Women of a Certain Age

I am not sure when I first heard that phase, but it clearly resonated with me. The expression is a delicate and elegant way of applying words to music; and music it is––the music of a woman’s life. Observe a woman of a certain age; her life rich with grace notes and intricate harmonies that overlay the thrumming, humming beat of life. Over time, tempos change, melodies linger, arias emerge, intensities ebb and flow. Listen closely and you might hear a chorus repeated after each verse. Or, a sprightly refrain suddenly transitions to a minor key and she lives in a dirge for a time.

A woman’s life is by gift of biology ever changing; weekly, monthly and by decades, until we reach that ripe appellation “a certain age.” Reaching “a certain age” means you are not a sweet young thing. You are not without wrinkles. You are not free of scars. You are not naïve. You are no longer unsure of yourself. Being a woman of a certain age means you have likely been tested by life. You find yourself less vulnerable, more able to recognize the difference between a flaw and a really bad choice. 

When asked what the phrase meant to her, one woman said, “Being of a certain age means you don’t have so many worries about what others think of you.” Another woman said, “It means you’ve learned the value of saying no.” A third said, “Sometimes you should buy the good coffee. And one more thing: Save your feet––invest in good shoes.”

Being of a certain age has its advantages. Studies show that our understanding of people and emotions peaks at ages 40 to 50, mathematical skills peak at 50 and life satisfaction peaks at age 69. Vocabulary skills peak between the ages of 60 to 70 and psychological well-being peaks at 72. These benchmarks hold true for both men and women. 

But for women, there seems to be a paradox. Gloria Steinem recently said in an interview that women get more radical as they get older because they lose power. Actress Helen Mirren has been quoted as saying that being powerful is much more interesting that being beautiful. For the French, “une femme d’un certain âge” implies sexual experience and confidence. Research from MIT’s AgeLab indicates that women over 50 who have met certain benchmarks are the most fit for aging. They have education, work and life experience, plus the verve to pursue innovation and opportunity.

What is the power they are talking about? Being a woman of a certain age myself, I have discovered that I can acknowledge and take satisfaction in my achievements. I can express my opinion and know that I have the force of validity behind it. I can make choices in my own best interests and express generosity in relationships in a healthy way. I can look ahead to opportunities with the benefit of experience behind me. 

As a woman of a certain age, I lost my job last spring; I had more than a few moments of panic. What would I do? How would I survive? What were my options? In the six months since that time of personal terror I found a job in a completely new field. I reimagined what my property should look like and tore down two old fences. I added patio space outside and reconfigured my living space inside. I reprioritized how I intend to spend my time.

If you are a woman of a certain age, be fearless. You already have what it takes to start a new business, run for office, learn a new skill, travel, be a mentor to younger women, break an old habit or begin a new pattern. Listen to the music of your own life: What are you hearing? Is it a gently flowing tune, a crescendo building or a bridge contrasting with the verse and chorus? Be confident in your ability to compose your own music. 

Vicki Biggs is a medical social worker who lives in Home.

A Shift in Perspective