Here Is Why Women Are Terrified of Getting Older


On slowly becoming invisible

by Stephanie Kaloi, Content Manager

Grace and Frankie promo photo

You know what happens when two old ladies try to buy a pack of cigarettes? Nothing. Because in America, we love to ignore our old people.

If you caught the first season of Netflix’s Grace and Frankie last year, you probably remember a particularly memorable scene in which the two titular characters are at a grocery store trying to buy a pack of cigarettes. Despite repeated calls to the clerk standing nearby, they’re solidly and pointedly ignored, passed over for a younger, blonder woman, and only acknowledged after banging an empty cash tray and imploring: “Do you not see me? Do I not exist?” Ultimately, they end up stealing the pack, because “invisibility is their superpower.”

Welcome to aging as a woman.

The Creeping INEVITABILITY

The weird thing is, I look forward to aging. I’m not trying to rush life by, but I legitimately think aging is the coolest thing that people do, and I look forward to every new stage. That doesn’t mean that I a hundred percent love them as they happen (whoever said that everything starts falling apart when you hit thirty wasn’t lying), but each decade of my life has encouraged and humbled me, taught me and let me teach. Ultimately I feel like gaining knowledge and wisdom is the direct benefit of aging, and I want to know everything. Far from complacently letting aging happen to me, I like being an active agent in the process.

As a longtime fan of both Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, I was totally committed to watching Grace and Frankie when it came out, just to see their glorious faces and pick up some fashion sense (I’m not joking, Frankie’s wardrobe is my perfection). The show’s premise is that it’s about two women who have recently learned that their husbands (of several decades) are gay. Not only are they gay, they’re actually in love with one another, and have been for years. While that makes for a splashy lede, for me, the show is really about what happens to women as we age. It takes season one a few episodes to get there, but once Fonda and Tomlin hit their groove, it’s on. And by on, I mean the show hits heavy and hard often. The scene mentioned above is hilarious, but it’s also troubling and begs the question: Does part of being an aging woman mean making peace with slowly becoming invisible? Even at thirty-one, I’m starting to feel a creeping sense of inevitable invisibility, and it’s not like I’m even close to the throes of what real female aging looks like.

SCORN AND DERISION, AKA HOW WE TREAT AGING Women

In case you’re not intimately familiar with the term, let’s break down the most basic definition of ageism: prejudice or discrimination on the basis of a person’s age. And while it’s absolutely true that elderly men constantly battle ageism, men are also celebrated for adding more years under their belts. How many times have you heard about Picasso having kids in his eighties or read an article about how hot George Clooney’s gray hair has always been (for basically his entire career)?

Ageism happens in markedly less entertaining ways all of the time, all over the world. Eight home care staff in the UK are currently on trial for “systematic, willful neglect” of Edward Hinnells, a seventy-nine-year-old dementia patient. In both print and web comics, the elderly are regularly depicted as rarely clothed, rarely clean, always fumbling and confused creatures who we alternately coddle and scorn. Considering that the elderly population in the United States is set to rise, conversations about both aging and ageism are going to become more and more vital, because it’s not just something that the seventy-plus crowd experiences. In tech, fifty is the new sixty-five and anyone deemed “too old” is having a hard time keeping a job. In fact, I have a friend who works in San Francisco’s tech world and is worried his current job is his last shot to make something of his life at tech—at thirty-five.

Though if there is one group who gets hit by a double whammy, it’s women. Many of us will likely contend with the dual forces that are ageism and sexism for much of our lives. Our society idolizes young female bodies so much that suddenly Anne Hathaway, at age thirty-two, is considered be “too old” to be a movie star. How is it even possible that Emma Thompson, age fifty-six, could be considered too old to play the love interest of Robert Redford, who is seventy-nine? As women, we’re taught that our bodies are our power… and then we’re casually discarded as “not good enough” somewhere between thirty and thirty-five, just as the men around us are gaining real power.

For women, it’s not just about wrinkles on your face, because we also don’t want to see your ancient, over-fifty boobs either. When Susan Sarandon showed off her cleavage at the SAG Awards earlier this year, the Internet lost its collective mind. The Internet also loves to rip into Mariah Carey (age forty-six) for wearing a pair of shorts or gasp! showing her midriff, and even perennial queen Beyoncé (thirty-four) has been taken to task, repeatedly, for essentially not dressing “like a mom”—a phrase that in and of itself is inherently both sexist and ageist. What do moms dress like? What do moms look like? What is it about a woman crossing pushing the boundaries after twenty-five that we can’t seem to handle?

is invisibility a superpower?

I first began wondering about ageism a few years ago, when all of the sudden I realized that strangers on the street weren’t harassing me as much as they used to. On the surface, that’s great. It’s not like I wanted that kind of attention, and it’s not like I missed it, but I think a lot of females in the United States grow up just… dealing with it, at best. So when all of the sudden you realize that no, you’re probably not going to get offered a free latte anymore just because, or that yes, you’re slowly becoming invisible as you walk down the street, you also realize you’re looking down the barrel of the rest of your life. And sure, it’s fantastic to NOT feel worried about walking to the grocery store alone at night, but it’s not fantastic to feel like I don’t exist because my body isn’t as “desirable” as it was.

As much as I’m feeling a varying degree of things (Confusion? Elation? Sadness? It’s weird in my head right now) due to the drop off of interest in me, right now I’ve never been more engaged with the women in my life. Those relationships are only growing in depth, emotion, and real friendship. I’m learning more from the women I know than I ever have while simultaneously enjoying not having to deal with nearly as much shit from men as I have in the past.

But how long does it last? Because when Frankie says, “If you can’t see me, you can’t stop me,” I raise a fist in solidarity while my insides churn. I don’t want to be irrelevant, either. I don’t want to be disqualified from doing all the cool things I’m now experienced to do, just because I’ve been on the planet too long with a vagina.

why “grace and frankie” should matter to you

What’s lovely about Grace and Frankie is that the show doesn’t hold back—once the two have bounced back from their emotional turmoil and trauma, both main characters start exploring this new world they find themselves single in. It turns out they’ve got a lot left to give, and the show’s conversation rapidly shifts to talking about sex, bodies, and physical attraction between people who are over seventy. I’m thirty-one, but I’m all over this topic because guys, I hope I’m going to be old one day. And it turns out, people over seventy are having a pretty good amount of sex. And I hope I’m in the 31 percent of women who are still having sex when I’m seventy-five.

But when gerontophobia, aka a fear of the elderly, runs rampant and elderly women are regularly beaten, things feel a lot more serious than they did when we laughed when Frankie couldn’t figure out how to work her computer. Sure, the computer scene was funny, but more importantly, it highlighted a lingering reality: we don’t include the elderly in our world, digital or otherwise. I doubt anyone was surprised that Frankie couldn’t figure out how the Internet works, but I was asking myself why her kids hadn’t talked to her about the Internet twenty years earlier, when they were teens and first getting online. Sure, bringing an elderly person into the digital age isn’t always easy, but isn’t that kind of teaching worth it?

And imagine this: How frustrating do you think the elders in your family find it when you don’t have ten minutes to listen to advice they’ve gleaned after seven decades on the planet? What kind of patience do you think it takes to not stab you with a fork when your back is turned? It’s like I find myself near constantly telling my seven-year-old these days, pause and consider that maybe they, as someone who has lived longer than you, might be able to bring some hint of wisdom to any given situation.

aging is better than the alternative, no?

What it comes down to is that we’re all going to age, or we hope we are. You can try the creams and the potions and augment your body and hell, maybe even a little surgery, but there’s little to nothing you can do to actually slow down the march of time. Since aging has to happen anyway, I’m into choosing to be proactive and celebratory about it.

But few things sound as bad to me as becoming the eccentric grandma that everyone loves because they have to, the one that everyone politely entertains but never engages, the one who sits by herself in a chair, waiting for someone (anyone) in the room to say more than hi or inquire about more than the house shoes she got for Christmas last year.

So while I wait, I’ll be happily rocking the crop top I recently bought, shaking down people older than me for wisdom, treating the elderly like the elders they are, and refusing to go invisibly into the long… rest of my life.

Stephanie Kaloi

Stephanie is a photographer, writer, and Ravenclaw living in California with her family. She is super into reading, road trips, and adopting animals on a whim. Forewarning: all correspondence will probably include a lot of punctuation and emoji (!!! 😊 🎉 🎉).

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  • anon

    “I don’t want you to show me how to fix it, I just want you to fix it.” Repeated over and over for the entirety of my time living with my parents, regarding computers.
    Anecdotes aside, aging is scary and fascinating at the same time, and I’m glad there are more articles coming out about it (I’ve seen more and more grandparents coming online to share their stories and experiences and I love it).

    • joanna b.n.

      We are so concerned with pushing forward forward faster faster with computers and technology online but leaving SO MANY people in the dust. The tech world has gotten so so complicated so so fast, and I don’t blame them for giving up when the task they want to do involves learning 8 new steps every time. I’d say do it for me, too. But the problem is, that just makes the gap ever wider. Who is putting resources into helping translate and make accessible the internet for older people? I want to donate to that cause.

      • Madeleine

        Donate to OATS! (Older Adults Technology Services) http://oats.org/

      • Jess

        Hilariously, my brother and I joke about how our now-retired parents are better at both texting and Facebook than we are. They use emoji, post pictures of nights out at a bar or restaurant, and are probably like five seconds away from using Snapchat.

        Meanwhile both of us barely get tagged in pictures other people post and proofread our texts for accurate punctuation usage.

        This said, we really need to see tech-literacy improve for people, if only because it’s becoming more and more necessary for independence.

        • eating words

          Yes! My mother-in-law is adorably great at texting and Facebooking, miles ahead of my sibling.

          • Older Than You

            She might find it a wee bit patronizing to call her texting “adorable”. I cringe every time I hear older people called “cute” or “adorable”. Pretty sure they cringe also.

          • eating words

            That’s a really valid point, not to use language that can be seen as condescending. My family uses those words as compliments all the time, but there are definitely times they can be used or taken as infantilizing.

  • Kara

    I love aging. Now, squarely in my 30s, I’ve reached the stage where “I’m me”. I’m not changing who I am for the whims of someone else. I don’t look longingly back at my younger years. I’m happy with myself, as I am, and I look forward to the future–growing older and wiser.

    Maybe I look forward to aging, because I’ve always looked young for my age. I still get carded for wine at the grocery store :(, but I feel like I’ve become who I was meant to be. It’s an awesome feeling.

    • YES to all of this.

    • Amy March

      I am also squarely in my 30s and loving it, but would not say that I love aging or even describe my life so far as involving aging. I’ve grown up for sure, but I think it’s much too soon to call that process aging.

      • SarahB

        Thank you for recognizing this! I realize this website skews young, and most here are likely in the late 20s to mid-30s range, but I can’t help but shake my head a little that so many here, aside from you, consider that “aging” akin to a Grace and Frankie scale. In your 30s, most folks are solidly hitting adulthood – that is, not in school anymore, lots of people are settling down with a partner, perhaps having or planning kids, etc. And rock on, adults, become more of who you are, be comfortable in your own skin. But I would recommend that many of you go a little easy on the enthusiasm for aging, or at least recognize the vast unknown that you are talking about – this is something that you can’t really know until you’ve lived through it (say another decade or so), otherwise it comes across as a little mansplainy.

  • Green

    While I support a healthy embrace of aging, I wonder too, if it’s a bit naive? Sure there are things that I appreciate in my early 30s that are different from my 20s- Stephanie touched on them beautifully in this piece. But there may things in the decades ahead that I can’t know or understand until I’m there. Saying I embrace and celebrate my aging body at 30 is likely very different than saying it at 60, 70, or 80 (or 100). Ache in my body right now? I have some faith it will heal, I might question that a little more at 70. That ache at 70 might make me question what the next decade will bring, physically. And at some point, we stop accumulating decades, which is terrifying- no matter how old you are (at least for most people).

    I think our relationship aging will continually change. Maybe sometimes we embrace it and at other times we curse it. And for now, I’ll keep tuning into Grace and Frankie because goddamn those women are great! And they help foster conversations with real women in my life who I love and who are grappling with the same issues.

    • It could absolutely be naive. I definitely have a Pollyanna streak! ;)

  • joanna b.n.

    Yassssss, Lady!! I agree with basically every single word you wrote, and I’m all jazzed to get home and watch me some Tomlin/Fonda repartee!

    Also this:
    “I’m learning more from the women I know than I ever have while simultaneously enjoying not having to deal with nearly as much shit from men as I have in the past.”
    It’s such a good time in my life for relationships and learning and sharing together with my many lady friends and the few men who made the cut with me into my thirties. I am loving it. It is the highlight of my days, currently.

    So, just thanks for a great piece!!

  • emilyg25

    I love the ease, confidence and DGAF attitude that comes with getting older. There are benefits to becoming invisible. Also, my husband us 20 years older than me so I’ll pretty much always be young and hot by comparison!

    • Keri

      It may be that there were other things going on in my life, but when I turned 27, I got a sudden sense of “getting too old for this shit” where I stopped caring about things like whether my eyebrows were appropriately plucked. Love it. Looking forward to caring less about more things, and getting to wear increasingly comfortable shoes.

      • Sarah E

        Give fewer fucks. More comfy feet. <– May we all be so lucky in our golden years.

  • Amy March

    This seems like an article I really want to read from the perspective of someone who has actually aged. Like Lisa who comments sometimes. I just don’t know how you can possibly decide you love aging as someone in your 20s or 30s!

    • I agree that I would also like to read something like that! But I will disagree on that I can’t decide that I love it—I have friends who are 27-30 and already bemoaning the loss of their young years, “best” years, talking about how old they are, decrying gray hairs and being out of shape, etc. etc. etc. I’m simply choosing to look at aging as an adventure. I can’t stop it anyway, so… I’m doing my best to enjoy it.

  • Madeleine

    Thank you so much for bringing up aging! I’m a geriatric social worker and I LOVE talking to people about aging and everything that comes along with it. Building on this, I would second Amy March’s request for a piece on aging written by someone who’s past their 40s. Or maybe a series on feminist aging with femmes in their 50s, 60s, 70s?

    More that gerontophobia, I think our society has a huge ageism problem—external and internalized. It’s the one “ism” most of us will face, yet we’re not very energetic in the battle against it.

    As the boomers continue to create an increased focus on aging I am so excited by the innovation and policy changes I see. When we invest in our elders we invest in our own futures!

  • eating words

    I absolute love Grace and Frankie (at least the episodes I’ve seen so far). Both Tomlin and Fonda are amazing forces of nature.
    Thanks for this piece. And I second the request for a piece written by women who are past their forties. They’ve got so much to offer and I’d love to hear those voices.

  • ItsyBit

    Ugh yes to all of this. I think the first time I ever really thought about this was listening to that Lily Allen song “22”… before I was even 22. Blew my mind a little and made me sad because I could immediately see how real it was. (“It’s sad but it’s true / how society says / her life is already over / There’s nothing to do / And there’s nothing to say”)

  • Jenna

    YUP. I do try to make time for my two living grandparents, whom I just love (not because i have to) because, well, I love them. And I do try to engage them, which is easier with one (who has always been something of a liberal) than the other (who, despite a career as a respected scientist, now fawns over Donald Trump, which disappoints me because I *know* he’s smarter than that, but he’s very hard to talk to.

    The thing, though, about advice from someone who’s spent seven decades on the planet is that while it is often a good idea to listen to people who’ve lived more life than me, there is a flip side where a lot of that advice comes from a very different time and place and doesn’t necessarily ‘fit’ or work in the world we now live in. For example, my (sadly deceased) grandma advising me to prioritize marriage and kids and her obvious preference that I date a friend whom she thought would make a good ‘provider’ over the friend I actually ended up later dating and marrying (whom she ended up liking quite a bit, but in the beginning was worried ‘wouldn’t take charge and be the true head of the family’). Or their straight-up expectation that women simply do all of the housework and that’s the way it is – so rather than try to change this dynamic, I should simply accept it because to do otherwise would cause marital strife. I am pretty sure they were surprised when I married a feminist dude for whom my dealbreaker-level feelings on housework not only weren’t a problem but were just what was normal in an egalitarian marriage. It didn’t even occur to them that a man wouldn’t either expect his wife to do housework or, through sheer inertia, let her do it and avoid doing it himself. Or that he might be better at many tasks than I am.

    Other advice they’ve given includes the necessity and urgency of having children (we’re child-free), the need to go to church more (we’re atheists), that I should never show bare legs at work (wearing opaque tights may be fashionable but I’d look laughably out of place in nude hosiery – it’s just not a thing now) and the necessity of buying a home (we happily live in an apartment in a densely populated urban area overseas). Basically, everything they expected from life and mostly got, being touted as advice to me which just doesn’t suit my generation, my world, my personality, my marriage, my goals, my career or my situation.

    I’m actually surprised it was all such normal, ho-hum advice – I would have expected a few curveballs, but no. In their generation this was all pretty normal for the middle-class people they were, so to them this is ‘good advice’.

    So, uh, there is a limit to how much advice I take from my grandparents, as experienced as they may be!

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  • Emily Shepard

    Love this, and the discussion in the comments! You officially convinced me to give Grace and Frankie another shot.

    A small thing, and sorry if this makes me *that* girl, but the phrase is “all of a sudden”–couldn’t find another way to suggest an edit.

  • april

    Love this – it reminds me of this article https://www.vice.com/read/on-turning-30 . I just turned 30 a couple of weeks ago, and honestly, I’m excited about it. I find it sort of a relief to be done with my 20s. I’m more financially stable, I’m in a good relationship, I’ve more or less nailed down my personal sense of style, I’m in a good place professionally. I’m not sure I’ll feel the same way about turning 40 or 50, but right now – bring on the next decade!

  • Monica Scott

    After being in relationship with my husband for nine years,he broke up with me, I did ev erything possible to bring him back but all was in vain, I wanted him back so much because of the love I have for him, I begged him with everything, I made promises but he refused. I explained my problem to someone online and she suggested that I should rather contact a spell caster that could help me cast a spell to bring him back but I am the type that never believed in spell, I had no choice than to try it, I mailed the spell caster, and he told me there was no problem that everything will be okay before three days, that my ex will return to me before three days, he cast the spell and surprisingly in the second day, it was around 4pm. My ex called me, I was so surprised, I answered the call and all he said was that he was so sorry for everything that happened, that he wanted me to return to him, that he loves me so much. I was so happy and went to him, that was how we started living together happily again. Since then, I have made promise that anybody I know that have a relationship problem, I would be of help to such person by referring him or her to the only real and powerful spell caster who helped me with my own problem and who is different from all the fake ones out there. Anybody could need the help of the spell caster, his email is (LAVENDERLOVESPELL@YAHOO.COM } tel.+2347053977842) you can email him if you need his assistance in your relationship or anything.

  • RageFace

    Grace and Frankie are goddesses, though!