Age: What’s In A Number?

I have a good friend who doesn’t think about her age. Every year, when I call to greet her happy birthday, she asks me, half-joking, “How old am I, again?” I know her age because she is ten years older than me. She prefers to mark her years not by time but according to how old or young she feels.

In some of the reviews I’ve read of the movie Nightcrawler, actress Renee Russo is described as an aging actress. The “aging” reference really bothers me. Sure, Russo is aging. She’s sixty right now, next month she’ll turn sixty-one. Then again, aren’t we all, every one of us, aging? From the moment we are conceived we age by the second. Yet it is usually women upon whom aging gets pinned and not in a positive way.

Age is a funny number. As a young girl, I couldn’t wait to be older—old enough to drive, to date, to drink, to be considered “credible” as a news anchor, which is what I thought I wanted to be. When I moved to Hollywood after my thirtieth birthday, one director told me that he couldn’t cast me in a role I really wanted because I didn’t look old enough to play a woman my age. “If only you looked as old as you really are, you’d be perfect for the job,” he said, ushering me out the door.

This is my “magical 33” year! Thirty-three is when everything that I want will happen for me! At least, that’s what I told anyone who would listen after I celebrated that birthday. My rationale? “3” is considered by many to be a magic number, so why not hope for eleven times that at 33? Instead, that was the year my life started imploding.

After I turned forty, the amount of interest I got on waned. I considered lying about my age. I so wanted to be younger again—young enough to feel like a contender in the dating game, young enough to get pregnant without worrying about high risks and low odds, young enough that the Whole Foods checkout guy would stop calling me “Ma’am.” It wasn’t until I started embracing my real age that life began to fill up with new possibilities and opportunities.

Savoring the Now Makes Any Age Yummier (wikimedia commons)

“Line up according to age, please!” That’s the instruction given at certain all-women gatherings that I’ve attended. The eldest is always the first to go in, the youngest the last. In these circles, a woman owns her years like a number of honor. There is no shame in admitting your age. The older a woman grows, the more wisdom, experience, and power she can hold in her body. In time, each one will get her turn at the head of the procession.

A few months ago, writer Timi Yeseibo invited me and a few other women to talk about age on her blog, Lively Twist. Turns out that for each of us, whether younger or older, age is more than just a number. You can read our stories here.

What about you, what meaning have you endowed upon certain years of your life?

81 Comments on “Age: What’s In A Number?”

  1. Arisa says:

    I’m 17 but I wish I didn’t have to grow up. Growing up is hard, too much change :/


  2. vnp1210 says:

    I couldn’t wait to get older either. For me it was about the freedom to make my own decisions without seeking permission. I still feel good about getting older and look forward to what I have yet to learn. The only thing I worry about convelescence.

  3. Ralph says:

    What a question Diahann ! As I am twice your age +2 I should act it, but I feel like a 21 year old with 47 added years of experience. If only my body would let me ! Enjoy your life my friend ! xox ❤

  4. La Panzona {Pahn.So.Nuh} says:

    So serendipitous that you wrote about age today as I turn 38 on Jan 25th (Robbie Burns Day). I feel bolder now, with a take-no-crap attitude. But I do honestly mourn the loss of my youth ie Before kids when I was thinner and sexy. I wish I could have been bolder then, really have owned who I was. I was so lost. And I’m just starting to find my way. Great post 🙂

    • diahannreyes says:

      Happy birthday 🙂 Lol.. mine is Feb 25 and I think of it as Judy Blume’s Day. I hear you with the contradictory feelings that can come with a particular year. I also agree w/ you about just finding my way. I think society expecting us to know so much by even our twenties is a bit unrealistic… that didn’t start happening til my late thirties too. Have a great one.

  5. amommasview says:

    Our society pressures us to feel bad for our age. And actually we should be proud of who we are and who we are developing into.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Yes- I totally agree. I feel like for many-myself included- it’s a process of unlearning those pressures. Then again, society in some way pressures women in general to think we’re never enough- too young too old too skinny too fat – but seldom ever just perfectly, acceptably enough at whatever age, weight, etc. That feeling of “enoughness,” I’m feeling, is where the sweet spot is.

  6. 4utu says:

    Thank you for posting this! I am changing and aging but you are right….isn’t everything? It’s not a bad thing and I’m not saying it’s different and I miss some things but I’m sure the best is yet to come!

    • diahannreyes says:

      Hi Estela, I agree with you. Some things I miss too but then I look at my life today and think, back then I wouldn’t have had this. Here’s to the best that’s still coming!

  7. I play a game in revealing my age: I deliberately mention it in conversations (in person and social media, etc.) and see if the person with whom I’m speaking/engaging reveals her age. I win because very seldom will the other woman share her age! She might say “oh you don’t look 41,” or add to the conversation in a different way but she rarely says her age. I understand why some women don’t feel like they can publicly own their age but for me this is just one more thing that women don’t talk about that they should. So, add age to that forbidden list which includes: miscarriage, salary, abortion, domestic violence, challenges of living with a newborn, etc. Thank you as always, Diahann, for voicing what many of us feel.

    • diahannreyes says:

      I’ll be 44 in less than three weeks. 🙂 It’s strange- even just writing this post there was this worry… are some readers going to think I’m too old for them… I even initially left age out of the title but put it back in because that’s exactly the problem- society’s negative biases toward women for having the audacity to keep aging, which can affect the way we see/view/reveal ourselves. I love that you are out and loud and proud with your age. Giving other women permission to do the same.

  8. Hi Diahann. Great topic. I’m 53 and I went through a period last year when I was very confronted by my age because I made it mean something that I was that age and I’d had no husband or children. Then there came a few moments over the period of a couple of months in which I “chose” my age and my circumstances, and also one pivotal phone conversation I had with some female friends who really listened to me and what I was feeling which was actually grief. They kind of held my hand in that conversation, and after that it was all OK.

    Thanks for a stimulating topic and best wishes. xx

    • diahannreyes says:

      Narelle, that’s really powerful that you claimed your power and took your age back to give it your meaning. I also appreciate you embracing the grief… I think that is something so many of us experience but perhaps don’t acknowledge because you are so right there are losses that come even with owning our age. And that it’s perfectly okay and normal. Thank you for speaking to that here.

  9. Tony Single says:

    I won’t lie about this, I have a hard time accepting that I have aged… and that I will continue to do so.

    I went to a Shonen Knife concert last night. Naoko, the lead singer, is 54 this year, and she was bouncing around the stage like a 20 yr old. It was standing room only, so I found myself wishing for a chair just 10 mins into their hour long set.

    Meanwhile, the drummer Emi was climbing all over her kit like she was 16, and even played it leaning backwards at one point. (She’s 33!) Ritsuko (the bassist) was head banging like there was no tomorrow, and it’s a good thing Wikipedia doesn’t list her age, otherwise I would’ve been feeling downright suicidal by that point.

    Make no mistake, I did enjoy myself, but that enjoyment was also tinged with the realisation that I’m not even half as preserved as they are at the age of 42. By the end of the evening, I felt like I had been standing there for 10 hrs. Honestly, I wanted a cup of tea and a lie down!

    All that to say that I think society in general will always have an obsession with youth. By the time we come to truly appreciate it, it’s usually too late. The sands of time have already buried the years, and we’re left wondering where the shovel is to dig ourselves out (because somehow this situation doesn’t seem quite real).

    Boy, I’m a real hoot at parties. 😛

    • diahannreyes says:

      Hi Tony, I am totally with you about how we don’t appreciate our youth until after the fact. I often feel surreal about it all- as in- oh, I’m in middle age already- when did that happen? Your story made me smile. I suspect movers and dancers in general tend to keep their vitality going long after most people. 🙂 I am amazed how exhausted I am now when I get five hours of sleep- I used to live off of that without batting an eyelash.

  10. Alice says:

    “Age is a funny number.” Indeed! I remember commenting to my grandmother once (I’d have been around 30, she in her mid-80s): “I keep finding myself surprised I am no longer 18.” Meaning, I suppose, surprised I was an adult (had been for some time!) — and all that that implied about what I knew and did, how others reacted to me, etc.

    My grandmother’s response? “Me too, dear. All the time.”

    • diahannreyes says:

      Alice, I imagine it must have been even more surreal for your grandma, being in awe at 80 at no longer being 18… I have a feeling I’ll have that same wonder if I’m lucky enough to live that long. I know I still do now some days.

  11. You are perfect with your age and skin color.

  12. markrenney1 says:

    It often seems to me, in Western society, ageing is regarded as failing which is of course ridiculous. A thought provoking post Diahhann- thank you.

  13. Jean says:

    Well, strange to see that I was one of the folks livelytwist highlighted in her blog post nearly a year ago.

    And here I am close to 56 yrs. (b-day is next wk) with a minor head injury from a cycling crash when another (younger) cyclist ploughed into me. I have to remind myself to be gentle with self…I’m not 22 yrs. with a head injury.

    I seem to have problems over past few decades remembering the precise ages of some friends. Kinda embarrassing but good. I’m talking about older friends. One of them has been a gracious mentor for my career, then we became friends. And she never trumpets about her age nor whines. I think she is close to 80 yrs.

    I’ll write it down one day.

    • diahannreyes says:

      I wonder if it is because the older we get the more the age playing field levels out. I have friends in their 30’s and 50’s and we don’t think about each other’s ages much- not unlike when I was younger and my friends were no more than a year or two older or younger if that. Happy Birthday, Jean. And yes, I remember that’s how I first discovered you through Timi’s post.

      • Jean says:

        Thx. My partner prepared his signature bison dish for me, plus birthday crepes yesterday.

        I agree –we don’t think about our ages. Or I should say, it’s not the centrepiece of our conversation.

  14. livelytwist says:

    Age or is it life or both, has conferred on me confidence I didn’t feel when I was younger. I am enjoying my age. The other day I was thinking about how my body will age eventually and I’m glad that my life is full of people and things that inspire me and that I can inspire others beyond physical attractiveness.

    Diahann, yes we need to talk about age. Thank you for starting and continuing the conversation. I like this:

    “The older a woman grows, the more wisdom, experience, and power she can hold in her body. In time, each one will get her turn at the head of the procession.” 🙂

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thank you Timi- and for serving as an inspirational jumping point since your blog post was the reason I even started this post. I have noticed some click overs pageview-wise, so I am glad that people are discovering your work. For me it’s a journey for sure to embrace getting older. Some days it is emotionally easier than other days. I met an amazing 72 year old woman dress designer yesterday who is a sensual, vibrant woman ready for her next adventure in work and in love. A great role model for future possibilities.

  15. SirenaTales says:

    Dear Diahann, Thank you for another thought-provoking and honest piece, and ensuing conversation. I think about age all of the time, especially as a result of my calling/profession of contemporary dancing.

    I am usually the oldest person in the room by at least ten years, and often by 20 to 30 years. At this point, I try to question as continuously as possible what cultural assumptions (and limitations) I am going to take on: as a woman, as a 57-year-old woman, as a 57-year-old woman whose body has borne several children and who dances very vigorous movement on a professional level. Sure, all of that affects what I can do, but a whole lot less than many would choose for me. To them, I say: No, thanks!

    As you so wisely suggest, the more we live passionately our own individual lives, the more we attract possibilities and the more we open up a sense of possibility for others. Ideally, deflating social conventions’ enormous, fear-based roles that can otherwise suffocate us and our dreams–often prematurely and avoidably. Is it hard work to find and follow your own path? Absolutely! Is it worth it, in my opinion? Absolutely!

    Thank you for continuing to “walk the talk” of following your heart, thereby focusing on vitality and possibility…which also happen to have boundless appeal and sexiness at any age, in my book. xo

    • diahannreyes says:

      Chloe, thanks for sharing your rich wisdom here. Shirking conventional constraints is very much an inside job until enough of us do that that the world starts to reflect who we all are showing up as. I think that is the key to changing the world more than actually changing the world. And, affirmed by your own inner tracking, empowering and powerful. You marking vitality and possibility as appeal and sexiness at any age- you are so right- that’s where the sexy really lives in the female body, isn’t it?

  16. thegoodshufu says:

    Hi Diahann. Just wanted to let you know how truly great the forties can be: I got married at 40, my first book deal w/a major publisher at 45, conceived my 1st child (naturally, if you can believe it–we still can’t!) at 45, and gave birth to a healthy, incredible little girl at 46 and a half. (And then found your blog this year, at 47!)

    Happy 40s, and all my best to you from Tokyo,


    • diahannreyes says:

      Tracy, thank you for the inspiration and the reflection of what is possible. It is so easy to close one’s mind to things because conventional wisdom say the door is shut until we see someone who embodies otherwise. I’m doing the marriage part at 44 so hopefully I can follow a similar path that you are paving in the book and (maybe) baby departments 🙂

  17. Aquileana says:

    Oh yes 33 is said to be the eternal age of Jesus! …

    As to your inisghts I pretty much agree with you and furthermore will like to add that people nowadays tend to live more…

    Even medical findings like viagra allow men to live a longer sexual life…. And all those aesthetic and surgical treatments probably enhance the myth of eternal youth!~…

    Your post reminded me of Oscar Wilde’s well known book “The Portarit of Dorian Gray”…

    A list of mythological references (greek Mythology)

    Adonis, Aphrodite’s lover turned demigod of eternal youth

    ► Endymion, another Greek god of eternal youth and fertility (the moon goddess Selene was so smitten with Endymion’s beauty that she put him into a perpetual sleep so that she could kiss him whenever she wished)

    ► Hebe, daughter of Zeus and Hera, was the goddess of eternal youth, who served the gods at their feasts with ambrosia (which means “immortality”) and nectar

    ►Calypso. In the Odyssey, she offers eternal youth to Odysseus while he is stranded on her isle. Once he leaves the isle to return to his faithul wife Penelope, he ages normally again.

    ►Tithonus: According to the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite, when Eos asked Zeus to make Tithonus immortal, she forgot to ask for eternal youth …

    Best wishes! ⭐ Thanks for the great reading!, Aquileana 😀

    • diahannreyes says:

      Aquileana, I love this comment that includes a lineup of different mythological references with descriptions 🙂 Culture’s obsession with youth seems to go way back, apparently. Tithonus forgetting to ask for eternal youth but getting immortality-wow, that must have done a number on her! Pun intended!

  18. Diahann, such a great post, and I think your insights are right on. Never, ever look to Hollywood for anything insightful on the subject of aging. Especially if you’re female. It’s true that women have a much worse than men as far as society’s image of aging and beauty is concerned. I don’t know what, if anything, will change that. Our culture idolizes and idealizes youth, and both genders are subject to being marginalized as they get older. Some years ago I began to feel “invisible” to people under a certain age. And I mean literally invisible — such that certain younger people were completely unaware of my presence next to them. I feel that i have become a non-entity in the minds of some younger people; that they see me in the same way as they see their parents: a person to be disregarded. Wow, I sound like a crabby old fart just writing this. Enough then. Cheers, Dan

  19. Mélanie says:

    Renée Russo is a pretty and talented actress… like Sharon Stone! 🙂 time and years have always been relative: they don’t fly, we simply fly with them… 🙂 being lovely is not a question of age, but a state of mind… 🙂

    • diahannreyes says:

      Hello Melanie, how true. The years seem to go by faster the older I get but I do suspect that it’s because a year in my life now is so much shorter than it was when I was a girl. And state of mind- isn’t it just so powerful and can change anything!

  20. […] blogger Diahann Reyes has an interesting post about aging from a woman’s perspective. Her post recalled this excellent essay by the great New […]

  21. Peter Schreiner says:

    Getting old is the only way (that I know) to live a long life; if long life is the goal. It’s not mine, but it is for some (think nursing homes). Now, there are options–well, one at least–to growing old but few choose that path, though I suspect everyone has contemplated it at some point.

    As for myself, I’ve never been an age where I wished I were younger. In fact, the thought of being younger or being reincarnated and having to do all over again frightens me. Can you imagine? No thanks, I’m glad I am where I am.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Great wisdom, Peter.. I take it you don’t believe in past lives for some reason I thought you might have made reference to that in your work but I could be wrong. I agree- the only alternative to not growing old is dying. Here’s to loving where you are.

      • Peter Schreiner says:

        I was unclear, sorry. It’s not that I disbelieve in the past life possibility–I do very much believe in it. However, I dread having to go through the western school system again with the memory of having done it before. I’m sure this fear comes from my 5-year brutal experience in the oppression and abusive Catholic school system, of which I do not exaggerate.

  22. Jenn Berney says:

    It sounds like 33 turned out to be magical, just not in the way you intended. 😉 I puzzle over my age daily, mostly just thinking, over and over, “How did I get to be this old?” I still feel like my twenties happened a couple weeks ago. I worry that I will still feel that way on my death bed. I loved this post.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Funny that you should say that- because it’s taken me 10 years to see how magical that year really was.. how everything had to implode for life to become what I wanted it to… and that it took more than 12 months for all that to come into fruition. I feel like my teens happened yesterday :).

  23. You either have a birthday or you don’t. =)

    But yes, age certainly is a liability for women – as I’ve laughed and cried about on my blog LOL. Love the inspirational picture of the women who held their wisdom and power in their body along with their age. It’s fascinating, though, bc age doesn’t pass linearly for women but in cycles. We have the cycle before we begin to menstruate, the long season in bloom when we do menstruate, and the season when the cycle ends. Our body literally cries out CHANGE! and calls us to discover new ways to live and know ourselves each time.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Lol… so true.. you keep growing older or you die! I think that’s so important what you said that for women age really does happen in cycles. I’ve heard some of my women who’ve gone into menopause say that they can still feel their blood every month even though it doesn’t flow. I don’t know that anyone has written about age passing in cycles quite the way you articulated above. You’ve got me thinking about how there have been times in my life that my body has demanded that I surrender with what’s happening.. a sign of the passage of time, no doubt, now that I think about it. I’m going to pay more attention when the signposts happen and think about it from that “way in.” thank you, Diana.

      • “my body has demanded that I surrender with what’s happening…” Wow, I would quite appreciate an elaboration to the extent you’re comfortable sharing, if at all.

        • diahannreyes says:

          There have definitely been these moments- like the day I got my period, a certain point in my late 30’s when my body took charge of my impulses of what I wanted it to look like- the aging process– out of my control- it’s either kick and scream through the whole journey or go with it because either way, it’s going to happen whether you will it or want it or not. Have you experienced something similar within your contexts, of course?

  24. Tony Michele says:

    Truuu! We’re all ageing from the moment of conception.

  25. BroadBlogs says:

    I began valuing aging when I read Brave New World in my 20s. That world seemed so superficial in so many ways I got a real sense of how ridiculous it was too devalue people just because they are older, When what you really should do is value them more — their experience and wisdom.
    (btw, I haven’t been getting emails about your new posts and realized that I haven’t been getting emails for anyone I’m following — so I just deleted and re-followed you. Hope this works)

    • diahannreyes says:

      I have not read Brave New Word but have heard lots of great things about it. I read commentary on Madonna at the Grammy’s last night and a lot of them portrayed her as desperate and cloying.. makes me wonder if she gave the same performance at 25 she’d be considered cutting age and innovative and bold and it’s more female age discrimination. I have heard WP sometimes glitches that way- always grateful for your presence here.

  26. Rajagopal says:

    Nice to catch up with u diahann after a long while, and coincidentally so in February where we share our birthdays, mine closely following yours… ‘Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be’ said the poet, in a tone of robust optimism, looking forward to the wonder years ahead, which should be our guiding light as well. It is the last of life for which the first was made, and not vice versa; what ages is just the body and not the spirit. My advice to you would be to retain your zest for life by working out and keeping fit; women need regular exercise to counter the effects of ageing cycles in addition to maintaining a sense of overall well-being. Here is wishing you happy sailing through your magical forties and beyond, from yours truly hitting the milestone of sixty on 27th feb…. Raj

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thank you, Raj! I definitely believe exercise is important for so many reasons. You definitely have a big one coming up- I hear that sixty is pretty magical in its own way too. I love that reference to the older years as the “wonder” years. Happy birthday, to you, too.

  27. You always make us think. :/ I know all the age supposed to be’s, but…
    I feel like I’ve lost at least 12 years of life and sometimes I really have a hard time with accepting they ain’t never coming back. I suppose there will come a day when I will fully accept I am where I am, but not today. Not for today…

    • diahannreyes says:

      I hear you, Robyn. I can think of a solid chunk of four years I wish I could get back. Sometimes what I know in my mind isn’t always true for me emotionally. I used to berate myself for it but now I say- hey, at least I’m aware and trying, as opposed to the opposite. And somedays, just aware. 🙂

  28. Jean says:

    The only thing I would like now to simply heal from my head injury from another cyclist crashing into me on New Year’s Day. I lost my memory for 6 hrs.

    I haven’t worried about age or how I look (I need a haircut but want to get better first)…but my 56th birthday was very different from 55 yrs.

    So I guarantee you that a few more wrinkles, grey hairs are so minor compared healing oneself from an accident.

  29. Jean says:

    Oh yea…I have remind that healing from a concussion when one is 56 yrs. is probably slower than 12 yrs. old. So from a body healing perspective, being a lot older can have an impact.

    I suspect because I was healthy and fit before the accident, it probably is helping me heal faster. Still I was very lucky…

    • diahannreyes says:

      Definitely sounds like you are healing as rapidly as you can. You are so right- it can be easy to get caught up in things that genuinely feel difficult and are-but then when we are struck with health emergencies it puts everything into a different perspective!

  30. caroljames68 says:

    Im 47yrs old and i still look like im 17 but dont feel it

  31. reocochran says:

    I agree, aging should not be used on people who are close to my age, please! Smiles!
    I will be 60 this year, climb trees, go creek walking and am one who will try many things out, with my grandchildren. I am sure that we may have considered Renee Russo “old” if we were only 20 or less, but as we grwo older we realize age is all in how one responds. Great post, Diahann.
    When I was in high school, I did view my teachers in their 40’s as old, isn’t that horrible? Smiles!

    • diahannreyes says:

      🙂 your post made me smile definitely. I can totally relate about thinking older people are OLD when we were younger. In my 20’s I thought anyone over 30 was intimidatingly old. I love the visual of you climbing trees with you grandkids… just goes to show that barring health issues, of course, we are as young/old as we choose to be.

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