ELLE (UK) - - Elle Play -

This year, I am pleased to say I turned 40. I’ve never been shy about di­vulging my age, but for many west­ern women, age­ing is viewed as a curse rather than a bless­ing. We worry about be­com­ing less rel­e­vant, less de­sir­able and less free. But af­ter a ca­reer in which I was the go-to rep­re­sen­ta­tive for 16-34 year olds on Chan­nel 4’s T4, I al­ways looked for­ward to be­com­ing a grown-up and join­ing the ranks of more ex­pe­ri­enced me­dia pro­fes­sion­als. Now, af­ter two decades of work­ing in the me­dia, I am of­fi­cially mid­dle aged, and that ex­cites me more than any­thing.

As some­one of Ghana­ian her­itage, age brings with it a cer­tain rev­er­ence where older women are val­ued for their wis­dom and ex­pe­ri­ence. They are in­te­gral at ev­ery level of so­ci­ety, from the aun­tie who sup­ports the new mothers in chil­drea­r­ing (they earn the ti­tle not through blood ties, but by step­ping up to the re­spon­si­bil­ity) to the queen mother, who is the chief coun­sel­lor of the Ghana­ian king. Ashanti cul­ture [the largest tribe in Ghana] is quite unique in this sense; the ben­e­fits to so­ci­ety are bound­less. Ashanti women are some of the most eman­ci­pated women I’ve ever met and are con­sid­ered vi­tal in shap­ing so­ci­ety.

In Lon­don, I was raised to re­spect and value my el­ders, hav­ing grown up around my par­ents’ ex­tended Ghana­ian cir­cle of friends, who took the ‘it takes a vil­lage’ prin­ci­ple lit­er­ally. I’ve al­ways been per­plexed by the west­ern dis­dain for age­ing women. But, marginal­i­sa­tion by age takes place at both ends of the spec­trum. Chil­dren and young peo­ple face bar­ri­ers in terms of politi­cians fre­quently im­ple­ment­ing poli­cies that pe­nalise them or adults vot­ing in ways that limit their op­tions. Con­versely, older peo­ple are dis­carded by so­ci­ety once they are no longer seen as able to con­trib­ute. This is an is­sue I ex­plore in de­tail in my new book, Di­ver­sify, which makes a case for the so­cial, mo­ral and eco­nomic ben­e­fits of di­ver­sity.

Older women who have ex­pe­ri­enced life have so much to of­fer us in terms of bal­anc­ing work and fam­ily life, thriv­ing in male-dom­i­nated en­vi­ron­ments and pi­o­neer­ing dif­fer­ent ap­proaches to chal­lenges, whether that be in­flex­i­ble hours for work­ing mothers or pay bar­ri­ers. I’ve ben­e­fited from a num­ber of older women in my cir­cle who have acted as men­tors, sur­ro­gate aun­ties and cheer­lead­ers. My friend­ship with Irene Sin­clair, 109, whom I met at the Women: In­spi­ra­tion & En­ter­prise Awards, is my favourite: a re­tired teacher, she be­came the face of Dove at the age of 96. She is liv­ing proof that any­thing is pos­si­ble. Irene has taught me how to value the im­por­tant things in life, such as kind­ness, com­pas­sion and laugh­ter. On a re­cent visit, she put me to shame by do­ing her yoga barre ex­er­cises while I sat drink­ing tea and eat­ing her home­made cake. Irene has shown me that age is not a rea­son to place lim­its, but rather a rea­son to avoid lim­i­ta­tions in the first place and, more im­por­tantly, to value your­self, what­ever your age.


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