The Media's Take on Elders
Tuesday, 08 September 2009
In the five years I've been doing this blog, the amount of attention paid to elders from all media has exploded. That's because the baby boomers started turning 60 and our consumer society is ever-ready to exploit a market.
It is exhausting to sift through the email PR that arrives daily by the box load, the magazines and websites targeting elders (and who I've come to think of now as “pre-elders”) along with the as-yet unread books about aging stacked around my desk.
It's not that there is too much of it, although that's true. It that they all want me to be doing, doing, doing.
It's not too late to earn a degree, they say. Play these brain games or lose your mind. Start a home-based business. Find a husband (or wife). Join a gym. Write a book. It's time for your dream job. Organize your finances. Redecorate your home. Be a zoomer. Whew. I wasn't that busy when I was 30.
Then there are the self-improvement instructions: How not to act your age (Hint: never, ever reference anything in conversation that took place more than ten years ago.) Update your hairstyle. The best anti-aging products. Bikinis for the 40-plus woman. Sexier feet in seconds. What Botox and Resveritrol can do for you. And most popular of all, Doing IT after 60, as though I don't have half a century of practice.
Most of this stuff reads like it has been repurposed from Seventeen or Cosmopolitan magazine. It's all about the pretense of youth, remaining a midlife adult forever, denying age and its differences from earlier years. There is more than a whiff of parental supervision in the attitude of these stories – that the writers know what is best for elders (not that they would go near that word), and how we should live, which is mostly just like 35-year-olds.
I worked hard for 50 years usually at jobs that involved eight days a week. I was luckier than many people; most of my jobs were interesting, fun and gave me an opportunity to learn a lot. Keeping up my appearance for those jobs (and, I admit, for men) took a lot of time, money and energy. That was kind of fun too, then. Friends, entertaining, cooking, travel, community organizations and other personal interests filled the time I wasn't catching up on sleep and there weren't many empty days.
My needs and desires are different now and often slower. I like to linger with the hanging moment between sunset and dark. To watch the seagulls soar. To re-read favorite old books that have been patiently waiting for me since I placed them on the shelf long ago. To sit quietly listening to the music instead of merely hearing it on the fly. More often than in the past, I turn inward these days. I am more interested in being than in doing quite so much, and particularly not the things I've done before.
Those magazines and websites push activities on me that are more suited to youth and midlife and suggest that I'm not living up to someone's idea of elderhood if I don't keep repeating them. I can't be alone in wishing the marketers and magazines had a better handle on old age, can I? I would like to read some other people's thoughts on how old age is different from earlier stages of life, how our viewpoints change, what getting old is really like - or could be if we were not always being urged to conform to what younger editors think we should be.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, William Weatherstone again: Alzheimer's Part 6 – A Rude Awakening
There came a time when I was alone in a crowd, waiting for a table at a restaurant. As I stood in line, feeling sorry for myself as I looked around at all the groups of people sharing a table, or a couples connected without words I became aware of the people just behind me in line. He was talking loudly and his wife, whom he could not see, was mouthing the words "shut up, shut up, shut up", and I thought to myself, I Get To Eat Alone!
I think that sums up retirement.
Posted by: Helen | Tuesday, 08 September 2009 at 03:10 AM
I agree with Helen! And your last paragraph in your blog Ronni, is me. I am very happy you posted this today because I have been struggling inside.
Since being laid off (retiring) I have become much more internalized. I thought it was a bad sign and I was alone. Now I know I am not.
I still need a job but am reflective and okay for now.
Posted by: NancyB | Tuesday, 08 September 2009 at 04:30 AM
When I see older people struggling to keep up with younger people and doing all the things that you mention, I feel sorry for them - chasing youth is a tiring business.
Posted by: kenju | Tuesday, 08 September 2009 at 06:07 AM
I spent the day on Saturday at my grandson’s 7th birthday party consisting of approximately 18-20 children and their 30 something year old parents. It was an interesting group to observe and remember when. Not only can I not go back to that place and time; I would not want to (been there; done that). Andrew’s other grandmother and I, after helping with the food and saying our hellos, found our spot to sit and chat until we both felt it was okay to leave. I’m reading an excellent new novel and was anxious to get back to it and she wanted to go home to check in on her ailing brother and sister-in-law. I relish the time I’m able to spend alone thinking my own thoughts.
Sexier feet??? I just looked down at mine and had a good laugh! That’s a new one for me.
Posted by: Claire Jean | Tuesday, 08 September 2009 at 06:49 AM
Marketers and magazines have always offered advice to people, young or old, as to how they ought to look/be/live. Bottom line is they want to make $$$$$. If some of their advice appeals to you, try it; otherwise, ignore it and live life YOUR way, no matter your age.
Posted by: SuzyR | Tuesday, 08 September 2009 at 06:55 AM
Carl Jung was spot on when he said that "...we cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life's morning."
The directional arc of our personal growth is outwards in the morning of life (towards the acquisition of identity and career, towards establishing ourselves in society and so on). The directional arc of the afternoon is inwards. (Knowing more deeply who we are, distilling wisdom out of experience.) If the first half of life is growing and gathering grapes, the second half is making wine. That feels exactly right to me Ronni, and I can see that it is right for you and probably for most of us here. Those who buy the mainstream media's version of aging are eventually going to discover within themselves a niggling, deep-seated dissatisfaction with their shoddy purchase.
Posted by: Marian Van Eyk McCain | Tuesday, 08 September 2009 at 06:57 AM
I'm beginning to understand why marketing focuses more on younger age groups. As I get older, I am less and less concerned with the constant blather of "this is where you need to be...this is what you have to buy... this is what you ought to think about this...etc".
I think as time goes by, I have become more comfortable in my own skin, and therefore less by the media and it's relentless advertising.
Let the 20 year olds be 20 year olds. I'm in my 50's, and I'm fine with it. I've EARNED this age!!
Posted by: postman | Tuesday, 08 September 2009 at 08:03 AM
What the heck is the advantage of being 84 years old if you can't brag about it?
I am enjoying my sunset years more than I ever did those hectic early years of rushing through a day, a week, a month and never seeming to have time to think.
Why would I want to try and recreate them and give up time for myself?
Everyone knows I am old by my white hair, unsteady gait and wrinkles. Do I think I would kid anyone that I was younger by having a face lift or dressing in a youthful style? And why would I want to? Utter nonsense!
Posted by: Darlene | Tuesday, 08 September 2009 at 08:05 AM
Makes you think they're afraid of us in a weird, new way, doesn't it?
If a person is not rushing to get ahead, stay in style, be cool, make money, learn six new electronic gadgets, or master five new sports in a jam-packed weekend, what else might they be doing?
Thinking. Enjoying life. Sorting out what's important.
Too much of that would destroy our whole economic system! Whoops, too late.
Posted by: Paula | Tuesday, 08 September 2009 at 09:06 AM
Every word of the post and the comments rings true. As I approach retirement, I have so much I want to do - but it's all about focusing more on and improving the quality of the rural life I already have.
Posted by: jack-of-all-thumbs | Tuesday, 08 September 2009 at 10:34 AM
The 20 year olds have no money, that's why they have to target older people. Until we get national health care for the elders who want to retire but aren't 65, so the kids can get some jobs, we have all the money. ;^)
Posted by: donna | Tuesday, 08 September 2009 at 11:07 AM
I'm Ronni's age and still very much engaged, but I STILL resent being told I should train my brain, take a class, or volunteer or whatever to be a good elder. I already exercise, manage my money, solve problems, train my brain, and -- yes-- sometimes eat alone -- and I don't need a book to tell me how to do all these things I've done all my life:-)
Posted by: francine hardaway | Tuesday, 08 September 2009 at 11:33 AM
Paula wrote, "Makes you think they're afraid of us in a weird, new way, doesn't it?"
I can only imagine that ads and articles that are so off base in trying to pursuade us oldsters to act/dress/be more youthful are written by relative youngsters at the behest of other relative youngsters. They know they want to sell us, but they don't have a clue how to go about it.
Great posting and string of comments!
Posted by: Cop Car | Tuesday, 08 September 2009 at 01:20 PM
For me, old age is more about aches and pains I didn't have earlier or knowing that when I get out of shape, don't walk regularly or whatever, it's harder to get back into the groove. I feel no pressure to look younger or dress any certain way. There would have been a time where old women had to fit the mold of society by their dress being age appropriate. I remember my grandmother's old lady shoes and the dresses she always wore. Now I feel free to dress however I want and if someone else feels I am not dressing mature enough, well they can look the other way. I wear my hair how it suits me as I always did; so in terms of appearance, I don't see any difference. I don't mind being my age. I think it is kind of liberating, but I also realize I have no choice but to be it anyway.
Posted by: Rain | Tuesday, 08 September 2009 at 02:35 PM
When we moved to NH, someone told me that the NH really was an abbreviation for "no hurry." Like you, we enjoy our quiet lives, the sunrises, the sunsets, watching the wildlife walk through our yard, etc...
We've cancelled most of our magazine subscriptions as the ads and articles are annoying.
Your post made me smile this morning and the comments are great!
PS - thanks for putting my blog on the weekly list this week! I've really enjoyed checking out the list each week.
Posted by: Colleen | Tuesday, 08 September 2009 at 03:18 PM
I love being in my late 50's! I'm not crazy about some of the physical stuff, but I'm relishing the enjoyment of being me. I can't imagine trading places with my 25 year old daughter; you couldn't pay me to do that again. ;-)
Posted by: Sunny | Tuesday, 08 September 2009 at 06:22 PM
Loved this post and the comments. Whatever our age, we are just "consumers" to the people who want to sell us stuff. I, too, don't care what marketers claim is the right way to dress or be. I have no intention of learning any more foreign languages,taking any more college classes, having plastic surgery, liposuction or Botox treatments. I am OLD, doggonit; I enjoy a slow country life, having time to read, being a grandma, and the other privileges of my age. It bothers advertisers that many other folks now are entering that stage where they simply don't care!
Posted by: joni | Tuesday, 08 September 2009 at 06:30 PM
I am reading this wonderful post and all of these comments and wondering about the young minds who are making and marketing these magazines. I can't help but wonder just what is it that we could do to enlighten them. Perhaps taking the teaching tool from back in the 60's like humor. Some Firesign theater or comedy central parodies seem in order. If they really understood what they were asking and these invitations were taken even a small step farther (I'm thinking "sexy feet" and "start a home-based business") now THERE is some funny and enlightening bits to be gleaned there! Of course, translating the value of our gloriously rich and slower lives to the young is the real challenge.
Posted by: Cile | Tuesday, 08 September 2009 at 06:34 PM
The topic of this post intrigues me and the comments are encouraging.
But I am feeling different from many of the commenters here. I really liked my life before 60: my social life, my work life, and my creative life -- all of which intersected, each feeding and feeding from the other.
I don't have any of that now and I miss it. I'm not sure what I want to replace it all with -- although I will be participating in writing workshop during this month.
I used to make friends easily -- and that's easy to do when you're in shape and attractive and energetic.
I suppose most folks see their lives as an evolution into who they become as elders. I feel as though I was jettisoned out of my old life into this elder time.
I feel pretty displaced.
Posted by: Elaine of Kalilily | Tuesday, 08 September 2009 at 07:22 PM
What occurs to me right now reading your words is that life is too short to be in a hurry.
Posted by: DeanOR | Tuesday, 08 September 2009 at 11:06 PM
Yes, relate to this post and most of the comments and have no temptation to hold back time. (No, not strictly true: I still haven't given up my mascara)
I find the pressure from the media (and some contemporaries) to look and behave younger both comical and sad. Like Rain, I dress and behave my own way, only limited by diminishing strength, aches and pains. Learning to adapt, remaining aware and curious and trying to be in the moment are things that preoccupy me, not holding on to a non-existent youth.
Posted by: Pamela | Wednesday, 09 September 2009 at 03:12 AM
"Life [after 65] is too short to be in a hurry" I say "amen" to that [with the inclusion of the limitation in brackets)
I was just 30 when I first discovered my own mortality.
Up 'til then I thought that only others got old, decrepit and died. It came as something of a shock but once assimilated I was content to live a "limited" lifespan and now 45 years later I live every day as well as I can, hoping that I can die "sans regrets" - not wishing that I had done something that I didn't do or regretting the things I did.
The kids in the media just don't have a clue but eventually they'll get it and then they'll have time for the hours between dawn and daylight and evening and night. They'll smell the roses and choke up a little when they recognize the innocent beauty of the little ones and the power of song -and poetry.
It is a wonderful life - not withstanding the pain.
Posted by: mythster | Wednesday, 09 September 2009 at 09:52 AM
Magazine ads and so many stories hold little or no appeal to me for the reasons you describe.
I'm quite pleased with life as it is. I enjoy the independence of doing or not doing pretty much as I wish. I enjoy being alone and have no desire to change that situation. Someday I may have to accept a live-in companion (or not)in order to remain living on my own like this.
I have just the right amount of social involvement and activities with longtime close friends which we're comfortable enough with that we can increase or decrease contact at will without any hurt feelings though we do wish we lived in closer proximity. That's not to say I don't welcome new people into my life, but I no longer have the sense of urgency to seek them out as I did for a time after my husband's death.
I stopped using makeup years ago, but have never used a lot. If I go out I may or may not wear lipstick, depending on the occasion. I do consistently darken my eyebrows as the hair color fades into my complexion, also interfering with facial nonverbal communication. I have a rather wry sense of humor, often delivered straight faced but with eyebrow signals those who know me rely on to know whether or not I'm kidding. I continue to indulge myself by having my hair shampooed and blow dried regularly as I've never enjoyed doing my own hair as I did for so many years. No hair dyes for me ever.
I used to be so annoyed with a friend with whom we had a "spontaneous get together" agreement. Either of us might call the other on the spur of the moment any given morning to see if the other was free to go for coffee, or later in the day for lunch. Nowadays it could be for dinner, but she's gone. Even when she moved away we maintained the "spontaneous" contact, only via phone which was nice for both of us. One other nice aspect with the phone was I no longer had to wait up to an hour because she had to put on her makeup before letting the outside world see her. What a waste of time putting on makeup is in the scheme of life, especially as we get older. Her husband had to periodically frost her hair as she was never content with the natural colors.
I am keeping up requirements for my professional license but haven't engaged in my part time work since mid-July. There is a certain psychological comfort in knowing I can resume that work when I choose, especially given the unknowns of the current financial climate.
I suppose if I encounter some activity that engages me I might commit to it. At times blog writing elicits a flurry of activity from me, but becomes erratic as I easily drop into a lull. I could be more productive I tell myself but that would necessitate a much tighter schedule than I currently enjoy.
My focus on house interior has had to relinquish primary focus to efforts toward exterior changes. Our city has adopted water curtailment so I've advanced my long time intent to convert to natural landscaping -- just sooner than I had planned.
Posted by: joared | Wednesday, 09 September 2009 at 05:07 PM
This line stood out for me:
"I am more interested in being than in doing quite so much, and particularly not the things I've done before."
That's what I've been saying for years as I watch so many my age going faster and faster and faster as if they're trying to prove something.
Posted by: Alice | Friday, 11 September 2009 at 11:23 AM