Un-Aging Gracefully

What it means to be a CoolAger

By Martha McCully

In the Saturday Night Live skit “Baby Shower” earlier this year, Brie Larson plays an expectant new mother who is being indoctrinated into a kind of mom-cult, called The Cut. It seems that all moms share certain tendencies, like turning their kitchens into farms with watering cans and fake chickens, and transforming their bathrooms into oceans with soaps in the shape of flip-flops. They take home the centerpieces from weddings, shop at Home Goods and recycle the same gift bags to each other. But most of all it’s the cut—the hair cut of a “soft waterfall in the front and sharp knives in the back,” complete with “chunky highlights” that’s the mom-cult initiation; it signals you’ve become like every other mom in the country, whether you like it or not.

I never got the mom cut, in fact I didn’t even cut my hair shorter after I turned 40, another stereotype I grew up with. I now have the long strawberry blonde hair I always wanted when I was a teenager, but never seemed to be able to grow then. I also never became a mom. I do have other perks I dreamt of in high school though: my own home just a bike-ride from the beach, interesting work projects, and a family I’ve created of friends, children and colleagues. (I had also hoped to wear glasses and braces as a teen, and that vision has manifested in reading glasses and a night guard for my grinding teeth, neither of which I brag about.) I go to SoulCycle and YogaWorks, spend way too much time on Instagram, I can work in my PJs and find dates on Bumble and OKCupid, much like some Millennials I know. Most importantly, I have the freedom to decide who I want to be and create the life that goes along with it. I’m a CoolAger.

Our country is filled with them. Women who grew up to expand not contract, to look younger as we age, to never grow out of who we were, but develop into ourselves more. We’re not about a chronological age, and as time moves forward, we refuse to let it hold us back. CoolAgers are mothers and child-free, entrepreneurs and artists, volunteers and activists. We’re introspective and inclined to do for ourselves as we do for others. We believe in creating our lives in the shape of what’s best for us, listening to our inner voices more than the dictates of a society that no longer has the power to tell us who or how to be at any age.

And CoolAgers have a lot in common with the generation of young women who are our daughters, nieces, friends and interns. I was at a barbecue this spring of a college friend, her sister, their neighbors and all their daughters. I turned to one woman and asked, “Are you the mother or the daughter?” I couldn’t tell. (In addition to the reading glasses, another inevitable trait of this age is my inability to determine the age of anyone younger than I. I also don’t really care how old anyone is.) Often we shop in the same stores, like Madewell and H&M. We even look alike. Kind of.

Turns out this middle stage of life is not as dreary as it was supposed to be. It’s not filled with empty nests, unwritten books and unsatisfied partners. Because if something isn’t working, CoolAgers change it. The conventional thought used to be that happiness took a major dive in the middle part of life, resulting in a U-shaped curve reflecting a bottom-ing out in the life satisfaction department in our 40s and 50s, which eventually improves later in life. But a 2015 American Psychological Association report reviewed studies from the University of Alberta and Brandeis University and found something different: Happiness actually is a linear progression from high school into midlife, resulting in an “upward trend in happiness”, and the idea of the dreaded bottom of the U “can most likely be dismissed,” the report says. The report also defines happiness as “an indicator of subjective well-being [that] contributes to thriving in work, relationships, and health, as well as longevity.”

Happiness is definitely valued by CoolAgers. It comes in all shapes and sizes, forms and frameworks. And a lot of it depends on how we feel about ourselves, which generally improves with our successes—and our failures. “No one wants to be back in her 20s,” says TV personality and lifestyle expert Katie Brown. “I no longer need to prove anything to myself, or anyone, for that matter. I’m called ‘real’ all the time now, that’s a 50s thing. I couldn’t be this real without a lot of experience under my belt.”

The freedom part is key, too. CoolAgers have the ability to choose how and with whom we spend our time, the independence to make our own money, marry and have kids, or not, and the flexibility to be adventurous, or instead have a Saturday night date with Netflix. Long hair has often been associated with freedom. And that’s exactly why I’m never getting The Cut.