This post is more of a commentary, but it is something that I think needs to be addressed. I recently read an article on how your body changes after a certain age and becomes your “frenemy.” Unfortunately, no one takes a class on bodily changes while aging. Alas, the last time you knew what your body was going through was during puberty when your health teacher spoke about the changes. Basically, this article humorously speaks of how your appearance goes downhill past a certain age. Read article here.
As a therapist I know humor is a great defense. Actually, it is one of my favorite defenses. Humor makes it easier for us to accept things, especially things that we cannot change, like the aging process. However, I believe articles like these and other articles making fun of aging and how our bodies change only perpetuate ageism. And, yes, ageism does exist, but unlike other prejudices, one day (if we are lucky) we will know what it’s like to be old. We don’t know what it’s like to be another race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. So why are people prejudiced against a population that they will one day join?
My theory is fear. Just like other prejudices, fear is the major culprit. Now is it fear of losing attractiveness, mobility and/or becoming invisible or is it a fear of mortality? I am more apt to believe it is the fear of losing attractiveness and becoming invisible. After reading this article, I became uneasy about the aging process. Articles like these make people fearful of the aging process and it makes plastic surgeons richer. While I do think it is important to know what changes our bodies go through at every stage, there needs to be a better way of educating people about the changes. As a society, we are bombarded with images of youthfulness and messages of how to make yourself: thinner, younger, fitter, richer, better-looking (fill in the blank). We are never enough as we are. While, I do think improving yourself is a good thing for growth, we also need to learn acceptance.
I remember as a teen being around my mom, my aunts and my grandma and them talking about how “old age is hell,” and telling me the world was mine for the taking because I was young. Or, “laugh at it now, wait until you are our age.” I think these are common messages, “Enjoy your youth, fear getting old.” This needs to stop. On a big scale, the media needs to stop being so youth oriented. I think this is happening slowly with some of aging Hollywood, such as Betty White, Helen Miren and Liam Neeson. On a smaller scale I think intergenerational connections are important and changing the demonizing ways we talk about aging. Focus on the positive aspects of aging and dispel the negative myths and stereotypes about aging, especially sexuality and aging. There is beauty at every stage of life.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to age with fear, I want to age with confidence and acceptance. We could all use a little more acceptance in our lives.