Not long ago, I was discussing my 70th birthday celebrations with a male friend and I declared that I was old as part of the conversation. I didn’t mean it in that British understating-slightly-funny-because-I’m-embarrassed way, I meant it in a quietly proud way. He didn’t get it. He thought I was being self-effacing.
No, you’re mature – he replied thinking that he was giving me a compliment.
No, I’m old – I answered and explained why.
It’s still so very prevalent – this idea of old that is negative and has to be rejected immediately and replaced with oh but you look so much younger, you are so youthful, age is just a number, 70 is the new 40. And more and more. Every day, on Advantages of Age – we hope is the bastion of age acceptance – I read members claiming that they may be 50, 60, 70 or 80 but they feel so much younger.
WE KEEP ON RE-ANIMATING THE IDEA THAT OLD IS WRONG AND THAT YOUNG IS RIGHT. THAT YOUNG IS WHAT WE ASPIRE TO ALWAYS AND OLD IS WHAT WE’RE WANTING TO AVOID. Like the plague that won’t go away.
I realise that culturally and societally, this perspective is the common one here in the West. We are bombarded daily with adverts of lithe young things – when it’s not stair lifts or incontinence pads – selling stuff, being in that position of desired and therefore desirable. Young people are now – opinion formers, influencers (okay there’s the occasional older person on Tik Tok) and movers – that we might have occupied earlier in our lives. Rishi Sunak is 43. Clare Farrell, co-founder of XR, is 40.
I guess the marketing fixation with youth is also partly to do with death and rebirth. And neo-liberalism. Ha ha. Older people are nearer to death so there’s only so a finite amount of time that they have left to buy stuff. Plus young people are beautiful and older people are repulsive. Who wants to be near someone who is wrinkled and reeking of old age, not literally – anyone marketing the Death perfume, they probably are, not just to Goths – but beneath the surface. Through rejecting our near-deathness, they reject their own not so near death. Society turns away from the inevitable end of life by drinking at the fountain of youth perpetually.
And we have to be the keys In changing this attitude. If we detest our own ‘oldness’ and simply want to be younger, how is anyone else going to change their way of seeing the world?
There is a change a foot but it is barely perceptible. Vivienne Westwood in her 70s and 80s was defiant and funky even when she was not too well. She was a role model. Also in terms of not having cosmetic surgery. However much we say – which we do often at AofA – that cosmetic surgery is a choice; it is inevitably part of a huge movement to supposedly stem the tide of time and her effects on our bodies. It is still part of pro-youth ageing.
The Centre for Ageing Better – with The Bias Cut and Ageism is Not in Style – is running a campaign that has gone viral called I Look My Age. Well known women like Pru Leith declares – I am 83 and I look my age – and that is a very good thing. There are lots of other videos by women Over 50 doing the same. As a way of re-enforcing that we don’t look younger if we look good – we look our age and that is very diverse in what it means.
I am proud to say that I am 70 and I look my age. So there’s absolutely no need to tell me that I look good for my age or that 70 is the new 40 etc.
Actress Frances Dormand who has just turned 66 says – My position has always been that the way people age and the signs that we show of aging is nature’s way of tattooing. It’s natural scarification, and the life you lead gives you the symbols and emblems of your life, the road map you followed.
There are glimmers – David Hockney, Zandra Rhodes, the Relate campaign with older people in sexy, intimate situations, the Elders Company of dancers at Sadlers Wells, Sheila Hancock, Start Up for Seniors. Older artists getting exhibitions like Faith Ringgold and Rose Wylie. Helen Mirren. Gina Birch still being on the road from the Raincoats. Discos specially for Older People. Posh. The Punk Gardeners. Mary Beard has been brilliant around this very subject. Grand Gesture. Tamara Alferof who is a member of AofA. Topaz Chanteuse who was in our group. The dancers that were part of Dance Me To Death. The Centre for Ageing Better.
But in order for society to change its mind. In order for us at Advantages of Age to understand how important language is around the framing of ideas – then WE ALL HAVE TO AGREE TO STOP USING YOUNG AS A PERPETUAL ASPIRATION FOR US AS OLDSTERS AND AS PEOPLE WHO WANT THIS TRANSFORMATION OF SOCIETY.
Imagine if old meant beautiful, spirited, creative, energetic, loving, sensual, compassionate and was something we looked forward to. As well as yes older looking. We are old. I am old. I look older. But there Is a choice there. I can look interesting and old. Or creative and old. Or sexy (yes I know we don’t want the pressure but hey, it’s still possible). Or working in a fabulous job or for ourselves and old. And dancing and old. And a brilliant grandmother and old. Or a spirited leader and old.
Yes to re-imagining old. Will you help me?