Somewhere in my wanderings around the web, I found this short profile on a 60-plus blogger's home page:
“In my heart, I’m still young – hopeful, open and in love with life.”
Counteracting common statements such as this is one of the reasons I started Time Goes By. They abound in all corners of our culture perpetuating the belief that to be old is to be without joy, enthusiasm and wonder. Some variations you’ve heard all your life:
- She’s 70 years young
- You’re only as old as you feel.
- You don’t look 60.
- The secret to staying young is (just about anything).
My particular pet peeve is “I don’t feel (50, 60, 70, etc.)” Well, of course you do. Whatever you feel is what that age feels like.
What people usually mean when they repeat these commonplaces is that the person so described is not (yet) decrepit. The problem is that they reinforce the ingrained belief that youth is the gold standard of life. They support negative attitudes toward aging and are so frequently spoken that most people saying them, writing them or hearing them are unaware of their ageist effects, one of which is self-hatred.
Frequency and repetition lead to acceptance of the “truth” of a statement, as every advertiser knows. A good example is the plethora of hair color commercials and print ads that use as their primary selling point the promise to cover gray hair. The internalized message in viewers of all ages is that gray and, therefore, age is bad.
It is particularly disturbing when these statements are used by elders against themselves and other old people. That blogger quoted above can so little imagine there is joy and enthusiasm in old age that he or she must publicly claim a facsimile of youth to feel worthy.
It is not entirely the blogger’s fault. From the cradle, we are bombarded with insidiously negative attitudes – subtle and overt - toward the old, repeated until they feel as irrefutable as gravity. A step toward changing the cultural bad attitude toward age is for elders to stop doing it to ourselves.
[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, the winner of the Excellence in Storytelling Award for June 2008.]