Sharp, sexy, and self-assured: The changing profile of women in their seventies

Meryl Streep…Diane Keaton…Cher…Susan Sarandon…Helen Mirren…Goldie Hawn…Dolly Parton…Christie Brinkley…Olivia Newton-John…Candice Bergen…Nancy Pelosi…Sally Field…Debbie Harry….

What do the above women have in common?  They’re all in their seventies.

I don’t know about you, but when I was young, most grandmothers and other women I encountered who were in their 60s and 70s looked and acted old.  They stayed home, cooking, sewing, and, perhaps, babysitting grandkids.  Their bodies, far from firm, were covered with conservative, loose fitting clothing that camouflaged rather than showed off their figures.  They wore short hairstyles and scarce makeup (if any at all!).  When I saw them at the beach or at parks they typically were sitting on the side observing rather than swimming, throwing balls, or jogging.  And the thought of them being sexually active was never even considered.

Times have changed!

The generation of women who are in their 70s today have been exposed to an abundance of information about healthy diets, the importance of exercise, and other facts that promote healthy aging.  Because they have engaged throughout their lives in more exercise than their mothers’ and grandmothers’ generations, they are reaching their 70s healthier, active, in greater condition, and more youthful looking.  More of them have had careers and are more likely to continue working or find new ways to apply their talents outside the home and stay active in their senior years.  They continue to be interested in having a good appearance so they won’t give up wearing makeup and dressing stylishly.  The sexual revolution impacted their generation, so they are more likely to continue being sexually interested and active.  And, the women’s lib movement guided them to be free from stereotype expectations; they’ll dress, fix their hair, and behave however they like.

A new path is being carved for women as they age.  Let’s embrace it!

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On forgiving others and self

Joyce learns that her husband has had an affair with a coworker.  Trish, the woman Barbara thought was her best friend has told others sensitive information that was shared in confidence.  Without her knowledge, Cathy’s brother Peter talked their 88 year-old mother into mortgaging her house and, under the pretense that he would invest the money for her, took the funds and gambled them away.

Perhaps you haven’t experienced such violations of trust and the hurt that results.  But chances are you have had people violate your trust at some time in your life, resulting in you feeling angry, resentful, and damaged.  It is the rare human being who hasn’t been wronged.

Carrying around the resentment resulting from the offense can produce many of the harmful effects of stress and affect your health.  In essence, the negative impact of the original offense can continue to produce negative effects for a long time.  So what are you supposed to do?


When you forgive you release the negative emotions that you’ve been carrying around and change your attitude about the offense.  This isn’t to imply that you forget the offense, condone it, or make excuses for it.  Instead, you take control, making the decision to limit the negative impact, and freeing yourself to move past the transgression.

In order for the forgiveness process to begin it can help to confront the person who offended you.  This needn’t be in an ugly or angry manner. Just calm and direct, sharing how the offense made you feel.

“John, I always trusted you and am torn apart to learn of your affair with Linda.”

“Several people have told me that they found out about my legal problems from you, Trish.  I told you about this because I thought we had a special friendship and that I could confide in you.”

“Peter, you gambled away all of our mother’s money. I’m confused and angry that you would have so little consideration for her welfare.”

You can follow this with your suggestions on the actions that would heal the situation.  For example, you can tell your unfaithful husband that you want to know if he is committed to the marriage and if so, that you want to seek marital counseling; you can tell Trish that you want an apology and that she will need to regain your trust; you can tell your brother Peter that you want him to develop a plan for repaying the money he took from your mother.  The other parties can then take responsibility, hopefully apologize for their wrongdoing, and take actions to restore the trust in the relationship.

There always is a chance that the offending party won’t be interested in taking responsibility and healing the relationship.  John may tell you that you are lousy wife and he wants a divorce, Trish could deny sharing your secret, and Peter can inform you that as he would have inherited this money in the future anyway he sees nothing wrong and has no intention of chalking up any money.  Forgiveness may not be possible.  You then know where things stand and instead of harboring anger, can begin focusing on your future plans.  You may be hurt but you know where things stand.  Trying to understand what motivated the person’s action could help.  You can choose to forgive the person while making the choice to move away from the individual and reduce the power he or she has to impact your feelings.  Let it go.

And it’s not only others that are recipients of your forgiveness:  forgiving yourself has considerable value.  Chances are you have behaved in some less than ideal ways and done things that have produced negative results for yourself or others.  This can cause you to feel full of shame, guilt, regret, embarrassment, and sadness.  It can help to approach the person you wronged, admit to your wrongdoing, ask forgiveness, and correct the wrong.  If that is not possible, work on accepting that you, like everyone else, are an imperfect being and cut yourself some slack.  Not forgiving yourself will only eat away at you and reduce the richness of life that you can bring yourself and others.

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Memories stored in an old tin can

Recently I was going through my parents house, packing items in boxes for Goodwill donation.  My father died three years ago and my mother within the past year and  I’d been posting this task, partly due to it not being a priority in the whole scheme of things, partly due to my reluctance to change the environment that was associated with so many memories.

There was no problem parting with the numerous knick knacks, baking pans, china, bedspreads, and wall-hangings.  I had more of these items than I needed myself so absorbing them into my household made no sense, regardless of their modest value.  In fact, if I was to be totally honest, I probably should be going through the same exercise with my own household possessions, but that’s another story.  Suddenly I came across an item that caused me to pause:  an old round tin can that I recall from my childhood as originally holding Christmas candies, that since had been used to store my mother’s sewing supplies.

The holiday decoration on the can could barely be seen due to the years of wear and tear.  Upon opening it, I saw spools of cotton of various colors, a cloth measuring tape, and a few pin cushions containing needles of different sizes.  There also was a wooden sock darner; I remember watching my mother place it in the foot of a sock to enable an easier sewing of a sock’s torn toe area.  (Back then, people of modest means, as was my family, sewed torn and worn clothing rather than discarding them.)  As I looked through that can I thought it just seemed like yesterday that I recall sitting beside my mother as she showed me how to thread a needle, hand stitch a straight line, and tie a knot at the completion.

Of all the items that I sorted through that day, that old tin can containing the used sewing items had the least value.  It didn’t go into the Goodwill box, however.  Instead, it went to my home where it is kept in a spare bedroom.  It is hard to explain but I can almost feel my mother’s presence when I open the lid of that old tin can and hold the spools.  Funny how memories and feelings can be stirred from the most unlikely objects….

Are there any such simple or mundane items that stir such memories for you?


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Meditate or listen to music to improve memory

Have you ever walked to another room to get something, only to get distracted and leave the room without the thing you wanted?  Ever look at a phone number but forget it before you finish dialing?  Did you know that you needed to pick up four items at the store but can only remember three of them?  If you’ve experienced these or similar situations you are not alone.

As the years pass, we  may find that out memory isn’t what it used to be.  Items aren’t recalled as quickly and facts that we could regurgitate with ease in younger years are difficult to pull out of our memory vault.  This is not unusual but research has shown that it could be improved.

Researchers at the West Virginia University School of Public Health conducted a project in which older adults with some cognitive decline were assigned to groups to either meditate or listen to music for 12 minutes daily over three months.  Results showed that both groups had significant gains in memory.  In addition they showed improvements in other aspects of mental function, mood, the ability to manage stress, and the quality of sleep.  Seems like carving out 12 minutes a day to meditate or relax by listening to music is worth the investment!

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Would it be so if I believed and said it?

I recently read an article in which California had introduced a bill which offered people the option of choosing nonbinary as a gender option on various forms of ID.  Individuals could be free to change their sexual identity day to day if they felt like it.  The thinking was we shouldn’t define gender rigidly and that people have a right to be whatever they feel:  male today, female tomorrow.  The implication was that this must be accepted and society has no right to question the normality or appropriateness of this.

This got me to thinking.  I am a senior citizen who feels much younger than my chronological age.  In fact, when I hear the Rolling Stones playing Satisfaction I start swaying my body, moving my feet, and imagining I’m in my teens again.  I feel like a teen and want to be young again.  But what if I decided that I didn’t think it was right that I be defined by such rigid terms as my birth date?  Imagine what would happen if I started telling people that my age was 16, wanted to be treated as a 16 year old, started acting like one, dressed in teen’s clothing, began dating 17 year-olds, and hung around high schools.  Would the same society that suggests it is okay for me to deny my birth certificate and decide what sex I want to be today be willing to accept my decision to deny my birth certificate and represent myself as a teenager?  Chances are I’d be sent off for a psychiatric examination.

Whether we like it or not, there are certain truths we must accept.  The fact that I feel like a teen doesn’t deny the reality of my birth date.  The fact that someone feels like someone of the opposite sex doesn’t deny their birth sex.  Granted, stereotypes associated with age (older adults aren’t interest in sex, able to function in the workplace, or play sports) and sex (males can’t be homemakers, females can’t lead major corporations) should be eliminated.  However, the sex of which we entered the world and the date of that event are truths, whether we accept them or not.  So, please don’t label me as rigid for being unwilling to deny those realities and foster false perceptions.

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Retiring in order to rediscover

So you’re facing or experiencing retirement.  It certainly is an event that stirs mixed feelings.  On one hand, you can relinquish the day to day grind of having most of your best hours consumed with a job and experience a new found freedom.  On the other hand, you may have a little anxiety about leaving an activity that gave you some purpose.

Decades ago, when many of us entered the workforce, work served a different purpose than it does for many who start this journey today.  Most likely, today we would encourage a young woman to follow her dream and pursue the career path that suits her best.  In the 1960s when I was graduating from high school, that was not the mindset.  I was a decent student with good grades, yet no high school counselor guided me to applying to a college; male classmates with similar and even less impressive grades did receive this advice.  Having a mind that enjoyed deep thinking and getting lost in words I announced to my parents that I wanted to go to college and study philosophy and writing.  I recall my father’s response as though it was yesterday:  “We are not of the aristocracy.  If you want to continue your education you need to do it in something practical, like nursing or teaching.”  And so I stuffed my dream of exploring the minds of profound thinkers and writing the next great American novel to attend nursing school. Actually, I was fortunate to  do that as most of the girls in my neighborhood dropped out of high school to marry and nearly all the adults in my parents’ circle thought it was wasteful for a girl to get an education as she was just going to marry and have kids anyway.  My father thought it was okay as my nursing education would come in handy in the future as I raised a family.  The thought that I could have a serious career was never considered.  I think that perhaps there were many girls at that time who had similar experiences.

And so our generation of women married and had children.  At some point, out of necessity or boredom, we sought employment. In some cases, we may have returned to careers that we shelved to tend to our children.  Few of us could afford the cost and time of obtaining college degrees, and most of us had to consider our family responsibilities, so we took the jobs that didn’t demand special qualifications or interfered with our family responsibilities.  Often, those weren’t the types of jobs that were exciting, fulfilling, rewarding….but they provided the extra funds to remodel the kitchen or put the kids through college.  If we found ourselves single or divorced, these jobs provided the paycheck that enabled us to survive.

For many women of our generation, our interests, dreams, and talents were put on the back burner as we went through the motions of daily work.  Have you given thought to what interests, dreams, and talents you stuffed away during your time of employment?

Although retirement or a reduction in work hours can stir some anxieties and sadness as we lose contacts with people we’ve enjoyed, income, and a comfortable routine, it can open new doors for us.  We now can find the time to rekindle old interests that have been stuffed away for years, expand activities that we’ve dabbled in but never had the time to indulge fully, and explore those things that we’ve always said we’d love to do if only we had the time and energy.  You can finally start that online antiques shop, write the novel that’s been floating inside your head for years, take that trip to Paris, breed dogs, start practicing on that guitar that’s been sitting in the attic, take the art classes that you’ve pined for, pull out the unfinished craft projects that are stored in the basement––basically, you can pursue those things that truly spark an interest in us and challenge us to use talents that have been begging to be set free for years.  We can rediscover the true, unique individuals we are.

So if retirement is on your radar screen or a reality in your life, take time to be alone to reflect on those talents and interests that have been dormant for years.  They don’t have to make sense or be practical, they just need to inspire and challenge you.  Rediscover the you who has been put in the closet as you fulfilled the responsibilities of employment.

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Boomerang kids

You sacrificed your girlish figure and bore the pain to give them birth.  You put your career and/or interests on hold to care for them during their vulnerable years.  You lost sleep worrying about them driving alone or going to the parties where you knew they’d be subjected to things that made your hair stand on end.  You sacrificed to give them an education so they could successfully launch their lives.  You did all that and more, motivated by the vision of having your own life back when they became adults so that you could be free to pursue your own dreams.

And now they’re back!

Of all your dreams for your future, having your adult kids return home probably didn’t make the short list.  But nearly 40% of young adults ages 18-31 are living with their parents, usually due to finances.  Sometimes it isn’t that they don’t have enough to support themselves, but that they have considerable student debt or that paying for their own housing and food would reduce the money available for recreation, expensive clothes, fancy cars, and other desirable, although unnecessary items.  And because this is such a common occurrence, it isn’t considered unusual or inappropriate.  Of course, this generation of young adults is known for having a sense of entitlement (which our generation can thank itself for creating!) so there isn’t any embarrassment about living with their parents.

For the most part the relationships are positive but they are not without their headaches.  Having our offspring under the same roof causes us to be aware of more of the goings on in their lives which can lead to worry.  We may lose some of the control of our household, including standards for cleanliness.  Some of the funds targeted for retirement savings may instead be spent on the extra costs of having another person in the household. The ability to have spontaneous sex on the livingroom floor may be curtailed.

So, what’s a mother to do?  If a child asks to return to the family home develop a plan. If he or she is unemployed, discuss the plan to find employment.  Develop a fair rent for the child to pay.  Gradually wean him or her off your car insurance and cellphone plan, having them contribute something to these bills in the interim.  (Even if you really don’t need the money, this will be provide a valuable lesson in budgeting that will help when he or she lives independently.  You can always save and return the funds in the future.)  Discuss household responsibilities and hold the child accountable for those responsibilities assumed.  And be clear about what is and isn’t acceptable (e.g., not having dates spend the night, wearing clothes in common areas, not allowing friends to raid the refrigerator and liquor cabinet, etc.)  And don’t be afraid to be clear about the need for your privacy to be respected.

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