We asked women in their 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s to write short personal essays answering the question, What does aging gracefully mean to you? Each one is a window into the mental and physical lives of women as they grow older. This essay is by 57-year-old Deborah Darling, a silver-haired model on a mission to challenge stereotypes around aging. Watch for more submissions all this month and submit your own essay to email@example.com.
I began to dread my 50th birthday a full year ahead of its arrival.
I have clear memories of both of my grandmothers from a time when they were in their 50s.
My maternal grandmother, Violet, was always beautifully turned out, hair coiffed weekly at the hairdressers’ shop on the corner, nails filed to a neat little point, pearly clip-on earrings in place, and always swishing stockinged legs. Her shampoo-set bore witness to her love of all things purple. As she got ready for her regular Saturday night bingo outing, the soft smell of face powder and cigarette smoke followed her through the house.
In stark contrast, memories of my paternal grandmother, Christina, have her trussed up in her pinny, cooking roast dinners with Yorkshire puds and lashings of thick brown gravy. A nurse with a soft Geordie lilt and no time for nonsense, her clothing was at all times practical, sensible, and comfortable. Her only embellishment was a thin gold wedding band.
As different as these two women were from each other, these memories are when they were both settling gently into their midlife years. Both sedentary, a little plump, and happily steeped in the routines of their lives.
As my milestone birthday loomed, a throwaway line from a young male colleague cut to the quick: “You’re past your sell-by date.”
I was definitely not ready to embrace the image that I held of a middle-age woman.
As my milestone birthday loomed, a throwaway line from a young male colleague cut to the quick: “You’re past your sell-by date.” I was definitely not ready to embrace the image that I held of a middle-age woman.
I took stock of my health and fitness. I had been a classic couch potato for most of my adult life, a professional yo-yo dieter who was acquiring a decidedly middle-age shape with an ample bosom and increasingly soft waistline. I had to get moving.
My fitness routine started out with a short walk, grudgingly at first, every other morning before work. On those cool, fresh morning walks, as I watched the sun and the birds getting up, I started to consider how lucky I was that I was able to walk at all.
A new idea: Could it be that the body I had grown to hate for its lumps and bumps and wobbly bits was, in fact, perfect? This body allowed me to walk, talk, kiss, dance, make love — it had even produced and breastfed a child. How could it be more perfect? It was time to start treating it with a bit more respect.
I upped my level of activity. My walks turned into walk/runs, and I added cycling to my sporty endeavours. (I hadn’t been on a bicycle since junior school.) I removed the word “diet” from my vocabulary, and with the help of a wonderful dietician, learned to take a balanced, sensible approach to eating. I started to believe, for the first time ever, that maybe I could get it right. The extra weight started to disappear.
Fast forward to a week before my 57th birthday.
I have been at a healthy, happy weight for the past six years. I am fitter and stronger than I have ever been. I swim, cycle, run, and do strength training. I have completed numerous sporty events, even a full Olympic-distance triathlon. I have more confidence now than I had in my 20s. I started a modeling career about three years ago. The best part of all is that my grandson (and cycling partner) refers to me as The Cool Granny.
He’s a teenager, so it must be true.
Age gracefully? No, thank you.