Age, from the perspective of a Tanzanian woman
For the purpose of this article, I will refer to the Tanzania woman mentioned below as Maria. During a two hour Swahili lesson, Maria taught me something about her culture that is so foreign, yet resonated deep within my soul. My hope is that it will resonate with yours too.
A Swahili lesson
Shikamoo – I respect you.
Mzee – elder; an old person.
Shikamoo mzee – I respect you, elder.
“Because you’re a foreigner, I understand you only have the knowledge to say Shikamoo,” Maria started off . “…but if you were to pass by me in the streets and say Shikamoo mzee – ohhhhh, I would feel so good!”
My instant thoughts were: Uhm, excuse me, what in the world did I just hear?! It would be an honour for someone to refer to a woman (who, by the way, could even be just a year or two older than me) as an old person?
Now, just imagine yourself walking up to any of the women in your life – your mother, sister, grandmother, friend, or in this case a woman you don’t know – and proceeding to refer to her as an old person. One can only imagine the words that would spew out of her mouth to defend her “simply ageless” look, which she spends hours a week perfecting before walking out of the house!
The idea that a woman could be filled with such joy, when referred to as an old lady, baffled my mind. After all, youth is what the western world teaches us to value most – demonstrated perfectly by the fact that cosmetic sales are set to reach $675 billion by 2020, and the anti-age market is growing to be about half of that ($331.41 billion by 2021).
However, at the end of the day, our time, money, and relationships are really all at jeopardy in this game of remaining forever young. We are taught through media, advertising, and culture that one’s identity diminishes with age. These lies cause our minds to flood with questions when aging: will we still have value, will we still be seen, will we still be considered beautiful?
These are lies that have created a society where we beat ourselves up, and fight tooth and nail in search of the “fountain of youth.” It’s so easy to buy into it and believe that it will answer all those daunting questions about our identities.
Let’s let Maria’s reaction encourage us to reflect on how we perceive age or, more generally, what we feel society says about us. Because no, age nor the media, do not define who we are. One can be 65 years old and spend their time out socializing over wine with their girlfriends, or be 19 and at home on Friday with a book. Both are equally amazing!
What would our societies look like if we, as women, banded together to celebrate the wisdom and knowledge that comes with each milestone? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if one could go out for her 50th birthday and rock a beautiful outfit, cute pair of shoes and fresh hairstyle, all while embracing the milestone without fear? Simply because, beautiful ones, life is not over no matter what the numbers say.
Maria continues to find value as an “mzee”, and I think that is something we should all celebrate. Let’s love ourselves for who we are. Uniquely handcrafted, one of a kind, beings!
A new beauty manifesto
Let us celebrate and shower love upon the women in our lives. Let us wear make-up and pretty clothes, exercise and eat to nourish our bodies – not out of fear, but out of self-love.
Let us create our identity, and find it through life giving sources, rather than keep buying into the materialistic message that we must forever have youthful looks. At the end of the day, that means nothing.
Let our smiles get brighter as we get older, as we experience all the beauty and pain this life brings. By learning to love ourselves well, we can love each other well.
We are beautiful, we are loved, we have value. We are designed with a unique purpose in this life, and we will fight to love ourselves and those around us. We have the ability to wake up each day and change the world.
Written by Alissa Cook