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The Incredible Disappearing Woman: Lessons on Dealing With Ageism From Mollie Katzen

by Shonali Burke on March 8, 2010

Are you of “a certain age” yet?

Have you heard that Sixty is the new Forty? And Seventy the new Fifty? Sounds appealing until you fully realize the implications.

Although women are more engaged and successful than ever (remember today’s International Women’s Day), the woman in the mirror might not have much to say about the fact that her image is likely to disappear right before her eyes – just as she’s reaching the pinnacle of her career.

In a “visual culture” like ours, where youth and beauty are often valued more than experience and “foundation,” many women find that they eventually cease to exist.

A notable observation by Australian researcher and psychologist Dr. Lauren Rosewarne refers to the fact that society renders women of “a certain age” invisible and unattractive, i.e. synonymous with a failure to contribute meaningfully to society.

Short of throwing in the towel just after you celebrate your 40th or 50th birthday, what steps can you take to stay relevant, visible and empowered in your career and in your business?

Chef/author Mollie Katzen has managed to buck the trend, primarily because she is in a field where, she says, “women are not only allowed to age but where age is seen as an enhancement to credibility.” Think Julia Child, Alice Waters, Marcella Hazen, etc.

This on Mollie from her website:

Mollie Katzen, with over 6 million books in print, is listed by the New York Times as one of the best-selling cookbook authors of all time. A 2007 inductee into the prestigious James Beard Cookbook Hall of Fame, and largely credited with moving healthful vegetarian food from the “fringe” to the center of the American dinner plate, Ms. Katzen has been named by Health Magazine as one of “The Five Women Who Changed the Way We Eat.” An award-winning illustrator and designer as well as best-selling cookbook author and popular public speaker, Mollie Katzen is best known as the creator of the groundbreaking classics Moosewood Cookbook, and The Enchanted Broccoli Forest.

However, it’s not just a matter of the field you choose; it’s also important to devise a strategy that ensures that you continue to matter.

Stay centered in your “standard.”

Mollie attributes her longevity to a commitment to “serving others,” i.e. anticipating what people need and then providing that.

“I see myself as reaching out and picturing my audience in their own kitchens, on their own budgets trying to balance work, family and home. I think and wonder a lot about my readers  [think: customer]; it’s not about me, I just want to help.”

Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.

Buck societal aversion to age by avoiding dogma and overcoming prejudice. Continue to evolve your business in new ways that positions you for longevity.

For Mollie, what’s worked is embracing objectivity and tools that have allowed her to create recipes [think: services] that she believes benefit others.

In other words, cater to, anticipate and be inclusive of your customers’ tastes regularly.

Leverage your power to empower.

“Women age better in the food field than in other fields,” says Mollie.

Are you in a field where age is not as important? The more that women are able to embrace their age, play up their strengths and share their wisdom, the likelier it is that the universe of older women will be empowered and enabled.

Look in the mirror…often.

What do you see? “I was greatly helped by Gloria Steinem’s famous quote when told she didn’t look 40,” Mollie explains.

The quote: This is what 40 looks like. This, Steinem repeats every decade.

Dramatic social change takes time. To truly overcome ageism in the workplace, women need to overcome their own insecurities about age, support older, age-peer role models in authority roles and challenge dogma.

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Liz Scherer 2009-09-11 at 18.03 #2-1

Graphic, Taiga, used within Dreamstime distribution rights purchased by Liz Scherer

Regular contributor Liz Scherer is a digital writer and consultant specializing in health/medicine/wellness. She produces Flashfree which brings her closer to her goal to engage, entertain and provide women in midlife with the tools to make informed decisions about their health. In addition to her blog, you can find Liz on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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