We recently had an opportunity to chat with Barbara Hannah Grufferman, a recognized expert on positive aging and the author of “The Best of Everything After 50: The Experts’ Guide to Style, Sex, Health, Money and More,” a best-selling resource book which addresses the concerns of women over fifty.
Since the launch of the book in April 2010, Barbara has appeared on The Today Show, The Early Show, Good Morning America Health, local television stations, and is a regular guest on numerous radio and internet programs, including NPR, Dr. Oz Sirius Radio on the Oprah Channel, and Sirius Doctor Radio. She also travels around the country, speaking to groups on health, nutrition, career, fitness, sex and many other topics related to positive and healthy aging.
Barbara, it seems like writing “The Best of Everything After 50: The Experts’ Guide to Style, Sex, Health, Money and More” was a very personal journey for you. And along the way, you sought advice from a pretty wide range of experts. How did you decide to put it all together?
After turning 50, I was confused . . . about everything. My hair, makeup, clothes, skin care, but most of all, my health. Important questions kept popping up in my head that made me either want to run to the nearest plastic surgeon or run to the hills! After a lot of thought, I did neither. Instead, I decided to do some research. But the more I did, the more confused I got, thanks to the overload of information on the internet. Then, it hit me: I didn’t want a lot of information. I wanted the best information. Talking to other women, it was clear we were all looking for the same thing—a simple guide to living our best lives after 50, all in a useable format. My goal became to cut through the clutter and get to the best. After that I created my wish list of experts—many ‘household names’ across different industries, like Diane von Furstenberg, Frederic Fekkai, Dr. Patricia Wexler, and more—and to my great surprise and relief, they all agreed to meet with me and share their wisdom. And that’s how “The Best of Everything After 50” came into being.
Some women think they’re a little less important or needed than they once were. How can we avoid the trap of feeling obsolete as we get older?
Yikes! Don’t get me started on this one! That’s an entire discussion all on its own. But, since you asked . . . first, women have to understand that so much of what makes us feel obsolete, as you put it, or invisible, as many women describe it, comes directly from the media messages that bombard us at every turn: magazines, TV, movies, everything. They all whisper in our ears, “Young is beautiful, older is uglier. Who will love you, want you, desire you, hire you if you are aging?” We all know that advertisers still want to reach the under 45 demographic, which is a big part of the problem. It can wreak havoc with our heads and especially our self-esteem. The best thing women can do for themselves is to stop listening to the noise, and instead focus on all they’ve accomplished in their lives, and all they will accomplish in the future. Second, we are far from invisible, especially when you consider how we are part of the largest demographic in the history of the world. Invisible? Absolutely not. If you’re ever having one of those days where you feel defeated by all the media messages being sent your way, just remember how truly beautiful you are . . . and embrace your age with joy.
Your personal theme is about simplifying your life. What was the first aspect of your life you simplified and why?
Like most of us, after living for over half a century, I had a lot of “stuff” weighing me down – things, experiences, obligations, emotions, patterns of behavior, people. Not only was I confused, but I felt stuck where I was, unable to move forward. I was starting to feel resentful, too, because so many things and people needed by attention, leaving absolutely nothing for me. I was weary. Just in the nick of time, author and organization expert Julie Morgenstern agreed to be interviewed for my book. I thought we were going to talk about straightening out my junk drawers, but instead, the conversation changed my life. Julie taught me that we can’t move forward if we’re stuck where we are, and the only way to get unstuck is to have a vision for your future, which is your ‘personal theme’. Once you’ve created your personal theme, you need to shed the stuff that no longer fits. It’s not easy, and it is absolutely on-going, but it can truly give you the power to forge ahead. My personal theme became ‘simplify my life’ and from there, I pared back just about everything—makeup, clothes, possessions, obligations, even a few people in my life who had been holding me back. Her amazing advice, all of which is in my book, helped me to embark on a new career without fear.
You dedicated an entire chapter of the book to the “unavoidable topic” for women in their 50’s—menopause—and were very open about your challenges. How would you suggest we prepare for this stage in our lives?
I was one of the lucky ones. My journey through menopause was relatively easy and quick. Sure, there were the prerequisite hot flashes, weight gain, and lots of confused thinking . . . but . . . I didn’t need to seek help through hormone therapy, as many women do. I did a great deal of research for my book, interviewing many key experts, and I believe the advice is still spot on: listen to your body, talk with your doctor, don’t suffer in silence. Far too many women just don’t speak up when they’re in pain or are uncomfortable. And women, many studies show, are still a bit embarrassed talking with their doctors about symptoms of menopause that are easily rectified, such as vaginal dryness. That became my biggest issue. After menopause, everything became drier: my hair, skin, eyes, and so on. Sex was starting to be uncomfortable, and I thank my lucky stars that I have a doctor who initiated the conversation and offered some options. Working together, we developed a plan that was right for me. The advice I give women as they are entering (or even going through) menopause is this: make your doctor a partner, stay healthy and fit, and don’t be afraid to talk about how you’re feeling. No one should ever have to suffer.
You interviewed and shared insight from financial guru Jane Bryant Quinn. She recommended staying healthy by exercising, eating right, and not smoking. What’s the connection between a healthy lifestyle and our financial future?
I’ve written extensively about how the numbers on the scale are our #1 biggest financial risk as we age, bar none. So many illnesses and diseases are directly linked to poor nutrition, lack of physical movement, and obesity. If we contract any of these illnesses we could become debilitated, unable to work, or could even die. I highly recommend women (and men!) look at my “Do/Don’t Do” check list which outlines the simple steps we can each take to ensure that our lives are the best they can be as we get older. Personally, I believe that all roads lead to fitness in that we truly can’t expect to do all the things we have to do—work, care for others—and want to do—enjoy our lives to the fullest—if we’re not as fit as we can be. It’s the #1 most important driving force in my life. It’s what keeps me running (with walk breaks), and doing push-ups and other strength-training exercises every day. I want to control my future well-being as much as I am able.
If you’re a woman approaching or already in her fifties, what should be your very first step toward a happy and healthy lifestyle?
Make this your daily mantra: “We can’t control getting older . . . but . . . we can control how we do it.”
Barbara is a member of the Menopause ChitChat community and you can find out more about her at her website. Or pick up a copy of The Best of Everything After 50 at Amazon.com or your favorite bookstore.