When a newly divorced Vicki Larson reached her late 40s, she didn’t consider herself “withered,” undesirable, professionally irrelevant, or “invisible,” as women in business have long been told. a certain age.
Instead, the Bay Area journalist and author was thrilled to be entering the “prime prime” of her life, never “more confident…interesting, vibrant and juicy,” as she writes in “Not Too Old For That” (Rowman & Littlefield, $32), her insightful and provocative new book on women and aging.
Now in his 60s, Larson has had short- and long-term romances, gotten a promotion at work, bought a house, raised two sons, wrote a book, and nurtured new, long-term friendships.
Whether or not Larson’s trajectory is typical, she says it’s not a path society typically describes for women of a certain age, an issue that frustrated Larson but also prompted her to investigate. The result is a book that challenges hurtful messages in the media and elsewhere about postmenopausal women.
These messages say that older women are no longer attractive or sexual because they no longer bear children or please the male gaze. The posts also say their aging bodies and brains make them “frail, incompetent” and a growing burden on others.
“I just hit my peak and society tells me I’m no longer visible?” said Larson. “That I am unwanted? That I have nothing to offer?
Lifestyle editor of the Marin Independent Journal, Larson brought these issues to a reporter’s attention, using research on the science of aging and interviews with scholars, authors and everyday women. In the book and this interview, Larson emphasized that she had no intention of writing a self-help guide or an “Eat, Pray, Love” style tome that tells women how to “find themselves “.
“I approached the issue of aging as a journalist,” says Larson. “I wanted to know what is going on in your body. What messages do you hear? Who benefits from these messages and are they accurate? »
In the process, Larson argues that older women already have power. While ageism is real, older women have become increasingly visible in important areas of American life. They have founded and run businesses, won awards for their work in Hollywood, and run for local, state, federal, and presidential elections. Perhaps most importantly, older women have strength in numbers. They will become a key demographic group in the American population over the next decade, when the elderly will outnumber children for the first time in history.
“The vast majority of these people will be women because we tend to live longer than men,” Larson says.
With that kind of power, “we have the opportunity to create new narratives about aging as a woman, ones that value women at all stages of life, not just the young,” Larson writes.
A pervasive narrative that needs to go is that older women don’t care about sex, Larson says. The idea is that they lose interest, while “older men are always ready to go”. But women generally maintain the same level of desire as men as they age, with men even more likely to lose desire due to erectile dysfunction, Larson points out, citing a 2017 study. is probably rooted in men’s anxiety about their own sexual problems. Larson also examines how negative messages about women and sexuality are particularly affected by black women and women from other marginalized groups.
And Larson dissects recent seemingly positive coverage about aging telling women how to do it “successfully” – like 52-year-old megastar Jennifer Lopez, who is praised for her smooth skin, tight abs and ability to always s fit into the body-hugging Versace dress she wore more than 20 years ago.
While there should be room to celebrate women like Lopez, Larson also cites other women who speak out against the impossible standard for anyone without Lopez’s genes or resources, and experts who explain the ageism inherent in the language that defines aging “beautifully” as looking young.
Larson’s book doesn’t shy away from other serious issues of aging, including the fact that many older women struggle financially as they approach retirement. A chapter is dedicated to encouraging women to take control of their finances and seek ways to invest.
“If there’s one thing I hope women take away from my book, it’s that,” Larson said.
Larson also addresses the fear of dying and how women can stay in less than satisfying relationships because they are afraid to leave this world alone. But many people die alone, a fatality made brutal by hospital deaths from COVID-19, Larson says bluntly. The question, she says, is how women get the most out of their lives, whether in a long-term, happily single marriage or in new configurations of relationships with extended family, friends and even loved ones. ex-spouses.
She concludes by calling on women of all ages to “start having honest conversations not only about what they perceive to be the negatives of aging as a woman in this world, but also about how aging has made them stronger, more resilient, more open-minded, more tolerant.
Hear Vicki Larson, author of “Not Too Old For That,” speak at 5 p.m. May 1 at Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd. in Corte Madera; www.bookpassage.com.