In February of 2022, when the war escalated in my motherland Ukraine, I found myself unable to focus on my appearance and missed my regular hairdresser appointment. Later, our family decided to reshuffle our budget to help people in Ukraine, and without hesitation, I allocated the money I would usually have spent on hair dye to those in need (Please continue to #StandwithUkraine). One month of war after another, and I ended up missing subsequent appointments without a second thought.
As time passed, something surprising happened. People, some of whom I barely knew, started recommending that I colour my grey hair, claiming it made me look old and asking me if I am depressed. (Speaking of biases). Intrigued by these observations, I started paying closer attention to these comments. After one such conversation, I was invited to join a menopause group. Curious about this new world, I not only joined one group but five, discovering a realm filled with taboos. It surprised me to learn that in North America, discussing “menopause” in public and professional settings is often frowned upon, especially for successful women.
I couldn’t help but wonder why this crucial life phase had to be kept hushed. Why should women shy away from discussing their lengthy transition journey when it undoubtedly influenced changes in their day-to-day personal and professional life?
Shouldn’t we acknowledge that the menopausal transition most often begins between ages 45 and 55, it usually lasts about seven years but can be as long as 14 YEARS, and that many women often reach professional success and menopause at the same time?
Let me pause here and emphasize that I’m not an expert on this topic. Consider this post as a collection of personal observations, reflections, and insights into cultural differences.
I started getting grey hair at the age of 27 due to genetics on my mother’s side. Interestingly, I’ve always aspired to have grey hair, just like my beloved grandma, who was deeply respected and admired in our family. Her grey hair was not only a sign of beauty but also a symbol of the lifelong wisdom she shared with us.
In our history, getting old has always been considered a luxury, and there is no fear of aging in my family circle. Instead, there is a profound appreciation for the opportunities and experiences that come with age. In Ukrainian, we even have two words for “you” – one for someone of your age (friendly) – ти, and another (starting with a capital letter) for addressing elders or those we respect – Ви. Aging is seen as a source of wisdom, knowledge, and power, rather than merely a function of time.
There’s relatively little research on cultural differences in ageism. Some studies suggest that Eastern cultures, influenced by Confucian values like filial piety, tend to hold more positive views about aging and the elderly, fostering respect, care, and obedience towards them. On the other hand, Western societies, often youth-oriented, may harbor more negative perceptions of aging and older people.
It’s evident, though, that North American society places significant emphasis on avoiding aging and not discussing it at all costs. This aversion to aging leads to ageism and its painful consequences. People pour money into facelifts and Botox, hoping to look younger, while also compromising their mental health due to societal and cultural pressure.
Aging is an inevitable part of life, and it can be embraced gracefully. The way we culturally perceive, and approach aging can significantly impact our experience of it. This insightful article explores, for example, how menopause is perceived and therefore experienced very differently across various cultures, highlighting that mental perception and societal pressure can play a crucial role in the physical challenges faced during this phase of life.
So, here’s my bold statement for all immigrants who have recently arrived in North America and face the reality of “adapting” to “the fear of getting old”: “Don’t always follow the saying ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do.’ First, observe whether “Romans” might be shooting themselves in the foot.”, inadvertently causing harm.
Getting old is a gift, and staying healthy as we age is a blessing that requires daily effort. Why would you let toxic parts of culture affect your inner peace and contentment? The grass is not always greener on the other side.
Today I’m turning 45 and the menopause phase lies ahead for me. Talking about it is neither uncomfortable nor taboo for me. Why? Because I was culturally raised with the belief that climax (κλῖμαξ=ladder in Ancient Greek) is a natural “staircase to wisdom and freedom”.
I choose to keep this belief. It benefits my health.
If reading this blog post made you feel uncomfortable for some reason, I invite you to reflect on why.
Could it be a cultural prejudice holding you from seeing aging through a prism of joy and happiness?
Does it serve you well?
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