Ok, let’s talk about something we never talk about. You know, that thing that makes us cringe. The biggest taboo of all — our age. Or to be precise, a woman’s age.
We’ve all heard the jokes: how a woman would rather die than reveal her age. How we fight tooth and nail to keep our wrinkles at bay. How the use of make-up increases in proportion to the number of our birthdays. And the stereotypes ring true because, at some level, every woman is conscious of her age.
Of course, it’s not just women who suffer the punishment of growing old. Men too face the horror of physical infirmity, loss of independence and the ever-present spectre of death. But for women the repercussions of aging go beyond the obvious. Because, while everyone comes into this world with an expiry date, it’s only women, at least in our society, who bear the burden of a ‘sell by’ date.
It’s no coincidence that we speak of the single woman (in hushed tones and behind her back) as being ‘on the shelf’; we joke about the ‘marriage market’ ‘drawing room displays ’ and although they may not put it in just these words, ‘shopping’ for a bride is one of the most popular pastimes of aunties with even not-so-eligible sons.
Yes, even in our so called urbanised, ‘this-side-of-the-bridge’ society, a woman is measured by her marriage-worthiness, and while a fair complexion and a green card are an added bonus, age is the most crucial deciding factor.
And if you think the pressure eases up once a woman is ‘safely’ married, think again: of all the men who leave their wives, how many actually marry (or get involved with) an older woman? Obviously, while women may be judged by their age, men are the ones who feel defined by it — the older he gets, the younger a companion he seeks.
You see, though it is women who get to be the butt of the jokes, it is actually a man’s vanity that places a premium on a woman’s age. Is it due to the notorious biological clock — the younger the women, the better the chances of producing more children? Not really. Because even girls of 26 are deemed to be over the hill when it comes to taking part in the rishta race. A girl of 19 has been known to be rejected in favour of her 17-year-old sister — mind you, the prospective groom hadn’t seen either girl, he just made his choice based on age.
Younger brides are easier to ‘mould’ an auntie explains smugly. The older the girl the harder it is for her to ‘adjust.’ Husbands of course, never need to be moulded, they don’t need to adjust.
It’s no surprise then that women are programmed to be sensitive about their age, but that doesn’t mean they can’t change the script. Look around and you will see more and more independent, successful, empowered women who have discovered that turning 30 or 40 or 50 brings its own rewards. In a study which surveyed around 2000 women between the ages of 40 and 65, quoted by the Daily Mail, over 80 pc of the women said that they are happier in themselves than younger women.
The survey included a mix of all types of women: the married and the single; those with children and without, career women and homemakers. That this sense of security and confidence cut across all these demographics shows that it is not reliant on external forces. It comes when we realise that we don’t need anyone else’s approval to feel good about ourselves.
So does that mean we throw away the anti-wrinkle creams, cancel the gym membership and pig out on junk food all day? Of course not. This is the age when we pamper ourselves, stay fit and beautiful because that’s what makes us happy. Not because we want to land a husband or please a rishta auntie. And that’s the best reason of all.
Me, I just celebrated my 40th birthday and I’m off to treat myself to a day at the spa — see ya. ————————————————————————————————————————————————
Shagufta Naaz is a Dawn staffer
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