I don’t know how many other women around my age would agree with me or not, but no it’s not a compliment when someone says the following to me:
“Wow, you look great for your age.”
“You’re how old?! You don’t look it at all.”
“I want to look like you when I’m that old.”
There are many other f@%ed up versions of this offensive statement.
I know that on the surface, the said individual who makes such a statement to me, or any other woman around my age, thinks that they’ve paid a great compliment. But, come on! Grow a brain! Telling me any version of “I look great for my age” just doesn’t feel good, like at all. If anything, it makes me feel like that bruised fruit they sell for a reduced price at the market. It’s still good, it’s just a bit past its peak.
It’s not that I have an issue with my age, okay, maybe a little, obviously. I’ll admit that I’ve drank some of that awful Kool-Aid that exists in the US regarding age. But, for me it’s more about the sudden realization that holy crap I’m forty-something and comments that allude to being perceived as an oldie just don’t sit well.
Sometimes when I’m told such things and it does happen more often than I’d like, I feel like stopping the entire conversation, staring down the fool and saying, “What do you mean by someone my age? What does someone my age supposed to look like? Is it bizarre to think that forty-something year old people can look great? Is forty-something old?”
So far I’ve refrained from letting anyone have it but one of these days…
I’ve realized that in this society that’s brimming with Millennials and Gen Z’s, that I am now considered way old. Yes, old, me.
For example, the other day I was walking with one of my favorite Millennial students during a work related event and in the middle of our conversation she says to me, “I can’t wait until I’m old and not have to care about anything!”
WTF? I nearly stopped in my tracks but I didn’t. Somehow I kept my composure, barely.
My student’s response was to something I had said during our conversation and honestly I can’t even remember what the heck we were talking about because her comment threw me completely off. I didn’t expect such a comment to exit the mouth of a smart and savvy young woman that I actually like. I kept thinking, shouldn’t she know better? Apparently not. If my bright student suffers from this ageist perspective then so must many, many others must as well.
I keep wondering if my male forty-something counter-parts are receivers/victims of such misdirected comments as well? Are they often told that they look good for their age? Or told they look great for being a father of four kids?
I’m assuming (and I know it’s not a good thing to ASSume) that they are not as often subjected to ageist comments as women are. The false ideology is that men grow handsome as they age while women are somehow viewed as over the hill by the time we’re 45. Men’s wrinkles give them character while mine subject me to vile remarks intended as compliments.
Now that I’m well (and I mean well) into my forties I’ve learned that we live in an ageist society and that means that I will continue to be subjected to these ‘benign’ comments.
What I ask people is that next time you want to compliment a woman who looks like she’s in her 40s or beyond, stop yourself (maybe even slap?), think more clearly, and rephrase any statement that alludes to ‘looking good for your age.’
If you want to compliment us, do just that. How about any of the following: “You’re so beautiful.” “You look great today and every day.”
Or, even better, instead of focusing on my looks, why not pay more attention to my intellect and beautiful human characteristics like my generosity, kindness, fierce advocacy, and teaching skills?
I’m not trying to be awful. I’m trying to educate society and wake us up on how we’ve been trained to ‘see’ women who are 40+.
We need to change our discourse about age. Many of us who are now in our 40s are still trying to adjust to the fact that suddenly we’re in the middle life. Swallowing that fact is sometimes hard enough and I don’t need a younger punk to remind me of where I stand in life.
I’ve realized by writing this piece that yes, I am still struggling a bit knowing that if I’m fortunate, this is the second half of my life. How did I get here? Who knows, it went by so fast. The phrase, “Life is fleeting,” is suddenly so real and upon me.
Final thought — as women we already have to deal with so much crap about who we are and especially how we look, so the least society could do is be kinder to us, we deserve it.