Getting older

For many women, the menopause begins an exciting new chapter in life. Freed from the constraints of fertility, women may feel they can take on new challenges and explore new directions. Yet as women face the reality of ageing, the menopause can bring mixed blessings. Some felt strongly that the media and society as a whole tend to stereotype older women.

Ageing as a new chapter
Some women felt quite relaxed about growing older and accepted ageing as a fact of life over which they had no control. They might start to think about the future, deteriorating health and ‘things like death’, but saw this as part of life. Rather than being ‘written off’, women saw ageing as a positive experience; a time to do ‘all those things you’ve been putting off’ and ‘live for the moment’. They talked about learning new things, taking up new hobbies, contributing more to the community, or beginning a new career. Some women set up new businesses; others cut their working hours or took early retirement.

As they began a new phase in their lives, women spoke about feeling empowered, grown up and more mature, being wiser, enjoying life more, having more confidence and self-awareness and more ‘me’ time. Some described how they’d reached a new ‘level of contentment’ which made them more sympathetic, patient and understanding.

Women admitted that ageing can have benefits, but also recognised its drawbacks. In a time of change with children leaving home, partners retiring and increased caring responsibilities for elderly parents, many felt stressed and uncertain about the future (see ‘Family, health and life events’).

The ‘older woman’ stereotype
Some women found it hard to reconcile their ageing body with the young person inside (see ‘Changes in the body and keeping healthy’). Many women said they felt younger than they really were. They didn’t believe that the image they saw in the mirror with wrinkles and grey hair could really be them. They felt the body they presented to the world was at odds with the younger self trapped inside.

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Dealing with the stereotype of the older woman in society is one of the challenges of ageing. Negative attitudes to ageing, whether conscious or sub-conscious, may influence not only the service women get in shops but the way women feel about themselves, how they dress, and how they behave. The underlying message seems to be that ‘youth is better’.

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In response, women may try to look younger for as long as possible. They reported using dyes and rinses to hide grey hair, buying clothes from high street shops and, in a few cases, wearing shorter dresses to show off their legs. Rather than succumb to the older woman stereotype, some women seemed to quite enjoy keeping a younger image.

Others, however, said that society, with its emphasis on body image, sex appeal and youth, sometimes made them feel invisible.

The invisible older woman
Some women found it increasingly difficult as they got older to fit in with society’s prescription of what a woman should look like. They felt less valued once their youthfulness faded and fertility declined. They identified a gender divide where men remain attractive into their fifties, while women become increasingly invisible and less confident in their appearance.

Women said media advertising and television programmes focused on positive images of youth, and downplayed ageing. They felt that advertisements for anti-ageing cosmetics conveyed the message that ageing is bad and to be hidden. While these products could make them feel good, most women rather doubted whether they really worked. Some admitted to ‘being conned’ into buying expensive products which hadn’t made ‘a blind bit of difference’. They resisted procedures like Botox and cosmetic surgery that focus on preserving youth at the expense of age.

Women spoke of positive role models like Judi Dench who carried themselves with ‘poise and dignity’, but felt that, in general, older women in the media did not represent the typical ‘more well-rounded 55-year-old’.

Many women approach ageing with acceptance and a sense of excitement, recognising the advantages and freedoms which later life can offer. They know they can’t turn back the clock and reclaim their youth. Yet at the same time some feel society is unjust in seeming to ignore older people in general and women in particular. One woman asked ‘Why do you have to have the menopause on top of getting older? Don’t you think it’s about time men had something?’

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Last reviewed July 2018.


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