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Society airbrushes older women out – but I feel more confident than ever at 43

Challenging our fears around ageing is the only way to stop it from ruling our lives says writer Poorna Bell

woman in white top sitting for portrait
6 April 2024
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Thunderbolt moments are rare but, when harnessed correctly, can help you to redefine and reshape your life.

When it comes to ageing, mine was interviewing a photographer named Alex Rotas, who spent most of her time photographing older amateur athletes. She was telling about a woman who was still doing pole vaulting in her 70s, and I’d gasped: “Isn’t she worried about breaking something?”

Alex laughed because this is the majority response most of these athletes get, especially from their own concerned children. But she explained that unless there is some underlying issue such as osteoporosis, none of these people are more likely to break a bone than someone younger than them. “And no,” she added, “they aren’t worried about it  – they just throw themselves fearlessly into it.”

woman in printed top smiling© Ellen Lai Photography
Poorna is more confident in her 40s

In that one moment, I realised that I’d unknowingly absorbed the belief that simply being older meant you were more frail or could do less. That is true of some people, but it doesn’t make it the default.

Rejecting ageism

It made me think about other things I’d believed to be true, which had contributed to the deep fear around ageing.

Take the idea, for instance, that you automatically become less attractive, and less desired simply by virtue of your age.

Part of this is because society airbrushes older women out of being the objects of desire and lionises youth so much that there is little roadmapping for what dating or sex looks like as you get older.

woman in white with beaded necklace © Instagram
Poorna knows what she wants in her 40s

Navigating dating

I’ve found as a 43-year-old navigating the dating world, that I am no less in demand than I was when I was younger. In fact, the clarity I have in my forties means I know what I want, and it’s a quality that is hugely attractive to people who are dating me, especially people who are younger than me.  

 ADVICE: I'm newly single at 52 –how do I begin dating? 

That clearness of thought is a superpower, which I hadn’t realised ahead of entering my 40s. Though it might seem superficial to some, a big one was also in terms of how I dressed. Would that change? Would certain things now be off limits?

Dressing in my forties

I had seen so many women struggle with their fashion identity in their forties, that as ridiculous as it sounds, I half-expected a switch to go off in my brain rendering me incapable of dressing myself.

Perhaps in part a response to the invisibility of women who are forty-plus, I noticed women veering towards much brighter colours and patterns – neither of which felt right for me. In fact, when I entered my forties, I couldn’t exactly say why, but I felt myself being drawn towards the gothic aesthetics of my teenage years. 

Woman in black thigh split dress© Instagram
Poorna rejects the notion we must 'act our age'

Maybe because this had always been my favourite way of dressing, and finally I now felt I didn’t have anything to prove. The marked difference being I actually have a bank balance and can afford better things.

 INSPIRATION: Why I'm absolutely not 'dressing for my age' at 54 

It doesn’t make me feel like ‘mutton dressed as lamb’ – that loathed phrase – rather it feels like reclamation and power. Continually challenging those long-held fears and norms around ageing is the only way to stop it from ruling our lives. I don’t see getting older as a shrinking of the self, but rather the opportunity to finally fill my life with things that expand me.

That sense of self-confidence, and the realisation that so many of the limiting factors we associate with age is mainly in the mind, has led to some incredible experiences. For instance, at the age of 43, I’ve started to learn martial arts – Brazilian jiu-jitsu – for the first time in my life. Is it terrifying? Yes. Is there a lot to learn? Horribly so. Will I let that stop me? Absolutely not.

Read more from Poorna on Instagram and visit HELLO!'s Second Act hub for more inspiring stories from women living their best midlife. 

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