What does your age mean to you? Is it a mere numeral, a yearly reminder of the passage of time, or a guide to how well you ought⁠ to live your life? In our ‘Age Is Just A Number’ feature, Her World speaks to Singapore women from their⁠ 20s to 80s, and delves into how they feel about age and ageing.⁠

These are their stories.⁠

Pooja Nansi, Poet & Educator, 40

She’s Singapore’s first Youth Poet Ambassador and the director of the Singapore Writers Festival since 2019. Pooja Nansi also published the poetry collection We Make Spaces Divine last year, and founded the performance and page poetry platform Speakeasy.

“Especially for women, I think the narrative of ageing is such a patriarchal one. The idea that the older a woman gets, the less desirable she becomes, because youth is the goal to strive for: anti-ageing and anti-wrinkle creams in the beauty industry, the narrative that there’s an urgency to achieve things in your youth – like getting married or having children – these are the narratives I think all women have come up against at some point. I don’t really know what age means, to be honest. But I do think ageing for me so far has meant living, and therefore wisdom. I do know that the older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve seen and the more I understand – or I hope so anyway.

I remember being in my 20s and having this deep anxiety of turning 30. Now, anytime I hear younger women expressing those feelings, I always tell them: Your 30s are going to be incredible and so much better than your 20s. They were for me, and I was so much more sure of who I was. Of course, there was some anxiety about turning 40, but oddly enough, there was some excitement too: I was personally going through so much, I had just had a baby at 38, and my body had changed in ways I had never even imagined – it was like I was trying to relearn myself.

In an ideal world, we should free ourselves to do what we want to, when we want to.

Pooja Nansi

In an ideal world, we should free ourselves to do what we want to, when we want to. Even in the industry that I’m in, with arts and culture, you see a lot of programmes for emerging young voices or initiatives for
young writers, and I always find myself thinking, What if someone’s 70 and they just realised they want to be a writer? Where are the spaces for those people?

I have not yet encountered a situation where I’ve been told I’m too old to do something. Well, I suppose I have eyed an item on a children’s menu, but I cannot have it because it’s for children. Sometimes, you just want to have a McDonald’s birthday party as an adult. Is 40 too old to have a McDonald’s birthday party? In my opinion? No. So that’s really just a mental perspective. I actually did have a McDonald’s birthday party for my 26th birthday. There’s a real joy in leaning into my inner child or just doing the things that feel fun. And I am blessed with people who are willing to be ridiculous with me and to live life in that manner.

Has my life turned out the way that I had planned or expected? Not at all. If you’d asked my 20-year-old self, I would have told you I just wanted to be a teacher for life. I guess life had other plans. But I really love what I do now. And I really never wanted kids for a long time, even after I got married, but here I am. I have an 18-month-old daughter, and I have to say I actually really am enjoying motherhood. I guess
the lesson I’ve learnt is to never say never.

Knit cardigan, MCM. Knit skirt, Moncler. Knit top and metal hoop earrings, Pooja’s own

I am in a space where I’m taking stock: So many things have changed in the last two years about my life as I knew it, and the pandemic has forced all of us to reckon with things anew, and it’s changed our
priorities. I’m still trying to see who I’m becoming. I’m also learning to slow down, because I think my 20s and 30s were about wanting to do all these different things. Now I’m learning to say no, and also make space for myself and only do the things that bring me joy or help me grow. I know that I have many things to be grateful for. I think it’s difficult for us as women to say we’re proud of the things we’ve done,
but I’m really proud of the things that I’ve achieved, and I’m learning to stand in that without wincing, apologising or diminishing myself. That’s a big goal I have, to just be honest about the things I’m good at and be proud of that.

Thinking about ageing both spurs me on and makes me anxious. I feel like I’ve never been more confident than I am now, and I’m at a point professionally and personally where when I speak, I know
what I’m talking about. I’ve been through some stuff, so I think the experience has definitely allowed me
confidence. On the other hand, it’s hard not to be aware of the passing of time, so it’s hard not to slip into a space where you think, ‘Oh, time’s running out.’ I keep trying to remind myself that there is time, and some things are urgent and some things are not, and it comes back to enjoying the present.

Here’s what I hope people keep in mind when it comes to thinking about their age or their ageing process: To divorce your reality from all the narratives that society feeds us about ageing, block out all of that noise, and at any stage of your life, do what feels right and true for you. And especially for women, to not give into pressures of having to do things at a certain point in time. There’s a lot of pressure to achieve certain milestones by certain ages, and a lot of those things can be artificial. I really enjoy talking to women who are older than I am and learning from their wisdom. And that’s one way I think about ageing: I reframe it as a positive or exciting thing. Just think: If we get to age, we’re lucky, because it means that we’re alive, we’ve lived, and we’ve seen things. That’s what older women teach me.”

PHOTOGRAPHY Veronica Tay
CREATIVE DIRECTION Windy Aulia & Elizabeth Lee
ART DIRECTION Ray Ticsay & Adeline Eng
HAIR Fadli using Keune & Aung using Revlon Professional Singapore & Gama Professional Singapore
MAKEUP Nikki Fu using Dior Beauty & Lolent Lee using Chanel Beauty