It’s three days till I turn 49. An inconsequential birthday perhaps. But I consider it an opportunity to rehearse: to spend the next year consciously preparing for the big “five o”.
Why is it that women have such difficulty embracing the process of aging? Of course all of us—men as well—resist the turn of the years and its impact on our once lithe bodies, but somehow women feel its pain more deeply. Even in our third-wave feminist world, beauty is still widely considered a woman’s main currency: the thing we most value. Sure, more of us are educated, more of us are in the workforce as equals, sometimes superiors, to men, but that doesn’t take away our secret desire to be beautiful.
That means when we butt up against the perceived ugliness of the deepening double chin, the widening crow’s feet, the sagging bosoms, the thickening waistlines, many of us struggle and fight against the inevitable. Even for me, as a long-time feminist, a committed reader of Naomi Wolfe’s ‘The Beauty Myth’, and a teacher and author who has devoted over a decade to work that uplifts and empowers women, this whole aging thing has been, and most likely will continue to be, an unravelling; a letting go of the ideal of youth.
Yet I’m one of the lucky ones because I understand that to move through to any new phase in life we must let go of the old, before we can embrace the new. It’s an ancient lore of all rites of passage rituals: there’s always a death, a mourning, and then a rebirth. Menopause, one of the most momentous phases in a woman’s life certainly encompasses this process, if we are only to step back and allow it to happen.
But so many women are in denial. So many of my female middle aged friends refuse to understand this thing called menopause; that it can creep up on you, over a period of years. And that’s what’s called the ‘perimenopause’. Surely, it’s much better to know what we’re dealing with, to be prepared, to be standing open and ready?
In traditional Chinese medicine, the menopause is called ‘the second spring’. It’s a lovely affirmation of the reinvention of self that is possible during midlife. This new self blooms in a way that is deeper and more resonant than her youthful, ‘maiden’ self. A woman can be more keenly connected to her body in a way that she never has been before.
‘I’ve learned the importance of starting with the body and all its senses. Which is why I go to my body to ask what this new country of aging will be like,’ writes second wave feminist legend, Gloria Steinem.
Steinem goes on to suggest that our ‘less forgiving’ bodies are in fact a gift because they ‘transmit warnings faster—not as betrayal, but as wisdom’.
Of course this clearly means illness or hormonal shifts we experience as we transition into menopause can be perceived as messengers of our soul, as harbingers of a way forward, if we slow down, listen, respond, and course-correct if necessary.
Perhaps on a more trivial level, for me, it also means I can still enjoy wine, but I know to stop at one occasional glass, that’s all my body will allow these days. I’m learning that rather than a deprivation, this is the gift of sensitivity that helps me take care of my body in a much more conscious way than I ever did when I was younger.
And what about this beauty fixation? Is there any cure? Another feminist icon, Germain Greer, would say ‘yes’!
‘Only when a woman ceases the fretful struggle to be beautiful can she turn her gaze outward, find the beautiful and feed upon it,’ says Greer.
This goes some way to explain the increasing urge to garden, to be in nature, that we often experience as we mature. Every year I take greater pleasure in the blooming of the orchids in my garden, also in observing and appreciating the simple beauty around me—on a beach walk, or simply feeling deep reverence for the sway of a gum tree spied through a window. It is one route to making peace with who and where we are on this life-trajectory: to open our awareness outward, and to realise that we are just one part of the fabric of life.
Finally, if all else fails, and you’re still bemoaning the passing of the years, it can always be helpful to practise gratitude. I remind myself that this is a privilege to be nearing 50. I have friends who have not made it this far, who can no longer smell the sweet jasmine of spring and admire the orchids in their garden.
Ana Davis, Founder and Director of Bliss Baby Yoga, has a passion for a feminine approach to yoga, and supporting women with yoga through all ages and stages of their life. Ana is author of ‘Moving with the Moon: Yoga, Movement and Meditation for Every Phase of your Menstrual Cycle and Beyond’ – www.movingwiththemoon.com – which features her wisdom on not only embracing your menstrual cycle but also on embracing menopause and supporting yourself throughout your monthly and life phases with yoga and wellness practices.