Breaking the stereotypes. Age is just a number.

Unless you are Judy Dench, Helen Mirren or the Queen the most common image of older women, especially in their 70s and beyond, is frail, ill, sedentary and either dull or a bit bonkers!

It seems ludicrous in 2018 to be suggesting that showing positive images of older women would be a breakthrough.  So I set about testing my perception that I rarely see images of older women, fashionably dressed, engaged in sports or exercise, driving, competing, laughing and generally living life to the full.  For four months, on the third Sunday I bought every newspaper and looked for positive images of older women.  Apart from Judy Dench, Helen Mirren or the Queen there were very few.

The reality

Whilst this might be the image portrayed in the media and on television it is far from the reality of many women’s lives.  My own mother is 76 and is seen here exercising on a park machine and below climbing the outside of the O2 building in London (under supervision of course!). She also belongs to a gym, does Pilates once a week as well as contemporary dance and belongs to a walking group.

If the visual images of older women are poor, the language used to describe women of an older age is also often negative.  Think of ‘crone’, ‘hag’, ‘spinster’.  Even less loaded terms, like mature (sounds like cheese), middle-aged (snore) mid-lifer (prison sentence?) and the American- favoured – ‘seniors’ (school children) don’t make getting older sound like somewhere you would want to rush to get to. In our Facebook Group ‘Getting Fitter Over Fifty’ we discussed what women of these ages should be called. Some of the suggestions included:

  • Sassy seniors
  • Wonder women
  • ‘Seenagers’ – we liked this one
  • Silver vixens
  • Golden girls
  • Preloved!

The general consensus was that we don’t need or want a label, after all age is just a number.  What is important is that women see and believe they can have  active, fulfilling and interesting lives at whatever age.  

Body image 

Never-the-less for every women out there exercising, getting fit and using her mind there are others who report that they have negative feelings about their body image.  Again, unless as a society we see women of all shapes and sizes living active, fulfilling lives, it is inevitable some women will feel they are ‘past their prime’ and hide themselves away, lose confidence and sometimes suffer with depression or feelings of worthlessness.

I set up Fit Over Fifty Women to give encouragement and support and to inspire women to keep active and get fitter.   The web site has had a great response demonstrating there is no shortage of women leading physically and mentally active lives and many others who want to become fitter.  Images of older women, perhaps older people in general, are not keeping up or reflecting the reality of many people’s lives.

Growing old disgracefully!

For those of us in our 50s, our mothers broke all the rules in the 1960s and 70’s and they were never going to slide into the final decades of their lives quietly. I for one couldn’t be more happy about this. They will set the mould for growing old ‘disgracefully’ and as the generation to follow, we will try and keep up!

As Clare Parker and Muir Grey say in their book ‘Sod 60’, ‘getting older doesn’t matter, getting active and getting attitude does!’.