How Women Can Embrace Aging in a Youth-Obsessed Culture

aging culture self-esteem Aug 11, 2021

Many years ago, when I was in my mid-twenties, my boyfriend at the time was explaining his categorization of women. Apparently, it was shared amongst his friends. It went something like this: Women between the ages of 20 and 25 were considered “gazelles.” He described them as being like “a deer in headlights.” They were naive and a little bit useless. Women 25 to 30 were “bobcats.” They were playful, fun, and, most importantly, agreeable. This, apparently, was the most desirable age range. Women in their thirties were “cougars.” They were on the prowl to find a mateThey were also more set in their ways, so they were more demanding than the cute bobcats. Women over forty were “mountain lions.” And “no one wanted a mountain lion,” he told me in all seriousness. Just thinking about becoming a mountain lion sent shivers throughout my body. But, I was a bobcat at the time, so I shrugged it off.

Though I innately knew this categorization was false and terribly demeaning, it always stuck in the back of my mind. It was like I was trying to outrun a mean-spirited and judgmental father time who was waiting around the corner with his clipboard ready to categorize me. But now that I’ve entered into mountain lion territory, I feel a cat-like pride. Because, really, why wouldn’t I want to be a mountain lion? She is strong, confident, maternal, and discerning. She prioritizes her needs, has no interest in pleasing others, and can easily protect herself and her cubs from predators. And let’s face it — a mountain lion is a pretty damn sexy animal. After many years of considering how I compared to others, I now feel confident and rooted in my feminine power — or let’s call it my mountain lion power.

One sultry summer evening in my bobcat days, I was getting ready to go to a party with my boyfriend (the same one who informed me of this categorization). I remember choosing a stunning dress. It was a brightly colored Diane Von Furstenberg that I got at a considerable discount. I wore it with nude, patent leather kitten heels. I thought I looked great. My boyfriend, however, looked at me and said, “You’re wearing that? Does that even match your shoes?” I felt hurt and self-conscious but stuck with my outfit choice. Surprisingly, I didn’t rush off to change into a more preferable dress since pleasing him was my top priority. That evening, I received many compliments on my attire. He later rewarded me with a backhanded compliment, “I guess you can look good in almost anything.” That was just one of the many times that my choice in clothing, makeup, or ability to make a decision was questioned. Now, I would never tolerate this type of scrutiny or lack of genuine affection. But at the time, I didn’t know any better.

I started to feel a pull. It was a call to rediscover my more authentic self.

I got married to a different man, right before my thirtieth birthday. I suspect my fear of becoming a cougar prompted me to marry despite some obvious red flags. During this time, we had two beautiful children, opened a retail store, bought a house, sold a house, moved into a rental, and I climbed my way up the corporate ladder. I was always on the go — just trying to survive. Everyone’s happiness seemed more important than my own. Of course, the problems I tried to overlook in the relationship didn’t go away, they just got worse. Not only that, but I continued to feel more disconnected from myself. I tried to mask this feeling of unease with alcohol, shopping, and beauty treatments, but these distractions only separated me further from the person I needed to find. Luckily, toward the end of my thirties, I started to feel a pull. It was a call to rediscover my more authentic self. I wasn’t sure who she was at the time, but I was determined to find out.

My husband and I separated when I was 39 years old and began the arduous, soul-sucking process of divorce. My fear of being 40 and alone (remember, “no one wants a mountain lion”) was coming to fruition. Only, I wasn’t scared like I thought I would be. In fact, I felt an overwhelming sense of joy and relief. It was like I just escaped a burning building and was getting another chance. It was a new beginning. And this time, I wasn’t going to worry about whether I was likable enough and I wasn’t going to sacrifice my needs or desires for others. I would choose to please myself — well, once I knew what I wanted anyway. It was the beginning of self-reclamation. I started to consider and enforce my boundaries, prioritize pleasure, and become comfortable in my own skin.

I do less and receive more. I can accept compliments, receive gifts, and spend hours in bed with my lover.

First, I started to set boundaries. When I was younger, I assumed everyone meant well, even if they did or said something that left me feeling bad. I would generally bite my lip and hide my discomfort in fear of rocking the boat, or god forbid, making someone else feel uncomfortable. Now, I’ve learned to constructively let someone know when a line has been crossed, and I tell them what I need to feel better. Not only that, I’m attuned to how interactions feel. I’ve cultivated discernment and learned to trust my intuition — this keeps me safe from predators.

I’m not only more skilled at avoiding the negative, but I‘ve also become better at seeking out the positive. I do less and receive more. I can accept compliments, receive gifts, and spend hours in bed with my lover. Rather than rush from one activity to the next, I remember to soak up pleasurable experiences. This could be my morning cup of tea, a walk in the woods, a lavender-scented bath, or an afternoon tryst with my partner. Pleasure, not busyness, is my top priority.

And, truthfully, I feel more desirable than ever. I’ve learned that sex appeal isn’t about being young (though young people can be sexy) — it’s about being comfortable in your own skin. That’s why it is always a little cringeworthy when we see older people (men or women) going to great extremes to appear younger than they actually are. By all means, take good care of yourself, but it’s not a wrinkle-free face or super-flat belly that makes you sexy. It’s the sly smile and come-hither glance that demonstrates that you know how to enjoy yourself and have every intention of doing so that is so magnetizing. And I can confidently report — people do want mountain lions.

Becoming a mountain lion wasn’t a phase to be avoided — it is the goal.

Of course, some women might be at the point where feeling sexy is no longer a goal. A woman recently told me she just wanted to let her hair be wild, stand in a swamp with bare feet, and cast spells. I can see the appeal in that. And the good news is — she can. When we get to this phase, we decide how we want to live. That’s sovereignty, my sister — and you’ve earned it.

We don’t need to fear getting older — we can welcome it. We’re no longer confined to traditional roles, like daughter, wife, mother, or some other role in which we’ve been cast. Prior to this period, many of us were laser-focused on our partner, children, or career. There was little time for self-reflection, never mind the opportunity to pursue the things that make our soul sing. Now, we can rediscover our spirit and return to our more instinctual nature. Of course, you might not have any idea where to find this free, uninhibited version of yourself. Perhaps she’s been buried because you didn’t feel safe to let her out. Now is the time to resurrect her. You can become wild — just like a mountain lion.

I know some women look at turning 40 with dread. And perhaps that’s the problem. When we long for an earlier time (btw — one that was likely ripe with uncertainty and predators), we’re not stepping into our power — we’re leaking it. While I’m still not as confident, discerning, or sovereign as I suspect a mountain lion to be, I’m trending in that direction. Do you know what else those words describe? Self-actualization. I am becoming whole.

Ready to step into your well-deserved mountain lion power. Start to consider:

  • What brings you pleasure? What should you seek out?
  • What brings you pain? What should you avoid?
  • What lights you up? How do you want to spend your days?
  • How do you want to be treated? How can you better communicate your boundaries?

These are some big questions — I know. They don’t need to be answered all right now, and your answers evolve over time but keep them in mind as you start to reclaim the parts of yourself you thought were lost.

Our worth is not based on our youth, how we look, our ability to bear children, or how much we can give. We are inherently and divinely worthy. It takes time, failures, and many initiations to realize this, but that’s what this journey is all about. Becoming a mountain lion wasn’t a phase to be avoided — it is the goal. I don’t know what the next stage is, but whatever it is, I will welcome it with open arms because I know it will bring me closer to my most authentic and wild self.

I wish you wisdom, strength, and much pleasure on your journey.

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