated – stuck on the mating dance and in a worldview where procreation is what mattered. No longer – in fact that dance was so successful we are now threatening our planet’s future. It is time for a sociological reboot in my view and it starts with talking about it and the different lives, good lives we can lead.

    Thank you for being brave and going first!
    Vanessa

  14. Jody, thank you for writing this article – beautiful, insightful, balanced, honest, and … accurate. It is interesting to see comments from people viewing the article throigh the lens of an ‘agenda’, as it reinforces for me your brilliance in ruthlessly removing agendas and staring things face on. Bravo! And again, thank you x

    I feel so ridiculously fortunate and blessed that due to our ages and circumstances you are continuously navigating a handful of years before me everything that I will be navigating – you are pushing at the boundaries of everything, turning it this way & that, exploring it in its entirety and in the bright light of truth and honesty, no matter the cost to yourself. Because of your tenacity and commitment to analyse, digest, and resolve to any degree these issues, coupled with your brilliant ability to then communicate your journey and any conclusions and suggestions, my path is being made so much easier. I am getting to confront, explore & understand things just as they start to happen to me, before I become mired in confusion or isolation. I will have a different, better, journey through so many aspects of my life as a woman in the circumstances I find myself, because of you. And at a cost to you, as you have no ‘Jody’ before you. I recognise, honour & salute the cost you have paid and are paying, in pushing, sharing and supporting those of us following behind x x x

  15. HI Jody – another thoughtful and very frank piece from you which I really appreciate – thank you.

    I have two practical points to make / suggest.

    I have noticed that I have become invisible to certain people specifically young men and young women who work in bars and restaurants, both in the UK and overseas. On a practical level, I always write reviews on Trip Adviser, etc where I have received particularly poor service and felt it was because of my age and appearance. I am not sure whether this has any effect but it certainly makes me feel better!

    You mention putting on weight post-menopause, particularly around the middle. I have had this issue too since becoming peri-menopausal 4 years ago and I put on a stone in weight somehow and became very conscious about it. Without wishing to teach my mother how to suck eggs(!), I have made some small changes, and so far, have managed to rid myself of 10lbs in a year. I know it’s boring but I cut down on carbs and increased the amount of exercise I do (and I HATE exercise!). So I had to find something I liked and do more of it so instead of going swimming a few times a month, I now go 4 times a week and recognise that I will probably continue with this for as long as my body lets me and I certainly feel happier that the dreaded ‘spare tyre’ is mostly gone.

    One thing that really inspired me was after reading this article in The Guardian a few months ago….

    http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/the-running-blog/2016/mar/07/fit-after-40-improve-lifestyles-middle-age-government-campaign

    Thank you as always for all your inspiring and amazing work and writing. I have mentioned GW to several friends and also commented about how GW has helped me get through childlessness on the comments section of a Guardian article about miscarriage.

    Kindest regards
    Alison x

  16. Hi Jody, thanks for writing an interesting and thought provoking post. I’m 57 and retired at 50 after a long and successful career working for a major airline. I thrived being the centre of attention, making decisions, having large numbers of people in my team. Suddenly, that all changed. My husband had to take ill health retirement and our lives changed overnight. I felt invisible and ‘cast out’ from my normal life. I went through a terrible time coinciding with the menopause, it nearly broke my marriage up. My elderly mother told someone in my earshot that my not having children was the biggest regret of her life. Oh my, did that statement topple me over the edge. But, with love and care from my husband and friends, I have regained a life that I’m happy with. I now have an allotment (yes gardening is a real therapy), I volunteer for the Dogs Trust and I travel when I can. Yes, life is different and at times I still feel invisible, but I’m strong and I see how shallow the media are when talking about women. Your article does help raise the issues and this is so important in a society that favours all men and women up to 45 and over 75!

  17. Dear Jody–I won’t write much except want to tell you I feel exactly the same, and have also found it to be a strangely taboo or misunderstood subject. Thank you so much for writing about this.

  18. Hi, Jody. It’s a very interesting post. I like the way you write and your points if view about this topic. I’m not English. I’m Latin. And I love the articles from Gateway Women. Congratulations!
    Margarita

  19. Thanks for a thought provoking post Jody. I turned sixty in March and admit it was a gulp of a birthday. For me, aging has hit more gently than struggling through 10+ years of infertility; more wisdom and fewer hormones with which to contend I suspect. Watching every body part succumb to gravity is startling at times, but keeping a sense of humor about it with fellow “sufferers” helps me. Life is a series of losses, mixed in with graceful periods of joy if we’re very lucky. Loss of jobs, friends, health, fertility, opportunities, and if we live long enough, youth. I’m trying to accept it with humor and grace without obsessing over it, as my mind, some of my friends, and society generally are want to do.

    I wish you, and all of the commenters on your Board, serenity and acceptance; especially the ones who sound angry. 🙂

  20. It just occurred to me that this change may share quite a few similarities with retiring from the workforce including the stresses and grief that came with changes in: identity, perceived value and relevance, peer grouping, cultural power, financial and earning abilities, perks and privileges, etc.

    I think those aspects of retirement weren’t acknowledged (hopefully they are more now) and the many people feeling them probably felt really isolated, bombarded with the chirppy “aren’t you lucky” well-meaning messages, and probably not really able to talk about the mourning they were experiencing.

  21. Wowee, I love this post! Brave, beautifully written, and I find it so helpful.

    I am a feminist. And maybe, because of that, I am even more attuned to the invisibility of women of a certain age and the very real world consequences. Because I am a feminist, I don’t deny that reality and it’s impact on women and its impact on my own current life and future. Losing a certain power in society that one once had, and all of the privileges, niceties, and opportunities that go with that power is something that most humans tend to fight for, and then mourn, when it is slipping away.

    I don’t feel I need a male gaze or appreciation to feel like or to be a valuable person. But I do want and need a male gaze and recognition as a woman if I want flirtation with men, the sensual or sexual spark with men, sex with men, or a long term romantic relationship with a man that involves all of those other things. The opportunities for all those things are substantially lessened as I feel myself slip off the general male radar. For me, it started earlier in my life because of my weight. But even then, the rate of my invisibility has increased rapidly since I hit 40.

    And it isn’t just about being invisible to men or invisible as a sexual being, as Jody so astutely points out. There are depths to it and even some advantages. But never having been one that was hounded by unwanted attention and never having experienced being violated in any way, the losses feel more keen to me than the gains.

    We can’t work on dealing with it, thriving through it, changing it, in our own life or in the larger world, if we don’t acknowledge it. So I really appreciate what you have done here in this post, Jody, to observe it, feel it, name it, share it, and let it into the light so that this discussion can begin. Thank you for bringing your pioneering spirit to yet another very real and important topic.

  22. Hi Jody.
    I feel as though you are a good friend sitting with me here at the kitchen table. I’m also nearly 52, and spent a year in France in my youth which gave me a new sense of womanly-ness. I grew up and live in New Zealand, ( a rugby mad, insular country) and have no children, which has been more than challenging in a family where the grandchildren are everything. But I have long embraced your advice of “Plan B” and after trying IVF and applying for adoption as a single woman, and then losing my job after huge earthquakes in Christchurch, I returned to university and followed my childhood dream of learning to make Natural History documentaries. I try and put my energies in telling stories of the extraordinary world around us. I have gone through a long period of feeling invisible, with grief and depression, and decided one day that I didn’t want to feel such grief anymore. I did meet a man, a brother of a friend of mine. It has no end of challenges, he has two teenage children and lives in another city! … But I think(hope) that we both want the companionship so we persevere, slowly…. Your book, Plan B, was such a huge comfort for me… I can’t thank you enough… And I want to send you a message of encouragement and ‘believing in magic’ from the other side of the world! Thank you Jody for your inspiration. X Caroline

  23. Jody, as per usual you hit the nail on the head. I too have been coming to terms with this very concept….I spoke to a friend and remarked how I had become invisible…and not just in a sexual way (although that is a particularly hard concept to come to terms with) but it seems with so many population groups….I’m ignored in pubs…and forced to give way on public transport and in shops. I too get the same reaction…it’s about my looks, but that’s not it…there is something more fundamental than that. Again I take heart from you that I am not alone in feeling this way

  24. http://www.itv.com/hub/secrets-of-growing-old/2a4280a0001 I haven’t read all your blog Jody as I found it depressing and defeatist. I advise you to watch the ITV programme Secrets of Growing Old (1 June 2016). I can understand your blogs re childlessness, at 56 I am in the same position and have cried on numerous occasions over the years, I am now resigned to my fate. The participants in Secrets of Growing Old are an inspiration! A colleague’s comment still resonates with me “If you’ve got your health Carol you’ve got everything”

    • If you are truly happy, you wouldn’t be so judgmental of others. If you think that Jody’s blog is depressing and defeatist why do you subscribe to it?!
      I think that Jody’s blog is far more helpful to many people than maybe you’ve ever been. If it isn’t helpful to you why don’t you unsubscribe?

      • I agree with Jody’s helpful blogs re childlessness but why shouldn’t I comment on a blog I don’t agree with? You don’t know me at all, I am trying to be helpful in pointing out that just because we age we shouldn’t feel less valued because people no longer notice us. Having said that, there are many young men with older women beauty, both in and out, is in the eye of the beholder. Jody is very lucky to afford a holiday to one of the most beautiful countries in the world, I love Italy. There are thousands of people who are refugees, ill, homeless, jobless, visit food banks, have no family or friends to rely on and what about war veterans? Many veterans have been maimed physically or mentally and lost comrades. We are lucky to be ageing, think of others who die before their time, the little refugee boy on the beach.

  25. Funny you mention about wearing purple when older. It’s been on my mind all week as I keep seeing little groups of older women wearing red and purple and thinking that somehow they are growing old disgracefully; whilst really they are just as conformist as the old ladies I knew when young. Those who had a blue rinse and wore a hat. The poem by Jenny Joseph, is opposite in it’s meaning to this. It’s about being a non-conformist, and the women who think they are following this, really aren’t.. As any woman knows without children, we don’t conform, and stand in some ways as outsiders. We don’t conform to what people like to think a woman is. I’ve found it harder now than when younger to be childless, as my friends are now grandmothers and relishing it. It’s not easy, but then neither is having children.
    By virtue of being childless we don’t conform, and that thing about wearing purple has now become a signal to conform to something the poem never intended.

  26. Dear Jody, I read your post eagerly and with great attention, and loved everything you say. I totally agree with you and understand what you mean. Unfortunately we live in a very visual world where everything seems to be looks, and it seems that this is the only thing that matters. Magazines are full of “mature- child bearing-women” in what I perceive as teenage bodies, and that is far from reality too. I congratulate you on all the hard work you are doing in giving voice to thousand and thousands of women (men) on being childless. I dont see myself covered in purple when I “grow up” older. 🙂 Love, Rosa

  27. Hi Jody. A very interesting read. I think many middle aged women will identity with your feelings of invisibility and loss. Menopause changes you intrinsically both externally and internally. I sometimes miss the wild young party animal I used to be, despite the fact that I was often unhappy! I used to say when I was younger that I would “age disgracefully” and now I am here, it turns out I want to do it gracefully!

  28. It is sad that as afeminist you woukd still care whether men looked at youor paid you attention. I guess after 52 years of brain washing and conditioning to believe that you are nothing without the attention of a man and that you are only of worth if you are something to entertain the male gaze then you would feel like that. I am only 41 and can say that I am glad that the groping of my arse and vulva against my wishes has now stoppedNd that the wolf whistles, shoutsand general concern for my safety as i go outfor a walk by a car load of men has now stopped. I find thatfreeing! I do have concern for my daughter. I only wish that the parents of boys woukd spend more time telling them not to rape, not to touch female bodies without consent and not to scare women as they drive past in a car for their own amusementand. Entertainment.

  29. You are so honest, Jody which is wonderful. I occurs to me that Italy is a very sexist country and that, therefore, men there are more likely to favor younger women – I think this is generally but not universally true of more sexist men/countries. There are other men out there. I think it is too early to write off your chances of having a new romance. You are still lovely, have good health and are open to the possibility. I hope you stay open to it. Hugs!

    • Thanks Maria. I agree that Italy is a sexist country, but I don’t know any that aren’t! I am indeed ‘open’ to the idea that I might have a new romance one day, but I’m not in denial about the fact that it’s fairly unlikely. Many of my peer group (and indeed, many GWs) are wonderful, attractive, interesting, kind and powerful women in their 40s, 50s and 60s and many of them have been single for decades. Having lost 15 years of my life to the ‘dream of motherhood’ I don’t want to sleep through this part of my life imagining it could be other than it is. I love my life and I am so grateful for that after the years of babymania and grief. You are a great role model to me of conscious elderhood; I hope I can be like you when I grow up! Love, Jody x

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