As part of week three of our #BREAKFREE from ageism campaign, Anya Meyerowitz asked three women over 40 to share their diary entries from their past, and their present
When I was 10, I thought people in their twenties were ancient, and when I was 21, I thought thirty was rock bottom. These days, I’m OK with 30, but as I watch people in the office celebrate their forties, I feel it closing in on me with impending doom. Younger me thought forty meant life was over and all that was left would be endless re-runs of Bargain Hunt. And while I watched all of Bargain Hunt at university, and I know 40 is barely even middle age, it’s a feeling I just can’t shake.
Over the past year I estimate I have wasted hundreds of hours in front of the mirror tugging the skin around my eyes, cupping my breasts to check if they have sagged any further and frantically rubbing anti-wrinkle cream into my forehead. I’ve spent every train journey sizing up my carriage peers – wondering how old that woman is, panicking if I’ve achieved as much as her, and feeling jealous of the teenage girls laughing in the corner.
And my victims have all got something in common: they’re women.
I never look at the men. I may notice a handsome man every so often but it never enters my mind to wonder about their age – or idolise or pity them for it. And I think it’s because age for men is different. I think that, if most of us are honest, we believe that ageing for women is a huge negative: a big black mark against your name.
That’s why I wanted to speak to women who felt the opposite – who feel that with each birthday they gained not just years, but confidence and success. Women who defied society’s ideals of the most attractive age and women who know how important it is to #BREAKFREE from ageism.
Rebecca Baron (55, Manchester)
14th Jan 1989
I have just started university, which I believe is a social experiment at my expense, and I think I’m the least intelligent person in my class. I have started to really enjoy walking, just meandering through nature, and being outside – something that perhaps alienates me from the typical university culture of excessive drinking – but it just isn’t my scene. That worries me – I indulge in daydreams about my future and they always seemed to end the same way: me, middle-aged, and alone. As my degree in medicine continues, the hours are gruelling – the hospital shifts are relentless and there is so much to learn that it leaves little time to bond with my colleagues. I am not unhappy, but I feel anxious a lot of the time: I find it hard to make decisions and constantly question whether I am good enough to be a doctor.
14th Jan 2015
Firstly, I am not alone (wish 19 year old me could see me now) – I have a brilliant husband and feel grateful for the life we have every day that I wake up and look out over the Pennines My love of walking has taken me all over the world – up mountains and to hot tubs in the middle of nowhere – a new adventure is always around the corner. My angst about being good enough to be a GP is gone – I now run seminars to educate other doctors on leadership and resilience. I love my job and I’m good at it – no week is ever the same and I’ve learnt to see challenges in a positive light. I love the financial stability I have now as opposed to my student days – I can afford to do the things I really love like go to the theatre or on holiday. I am more stable, I am more comfortable in my own skin and I feel more enthusiastic about life than ever.
Jane Fayes (63, London)
14th Jan 1980
I spend my weekends chain smoking and talking about things I don’t care about (mainly who is-sleeping-with-who at the office), because that’s what everyone else is doing – but even though I go through all the motions, I never feel like I fit in. While others seemed to fall straight out of university into the job of their dreams (or, that’s what it feels like), I float in and out of minimum wage jobs. I am currently living with a friend in London which should be fantastic but instead makes me feel down about myself – she’s thinner than me, prettier than me and always seems to be out with cool people at cool places doing cool things. I spend a lot of time in baggy jumpers trying to not ‘cock-block’ when she brings home the man of the moment. I guess I feel life is a bit of a game and no matter what I do, I’ll always be the hopeless mess on the side-lines.
14th Jan 2015
I spend my weekends with friends: going out for dinner, visiting exhibitions and throwing paint around in the studio attached to my house. During the week I am an art therapist – I love it for so many reasons but I suppose the biggest factors are the freedom, the fact that I’m my own boss, and the fact that I am helping others. The buzz I get from seeing children open up, or adults allow themselves to really express themselves far surpasses anything I got from a wild-weekend in London. I’m divorced and often go out with friends and their spouses but I never feel like a third-wheel – I feel I add something to the group – I am breath of fresh air. I only own one baggy jumper – and I wear it on my own terms – instead you can usually find me in a pair of pumps, dripping with gold accessories. I’ve learnt to stop comparing myself – there are no side-lines in life because everyone is on a different playing field. Growing up was the best thing I ever did.
Felicity Gelbart (40, London)
14th Jan 2000
I am happy being 25. I’ve started working with a small theatre company – my first job since moving to London – I’m making lots of new friends too. I don’t even really mind that I hardly have any money – my housemates and I cook up rather grotesque looking concoctions with whatever is in the cupboards, all the while laughing our heads off. We’ve developed a game where we take it in turns to flirt with the local shopkeeper and whoever gets the most ‘free stuff’ out of it wins. I do have a boyfriend but I’m not sure I am really that bothered and the thought of settling down terrifies me – I love free drinks in bars and random flirtatious encounters too much. The only thing that dents my happiness really is late at night – in the hours where I should be asleep – I sit and wonder what it is I really want from life, what life is really about. If I think too hard I scare myself – wine helps, but then I wake up hazy in the mornings. That’s all though – I just keep putting it to the back of my mind.
14th Jan 2015
I was happy being 25 but I’m even happier being 40. It was fun eating out of tins and being carefree for a while but I wouldn’t trade the responsibility I have now for any of it: I feel I have a purpose. I look after my two boys and I love them more than I ever could have imagined. I have a reason to get up each morning and I’m always too tired at night to even have one existential thought before my head hits the pillow. All those years of indifference toward the men in my life are gone – I adore my husband – I could live without him but it wouldn’t be half as much fun. I’m thankful that I made the most of my twenties, that I met new people and explored who I was, but mainly because it has allowed me to feel so grounded now. I love reminiscing about the reckless abandon of our younger selves over coffee but then I return home, to a clean house with food in the cupboards, and just know this is where I’ve been waiting to be my whole life. Unlike all those goodies from the local shop – life definitely gets better with age!
Read more about our #BREAKFREE campaign here