The younger we are, the older we want to appear. And it is vice versa as we grow older. At the age of 12, one loves being considered 13. At the age of 37, it is wonderful to be seen as 32. At this stage in life, with my daughter Mashallah almost my height, I have gotten over wanting to be seen as older, or younger than what I truly am.
If one is lucky, a time comes when one becomes totally comfortable with announcing one’s age to the world. But a friend on the condition of anonymity shared, “The journey from being called baby to baji to aunty to khala by shop keepers has not been easy.” What’s more, it is not just the women who suffer from this hang up. It is also uncles and chachas. But yes, women suffer from age discrimination, and consequently, the “age defying” complex much more than men.
The age factor or the complex to appear younger is something that we are conditioned into. For evolutionary reasons, it makes sense that nature programmed men into gravitating towards younger women. But the cosmetic industry, plastic surgeons and botox proponents, all promise one thing and one thing alone…you can defy age, or at least appear to look younger. Add to it the unrelenting efforts of the advertisement industry and voila! We have humanity scrambling to appear younger than they are. But the insecurity about looking older already existed in society…sellers of the “cheat about your age” just used it to their optimum advantage.
We are made to believe that the prime of a person begins at twenty and ends at forty. Stories about showbiz people simply refusing to age beyond twenty-five are legendary. Up until NADRA came into picture, people would conveniently hide five to 10 years off their date of birth. You must know a few couples who will leave their 20 year old eldest at home and let the eight-year-old youngest child tag along everywhere so that people assume that they are a young couple.
Many are actually known to report identity cards missing and remove several years off their age. Grey hair is considered a sin, and any man who sports salt ‘n pepper hair, has to hear a lot of comments from old friends who say “what happened to you man?” as they smugly run their fingers through their oh-so-obviously dyed hair.
Why do women lie about their age? Or are they coming of age and gaining courage to say it out loud? Shai Venkataraman, a health reporter at NDTV India and a mom of two, says, “I am open about my age. Although in my profession women are getting younger and younger, I refuse to be fazed! I really don’t know why women would want to hide it. I also don’t think age difference between spouses matters. I have friends married to younger men and they are very happy. It’s finally about how you connect mentally.”
But what about the age difference between a couple? Hamid Saleem, 31, a marketing manager and a bachelor, says, “If she is attractive, makes intelligent conversation, adds value to my life, I have no problems with her being older. However there’s a problem if women have a been-there-done-that attitude. A man needs playfulness in his life. Men at 40 wanna act like they are in the 20s. If he doesn’t get the playfulness at home, he looks for it outside his home.”
Sarah Ather, an HR consultant and mother of three, feels comfortable sharing her true age, but understands why women generally hesitate sharing their true age. “Living in a patriarchal society and being women, we are bound by cultural traditions and mentality. Announcing your age has become taboo. On top of it, advertisement commercials lead us to believe that age is the factor determining how we are to act.” Athar has hit the nail on the head here, as even the choice of colours we wear and our personal attitude towards life is expected to change once we hit the middle ages.
Mahgul Fatima, an artist and a mother of three seems to have analysed this hang up to some extent. “I guess people hide their age as they usually think they look a lot younger than they actually are. We can usually hide the wrinkles and aging signs with makeup, but the candles on our birthday cake remind us of every passing year, so now everyone has stopped putting candles on birthday cakes! Fibbing about our age by a few years helps us feel younger …it’s all in our head.” Why do women prefer men older to them? Mahgul feels the reason is that “older men are more emotionally settled, mature and financially stable.”
An edited version of this article was published in Dawn’s Sunday Images in March 2011