ON BEING TOO SCARED TO REVEAL OUR TRUE AGE
How many candles are on your cake? Reveal it if you dare.
Do you happily tell people your age if asked, or do you prefer to mask the truth? Some of us are so scared of being judged negatively that we don’t even tell colleagues when we turn 50. Many will go for years mysteriously fudging the number of candles on our next birthday cake. It’s only revealed on a need-to-know basis. And who actually needs to know?
It’s not just vanity that makes some of us so secretive. The fear of being perceived as old and past it is a powerful one, especially when we have so much more to give. We don’t feel old, certainly don’t look it, but like it or not society views us differently once we get past 50.
I remember all the junk mail that plopped on my doormat in the months after I waved my 40s goodbye, and the cringey ads that appeared in my Facebook feed. The benefits of Over 50s insurance illustrated with laughing older couples in baby blue jumpers, cheerily raising a glass to retirement. Private health packages offering cholesterol and glaucoma tests. Cruises for the recently retired. This didn’t represent my life at all. I didn’t feel any different when I hit 50, and yet here I was in a new world of stretch pants and dentures.
Ageism is real. If being over 50 means we’re instantly ‘in our dotage’ in the eyes of the world, it perhaps pays to keep it quiet. The world of work can be brutal. Unsurprisingly, two in five over-50s think their age will bar them from promotion or pay rises, according to a survey by Opinium. This fear starts when we’re under 40, with more than half of workers fearing their careers will begin to stall at 50. But then we’ve all heard of people being made redundant within two years of hitting their fifth decade, under the guise of ‘reorganisation’.
Of course in some sectors your career capital actually increases with age and seniority. And you don’t actually HAVE to reveal our age to employers, at least not initially. Not so long ago it was second nature to automatically include your date of birth on your CV. It was also probably one of the first questions asked by a recruiter in conversations about yourself. This, of course, was in the days before legislation was introduced to prevent ageism.
Not only is date of birth missed off today’s CVs but also dates of education and certain types of qualification that can reveal your age, such as O levels in the UK. In fact the only dates that need to be included are the dates of your employment that showcase your experience.
I hovered around 47 for a few years, scared that the truth would affect work opportunities. Only recently made redundant and struggling with perimenopausal anxiety, I was terrified of being unemployable in what was largely a youth-focused industry. But when the early 50s hit I stopped that nonsense – proud, in a sense, to have got to be that age (especially as a couple of friends sadly didn’t). Being self-employed undoubtedly helped this brave new me to be open about my age. After all, I wasn’t going to discriminate against myself, was I?
Perhaps we also reach a point where we actually feel comfortable with our age, of owning the years we’ve been alive. There are so many likeminded women in the Audrey community who are embracing the greys (or not), loving life, doing what the heck they want regardless of what society dictates older women should do. One longterm member who used to shave 10 years off her age says she’s now happy to come clean. “Age is a badge of honour” she admits, and I agree. And it’s not the age you are but who you are.
Like me, most of my friends are in their 50s or 60s, all still living as they always have – adventurously, curiously, agelessly. But also with great humour. Because there is something quite hilarious about feeling as clueless as we always have about life at an age when young people would describe us as ‘senior’.
Words: Marina Gask