Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. is a Gynecologist, Director of the New York Menopause Center, Clinical Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Weill Cornell Medical College, and Assistant Attending Obstetrician and Gynecologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She is a board certified fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Dr. Allen is also a member of the Faculty Advisory Board and the Women’s Health Director of The Weill Cornell Community Clinic (WCCC). Dr. Allen was the recipient of the 2014 American Medical Women’s Association Presidential Award.

This month Arianna Huffington, president and editor-in-chief of AOL Huffington Post Media, named the actress and producer Rita Wilson editor-at-large of Huff/Post 40, a website for people “over 40.”

In making the announcement about the new site for the Baby Boomer generation, Huffington said of Wilson, “Her belief that it’s never too late to follow your dreams makes her the perfect godmother for Huff/Post 40 as it takes shape.”

Even though Wilson won’t launch the site until August, Mary Elizabeth Williams of Salon has already responded to the announcement. She writes it is “downright silly” for media sites to include women over 40 in the same demographic as those older women who examine issues that extend to the end of life.

We at Women’s Voices for Change have had this conversation many times and we disagree.

Why is it important for women at 40 to be included in the many later-in-life conversations, including those about hormonal change, late-in-life relationships, ageism in the work place and all the other topics that come clear as women examine the vitality that comes after youth? Because that is where they will find what they need to know to embrace what is happening to them already.

I have always found women who claim that they were at their best as high school prom queens or as brides in their 20s, or as mothers in their 30s to have an odd world view or strong capacities for denial.

As a gynecologist, I have seen unending evidence that during their 40s women need support but often fail to recognize it. They are actively managing children, homes, careers and relationships. They are either frantically trying to squeeze out some time for themselves or exhausted from the lack of self care. They are also terrorized by the negative connotations of aging and the loss of power associated with change in reproductive function that is inevitable.

Freedom from vaginal bleeding, tampons, pads, menstrual cramps, PMS and the downsides of any and all contraceptive methods should be viewed with anticipation not dread. Freedom from hands-on child care is not the loss of identity. It’s the opportunity to embrace a real and personal authenticity — often for the first time ever.

Change cannot be escaped. Women who are navigating the menopausal transition or who have completed it with grace and fortitude are invaluable role models to women who repress the reality of the changes they are encountering. One’s 40s are filled with metamorphosis that is subtle and often confusing. Only information can remove shame and denial and create the opportunity for clear thinking, goal setting, improved health and reinvention.

Perhaps without realizing it, Mary Elizabeth Williams gives voice to the fear of growing older. To join the sisterhood of older, confident, grown-up women at age 40 is not to sign up for membership in “one big lumpy swarm, just eating fiber together and buying products with the word ‘mature’ somewhere on the label,” as she put it. It is to prepare, to understand, and to gracefully begin to arrive at where you are going.

Women in their 60s and 70s today are indeed the godmothers of women who are 40. They are the women who fought for equal pay for equal work. They are the ones who promoted legislation to end gender discrimination. These are the women who changed the rules about sex without marriage, about delaying marriage and children to pursue professional dreams and personal passions. These are not women in rocking chairs. They are still becoming and on their way they have scouted out the territory of the 50s, 60s and beyond.

It doesn’t matter if we “use different moisturizers,” Mary Elizabeth. What matters is that at 40 women will get all that they need to become their personal best if they embrace the best place to find it. And that’s with the women who have gone before and are still here to fight for what matters. They are mature, it’s true. It takes maturity to have patience with women who fear joining with them when they need them most.

We wish Rita Wilson great good luck as she oversees another conversation like the ones we have at Women’s Voices for Change. We believe this is a true sisterhood. It’s one where the younger sisters know the older ones can show them how to drive the car and navigate at the same time. We can even pick up scared stragglers (like some who write for Salon) along the way.

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  • S. Bewkes July 3, 2011 at 12:09 pm

    Great piece, as always. Rita Wilson is the perfect age (54) to address the over 40 crowd. She can relate to both the younger 40 somethings and the older women as well. I have read many of her pieces and hope that she can focus on non-Hollywood viewpoints in both fashion and life. While I applaud her “life begins at forty” attitude, I hope there will also be an element of appropriateness (please do not read limitations into that) that I often find lacking in Hollywood women of a certain age. Perhaps Ariana got the idea from you Pat!!

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  • barbara Thornbrough June 29, 2011 at 9:40 pm

    As usual Pat gives us a good thoughtful article on aging. Pat is an extremely attractive, Doctor for all of us to see when we go into her efficient office. I am 67 and love talking to women in their 40’s about what might lie ahead for them. Goddaughters, daughter- in- laws and friends– yes- I laugh when they have a hot flash but I know when all is said and done they will be free and happy in their old age. My Mom is now 94 and still moving forward in a positive fashion. So we can all gain by interacting with other generations. It is fun, informative and productive. March on ladies. Keep moving forward. BT

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  • Patricia Yarberry Allen June 28, 2011 at 7:46 am

    Thanks for writing in Alice. You always have something smart to say. I do think that since we are having this discussion, it will be helpful, quietly, for women in their early 40’s to begin to ask themselves, “How can I use this time to prepare for the next great half of life?” instead of just responding with fear and anger.

    When are we getting that piece on women and fast cars, Alice?

    Pat

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  • alice ray cathrall June 28, 2011 at 7:14 am

    Dear Pat

    Excellent.

    Interesting that age-ism is still prevalent.Prejudices are such inefficient intricate tools that box people in and cause wasted productivity that deny the individual and society of great talent and contributions.

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  • Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. June 27, 2011 at 11:47 pm

    Dear Cookie,

    Thanks for joining the conversation!

    Dr. Pat

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  • cookie June 27, 2011 at 10:48 pm

    “Change cannot be escaped. Women who are navigating the menopausal transition or who have completed it with grace and fortitude are invaluable role models to women who repress the reality of the changes they are encountering”

    I think you are right Dr Pat. It’s all about fear. And Mary Elizabeth you are no spring chicken,You can use the same moisturizers as a 65 year old women.

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  • Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. June 27, 2011 at 5:45 pm

    Dear Kat,

    I am sorry that your menopausal transition has been complicated by other chronic conditions, fibromyalgia and arthritis. Fortunately most women who have significant symptoms do respond to a course of non-pregnant mare urine estrogen and a natural progesterone treatment for a short period of time. However, each woman and her experience are unique. It is important that we hear from women like you whose life as they entered this half has not been good. Thank you for writing.

    Best,

    Dr. Allen

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  • b. elliott June 27, 2011 at 3:23 pm

    Loved this clarion call. Wonderful, well-written words.

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  • Kat Rawlings June 27, 2011 at 2:35 pm

    I am so glad you think menopause is something to look forward to. I have had the most miserable time of my life for the last 25 years. I still wake at night with sweats and hot flashes. My pain level is over the top and the FDA has pulled the only medication that took away said pain off the market. My fibromyalgia and arthritis has gotten so bad I can hardly walk. The only options that work to alleviate the symptoms of menopause involve keeping horses pregnant and penned up in stalls to collect their urine. Yea, real great time of life.

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  • Katy Bourne June 27, 2011 at 1:29 pm

    Thanks for a great post, Patricia.

    The 40’s have been an interesting time for me and a period of huge transition. My 20-year marriage ended. My boys are teenagers now, and one just graduated from high school. My role in the world is changing. As I attempt to create a new life from scratch and establish financial security for myself, I find connection with other women over 40 to be invaluable. In some ways, I believe that our cultural sees us as invisible or, past our usefulness. (This has felt especially true on the career front.) Yet in my mind, women over 40 possess a depth of character and a life wisdom that are vital to their communities, families and our society at large. When we support and cheer on each other, we remain visible and formidable. When I read about how other women are navigating this stretch of the road, it inspires & empowers me.

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  • Terry Berenson June 27, 2011 at 9:57 am

    What I wish for is a spin-off of Women’s Voices for Change for women 60+ who can’t pass for 30-somethings like we did in our 40’s. The issues facing women in their 60s, 70s and 80s are different – not worse, just different – than those of women in their 40s and early 50s. And I’m not talking about end of life issues because many of us have 30 or more years of active living. My mom is 90, still plays golf, runs charitable committees, takes adult education classes and sees more movies and concerts than I do. Am I the only one out there who finds media for 40+ women pay lip service to us older women, but their editorial and visuals make it clear that we are not their target audience.

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