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'Tough Broads' are defying the myths of aging

A woman stands by the ocean with a surf board under her arm and a expression of fear on her face.
Caroline Paul
Caroline Paul is a tough broad, shown here right before she surfs in the ocean.

Caroline Paul said the messaging women receive as they age is mostly negative. Her new book, “Tough Broad,” spotlights women taking risks and thriving while aging.

Author Caroline Paul has always sought out adventure. She has paraglided, walked on airplane wings, fought fires, flown planes and skateboarded her way through life. But as she aged, she noticed something curious. Women weren’t in those adventure spaces with her.

In her new book Tough Broad, Paul is on a mission to bust the myths of aging through women’s stories and scientific research.

A blue book cover with the title "Tough Broad: From Boogie Boarding to Wing Walking - How Outdoor Adventure Improves Our Lives as we Age by Caroline Paul.
Bloomsbury Publishing
Caroline Paul's latest book "Tough Broad", smashing the myths of women and aging.

Society defines women as they age in a way Paul describes as a "long slow rot theory." With extensive research and personal stories, the book explains how outdoor adventure may be the single best solution for a healthy brain, a vital body, a confident mindset and a longer happier life.

“Here we know who we are, and it’s such a great time to explore,” Paul said on the KAXE Morning Show. “And yet the messaging says don’t, because it’s too dangerous. There are no role models.”

Tough Broad tells the story of women like 71-year-old Cynthia Hicks, a wing-walker. After conquering breast cancer, she conquered her fear of heights. Paul joined Hicks and walked the wing herself. Her experience was what she called textbook awe, pleasure and adventure on the boundary of fear.

Paul also met women who were base jumpers, BMX riders, surfers, scuba divers and more.

You are what you think

What intrigued Paul was the mindset women adopt as they age and are bombarded by negative messaging.

“As it turns out, the science says that the way we look at our own aging predicts how well we age,” she said.

If you think you’ll have heart problems or cognitive issues as you age, those thoughts might come true.

“So the question then was, how do we get that positive mindset in the face of this really subliminal, insidious and toxic messaging for women about their aging?” Paul said.

She thinks the answer is getting outside. And that doesn’t have to mean daredevil activities like some of the women in Tough Broad. It can mean merely walking outside and discovering "moments of awe."

“The science says that the way we look at our own aging predicts how well we age.”
Caroline Paul

One of the studies referenced in the book came from Psychology Today in 2020. Bryan Robinson wrote about the science of awe. He wrote awe is "an overwhelming, self-transcendent sense of wonder and reverence in which you feel a part of something that is vast, larger than you and that transcends your understanding of the world."

Paul saw for herself how women can change the narrative of aging.

“I saw women really find themselves when they stepped outside, I realized that what nature asks of you when you go outside is a direct rebuke to all that messaging. You’re not frail when you walk,” she said.

At the end of the conversation, Paul said, “Let me just add, one tiny thing, is that just one small step outside is all you need. You don’t need to do something big. Please don’t do something big. Do something tiny.”

You can listen to the full interview above.

When have you experienced awe in nature? Are you defying what society says you should be according to your age? Send us your stories!

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Heidi Holtan is KAXE's Director of Content and Public Affairs where she manages producers and is the local host of Morning Edition from NPR. Heidi is a regional correspondent for WDSE/WRPT's Duluth Public Television’s Almanac North.