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It’s a bold move to address the harmful stereotypes that pervade culture and society. It’s even bolder to openly protest them and then offer solutions to lessen their presence and power.
That’s just what Marin County author Vicki Larson has done in her book, “Not Too Old for That: How Women Are Changing the Story of Aging.” Published in April 2022 by Rowman & Littlefield, Larson’s book confronts the negative perceptions associated with women and aging.
She explains, “All our lives, as women, we are making decisions that are based on these ageist, sexist narratives, and they actually can be pretty harmful to us.”
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Larson, who is the co-author of “The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels” and whose writing has appeared in a variety of print and online publications, acknowledges that she first considered another topic for her solo book-length project: how to age alone. But the articles she came across about being an “older woman” — and their gross inaccuracies – struck a bundle of nerves.
Says Larson, “I am an older woman. I got Medicare for the first time last year, so I’m officially a senior citizen. And it made me kind of upset with a lot of what I was reading, because I didn’t feel that way. And a lot of my friends who were around my same age, some younger, a few older, also didn’t feel that way. So I started to think, ‘What kind of BS is all this?’”
Those “BS” narratives fueled the idea for “Not Too Old for That,” in which Larson incorporates an effective blend of humor, honesty, theory and guidance to identify, dissect and challenge long-held assumptions about women in midlife and beyond.
In an interview, she shares, “I started to do a deep dive into the research on that. And I realized how those narratives were really wrong. I mean, there’s some real things about getting older — don’t get me wrong about that. But a lot of what women hear is very, very sexist, as well as ageist.”
And what are these off-the-mark narratives in which women are the main characters? According to Larson, they center on the loss of beauty as well as other unfavorable “welcome to old age, ladies” qualities — namely, undesirability, asexuality, irrelevance and invisibility. She refers to these as the “biggies.”
As she elaborates, “The biggies are the ones that every woman hears, and it’s why so many get cosmetic surgery and dye their hair and do all the things that they do to look anything other than their age.”
Celebrity culture, she notes, is a microcosm of standards and expectations surrounding what female beauty looks like and, often correspondingly, the age at which a woman is deemed “too old.”
Larson comments, “I mean, women past 40 in Hollywood don’t get parts because it’s this youth- and beauty-obsessed culture. And our obsession with celebrities isn’t really helping. Although a whole bunch of them turned 40 this year, like Beyoncé and Kim Kardashian, and now all of a sudden, they’re changing the narrative of midlife. I’m like, ‘Yeah, hello! We’ve been trying to tell you that for a while now.’”
Forty seems to be that significant milestone age-wise, she says, in terms of women’s awareness of getting, and being, older. She explains, “Suddenly, it’s like we go, ‘Oh wait. How did this happen? How am I 40 now?’”
She emphasizes that the persisting stereotypes about women of certain ages, such as the “big 4-0,” are restrictive and damaging to women in myriad ways, and it’s time to confront these preconceived notions.
As Larson advocates, “We need to damp down that noise about what midlife and older women should be or are and just say, ‘Who’s saying that? Who’s benefiting by saying that, and who’s being hurt by saying that?’”
Larson says one of the goals of her book is to bring awareness to these problematic views that consequently impact the decisions women make. And people can start with examining their own perpetuating and internalizing of limiting narratives about older women.
She acknowledges her own susceptibility to them, sharing the story of a San Francisco concert she attended, where she was quick to judge the female singer-songwriter’s appearance.
As Larson recalls, “She walks out, and I look at her and go, ‘She’s so matronly!’ She had long gray hair and was wearing a dress, and you could see a thick middle-aged waist. She’s a few years younger than I am, and I hated at the time that that was my first impression. And then I had to go, ‘Wait a minute. She is this amazing talent with this beautiful voice and an amazing philanthropist and activist. You’re gonna go to the matronly thing?’ So we all have that in us.”
In her book, Larson also champions the idea of aging confidently and discusses what, exactly, that involves. Aside from recognizing that being alive is, in itself, a successful way to age, she wants women to consider what they want living to entail and the ways they can look out for their current and future selves better — such as financially, through investing and more generally in terms of well-being and readiness for ages yet to come.
Larson explains, “I want to look at us as our older selves and go, ‘You know what? I want the best for you. I want you to live in a world that values women of your age.’ And so I want women to do what Lady Gaga did to Liza Minnelli at the Academy Awards and say, ‘I got you.’ I want us to say to our future self, ‘I got you. I’m taking care of you.’ I think that’s really important.”
And this particular objective is a strong takeaway for all of us these days, regardless of sex or gender: to take care of ourselves in the best ways possible.
As Larson notes, “In the past two to three years, because of the pandemic, we’ve really seen how fragile life is. People who were healthy died from this disease. And so it feels very precious to be alive.”
Support for local, independent bookstores
Vicki Larson recommends supporting local independent bookstores, such as Book Passage Bookstore and Café in Corte Madera and at the Depot Café and Bookstore in Mill Valley, where “Not Too Old for That” is available for purchase. Another option is to get in touch with a local indie bookstore and request for them to order the book.
Find the author on social media
Larson jokes, “I’m somewhat entertaining on social media.” She is active on Twitter (@OMGchronicles) and Instagram (@omgchronicles). She is also a frequent contributor to Medium, where she addresses topics from her book: https://omgchronicles.medium.com/.