So here we are, at an age we thought happened only to our mothers. We thought we’d be wearing heavy gold bracelets by now and learning about wine. In Italian. While we traveled the world. Doing Yoga.
The children — if we had children — should have launched themselves into successful adulthoods, so we could go trekking in Patagonia and dabble in watercolors, gently dispensing wisdom and sassy quips. We expect any minute we’ll be full of infinite beauty and graceful maturity.
But alas, no. We’re not feeling very mature about this extra padding around our middle and the furrow that has taken up residence between our eyebrows. Sadly, we see no Italian-wine-lessons or water-color -dabbling on the horizon. We’re living in a household full of hot flashes, hormones and teen angst.
We are the women of the boomer generation, and we’ve arrived at “a certain age” with relative health and sanity intact. But some of us are inching into and past menopause with more than a little trepidation.
And some of us are doing what boomers have always been good at doing: We’re sharing. As a generation, we’ve learned to market our angst better than any generation before us. So now we’re writing about our aging selves.
Hurtling headlong into 50 and beyond need not be fraught with fear, anxiety and bad cheek implants. In fact, note Kathy Kinney and Cindy Ratzlaff, authors of “Queen of Your Own Life: The Grown-Up Woman’s Guide to Claiming Happiness and Getting the Life You Deserve,” it’s the perfect time to feel your power and admire the woman you’ve become.
In their book, Kinney — best known for her work as Mimi on “The Drew Carey Show” — and Ratzlaff set out to “redefine the idea of beauty, age and courage.” They think you ought to crown yourself queen of your own life and have a fun party while you’re at it.
Jaki Scarcello, author of “Fifty & Fabulous!: The Best Years of a Woman’s Life,” agrees with many of their points and makes a few of her own: “Life slows down as we age, not to take the sprint from our last mile, but to bring us back to wonder.”
Scarcello is not writing for the crown-and-cocktail set, but both books raise many of the same questions: Why do maturing woman become invisible? Why has the definition of beauty become so narrow that looking “younger” always means looking “better?” Why is the idea of being older than 50 laden with such fear and regret for so many women? Why this mad clinging to some youthful vision of oneself that no longer exists?
Speaking via Skype from Kiev, Russia, where she is in the middle of a six-week book tour, Scarcello bubbles with enthusiasm over her subject, although she is saddened to find an almost universal fear of aging. “In the pursuit of eternal youth,” Scarcello says, “everyone loses. A woman loses the gift of age, society loses the wisdom of the mature woman, and youth loses the hope of a deeper future.”
Youth also loses the hope of any visible role models, as attractive older public figures start zealously tightening and implanting. There seem to be fewer Jeanne Moreaus and Anna Magnanis and more Joan Rivers, who actually paid someone to cut and paste her face into a caricature of her former self.
Scarcello, who has worked as a corporate leadership conslutant, is very open about how changes in her life propelled her to write. “I was seeking an answer to that question driven by my own age,” she explains, “the death of my parents, my feeling of being off the bench and on the field … this curious ‘invisibility’ phenomenon my senior female clients and associates mentioned. I suppose I was interviewing women to get the answers I needed, personally. But I was amazed by what I found in the interviews. I had no idea that the answers would be as deep and as rich.”
Kinney concurs. During lunch at a Los Angeles restaurant, she discusses the current fear-based reaction to aging, which she said made her and Ratzlaff want to start a “quiet revolution.” But then they decided that their voices needed to be louder. And in print.
“We wanted to blast away the societal tall tale that young is beautiful and old is just … old,” she says.
The project got its start when Kinney was searching the Internet for an explanation as to why her feet were hot. She stumbled upon the word “crone,” which currently comes with a New-Agey spin meant to imply that we’re not old bags, really; we’re Wise and Wonderful Elders of the tribe.
Kinney cites “the C word” as one reason she and Ratzlaff wrote the book, and she skewers the whole idea that we’re supposed to “transition” into our “Crone years.”
“Being a crone for next 40 years just wasn’t an option,” she says over sandwiches. Fresh-faced and luminous, she seems entirely comfortable in her own skin. Not everyone, however, feels that way. “When we were on tour,” she adds, chuckling, “we did have a few hecklers.”
Hecklers? Apparently, some women have taken umbrage at Kinney and Ratzlaff’s take on the “crone” issue. It turns out there are a number of gals who do embrace their “inner crone” and don’t like to be told they can’t. Who knew?
For her part, Scarcello says she “was driven by a desire to find an answer to the question ‘What is a woman’s role in society once the biological urge to reproduce is past?'”
She continues: “I looked to a type of woman I had admired my whole life to find my answers. They are the vibrant, strong older women whose energy radiates from the light in their eyes.” In “Fifty & Fabulous!” she focuses on women between 45 and 103, who are not about to stop their lives because of some ridiculous notion that they’re “old.”
“Menopause is just a reminder that we’re aging, it’s a nudge,” Scarcello says. She points out that in days gone by “women generally died before they went through menopause. Now we have years ahead of us.”
Her concern is that so many women are spending those years trying to stay as young as possible instead of embracing and enjoying this new phase of life. “I want every woman — and man, for that matter — to know that life after 50 is a stage of human development,” she says, “not a stage of decline.”
Or, as Kinney puts it: “While we most definitely enjoyed our youth, the best might really be yet to come.”
Mellor is the author of “You Look Fine, Really” and “The Three-Martini Playdate,” among other books.