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Liking Growing Old

category_bug_journal2.gif Our culture considers growing old to be so hateful that the daily stream of slurs from media are not even considered prejudicial.

My current peeve is hair color commercials on television. Always, among the phrases promising shine and silkiness is a statement that the product completely covers gray, a color associated with dreaded age so that the idea, gray = old = bad is embedded in our brains almost subliminally hundreds of times a day, day after day, until it is as unquestioned as the color the the sky.

Elsewhere, any of the following everyday language contains within it the idea that being old is awful:

Sixty is the new 40.

You don't look that old.

You're only as old as you feel. (Or, as young as you feel.)

The comedian, George Burns, who lived to be nearly 100, came right out and said it: “You can't help getting older, but you don't have to get old.” By which he means – what?

If the people who use all these phrases think being old is sitting in a rocking chair snoozing, where do they come from? I've never met any old people who checked out of living.

Don't get old is the constant message or, if you are unlucky enough to do so, hide it from public view. The repeated admonition coming at us from all sides is to turn ourselves into facsimiles of youth through poisonous injections or surgery together with behavior more suitable to 20-somethings.

What is wrong with all this is I like being old and I don't believe I can be the only one. The angst of youth is gone. Middle-age striving has faded into the background. I've lost concern for wrinkles and sags. I don't care that I'm not skinny anymore. I've learned a lot and am confident nowadays that I can probably handle whatever comes along or can figure out who to ask for help.

I am not ignoring the downside of aging, most of which is physical. As I write this, there is hardly a muscle in my body that doesn't ache after a weekend of concentrated stretching, kneeling, bending, scrubbing, climbing up and down the ladder, moving furniture, pushing the mop and vacuum cleaner to get this place spick and span for its impending sale listing. For most of my life, I could work that hard and then go dancing all night. Not now.

My energy and stamina are gone with the years. Deep sleep is annoyingly problematic. I discovered this weekend that kneeling for more than five minutes causes an amazing amount of pain in my knees. It is becoming apparent that I have outlived my teeth. Short term memory gets shorter and shorter although the upside of that, I guess, is additional exercise - I walk at least twice as much as I otherwise would to retrieve items I forgot in the room I just left.

All sorts of new irritations show up regularly, but I am grateful to be mostly healthy so far.

As to the inevitable end to old age, I've been working on that fear since I first understood in childhood that it is unavoidable and permanent; dying is okay with me (although I'd like to put it off for awhile). I am more curious than frightened now - if there is something on the other side, I look forward to finding out what it is. If there is nothing, I won't know.

The biggest problem with getting old isn't mine – it is the pervasive cultural climate of prejudice against elders in, among other areas of life, employment, medical treatment, politicians' recurring determination to cut Social Security and Medicare, and the constant reiteration that growing old is the worst thing that can happen.

Even with all that, my sixties – of which I have one more year – have been the best time of my life.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ellen Younkins: Valentine's Day (Forgotten)


I'm in full agreement with your post with one exception: my biggest gripe is that I've lost the intimate relationship I've had with language over many years. I'm really sad about the loss, but I'll manage.

What's equally troubling is that there seems to be no way to address the message from corporate America that "old is bad." Why don't we get equal time on Oprah & Dr. Oz or Dr. Phil. It's because young sells & no one wants to be reminded that aging is inevitable. But then that's the ultimate irony, isn't it?

I must include my least favorite TV ad. It's the one about using a product to improve your skin (I think) as you age. The woman who looks to be 40ish laments the fact that men don't notice her because of her less than glowing skin. Where is the aging Gloria Steinam, now that we need her? :)Dee

I wish I had written this post.
Only one difference - My 70's have been the best of my whole life!!!
Look what you have to look forward to.
Best wishes to your future. I have just finished what you are starting.
Another difference is my home is still on the market - but I know it will go when the time is right. I love my smaller home surrounded by nature.

I agree with Dee about losing some of my language skills as I get older. However, the problems tend to be oral. I can't pull up the names, places, or even words I want when I want them. This is why I'm writing more. I find I can locate all the words I'm looking for, given enough time and, as I sit at my computer.

I love being an elder! So far, even with the physical failings, it's the best time I've ever had...I'm free!

I re-read your opening paragraph and so I was moved to add another comment. Why, oh why do women fall for that hair coloring nonsense? Yes, men do it as well, but not in the numbers I see for women. I don't want to offend, but it looks silly! I keep telling myself that I shouldn't be judgmental about those things that make a person happy, but I fail whenever I see dark black tresses framing the face of an elder.
I'm sure male elders do it as well...or wish they could if they weren't bald. And of course that's another deep subject. Why do men wear wigs? Bad wigs?
Shame on me! Sorry....

to guess what old age is, reading your column, I would have thought you were at least 99. I disagree with most of what you said. I love it when someone does'nt believe my age (if I tell).

I like being my age also and like looking it but looking it well. I have no desire to look younger but I enjoy the different look of old. Sometimes when I see the area above my eyes kind of sagging, I think uh what??? and then I see the overall picture and it works because the whole face is doing it. I am not ready to not look good but I don't equate it with age. Youth doesn't automatically make someone look good when young or old; so why is it a desire. Living it fully means accepting the problems that come with it and if anybody thinks the things you listed were part of late old age, they haven't met many people in late old age. It's got a lot more going wrong with it than teeth or arthritis. Sure there are exceptions to what 100 is like but not many.

Like you, I enjoy being old for a lot of reasons and one is I got here and many I love did not. They would have liked to get here too.

I think we can start fighting the cultural assault on aging by getting the word, "old" out of the closet and actually using it. No more seniors, golden agers, gray foxes, or a thousand other silly euphemisms. How about just, "old." Imagine Clint Eastwood saying in a commercial, "Yes, I'm old, you have a problem with that?"
Unless we can get over the fear of the word itself we have little chance of adjusting our attitudes. Anyway, that's the opinion from one old guy - me. You have a problem with that?

The Y offers a Silver Sneakers exercise program during the day. The regular instructor (about 40ish) for that program filled in last Tuesday evening for the class I attend and of which I am the only senior. I could not believe how many times she made reference about “those seniors” she normally instructs—how they complain about this and complain about that…giggle, giggle, giggle… Well none of you know me well enough to know that when I say if looks could kill, I killed her along with anyone else who happened to chime in. I’m just not quick enough with words. Why would anyone do that with me, obviously one of “those seniors” standing there?

I will be 68 in about two and a half weeks and look every bit my age and it sickens me when people feel the need to pretend otherwise! So sad!

I don't like walking like a cartoon character of an old lady or a few other physical problems I have with being old, but I accept them and do what I can.

The thing I really hate about being old is memory lapses. I am constantly trying to remember a word that I know is on the tip of my brain, but I can't retrieve it.

Nonetheless, I am happier at this time of life than I have ever been. I have the freedom to do what I want when I want and the stresses of earlier years are gone.

I see old age as a reward for having coped with all the myriad problems of youth and middle age.

My mom & mother-in-law, both in their 80's, are interesting, lively women. My mother-in-law colors her hair, takes pains with her make-up & dress; my mom's hair is gray, she cuts it herself, & doesn't bother with make-up or uncomfortable clothes. What's the biggest difference I notice? When I'm out with one or both of them, it's the reaction of other people -- they seem to engage my mother-in-law more in conversation, smile at her. My mom -- they ignore.

When are we going to wake up to the media hype that structures our cultural outlook. If we lived in a different culture perhaps old people would be the honored wisdom keepers. But we don't live in a different culture -- we live here with prejudice against gender, age, ethnicity, and other like judgmental positions. It is who we are. I don't like it but some people don't mind a bit. My mantra is to be true and authentic to yourself. Maybe thinking this way can help get past all this silly cultural stuff about being old (and also other judgments about folks). -- barbara

When I began this blog, I made a conscious decision to use the word "old" at every opportunity and to never, ever use "senior" and other euphemisms. And so it remains and will at TGB.

Claire Jean...
I wish I'd been in that class with you. I would have stopped the instructor in her tracks and immediately notified the Y management of the ageism going on in the class.

I think the difference in response to your mother and mother-in-law says more about the culture than either of the women.

I don't think ageism and other isms are "silly". Ageism pushes people out of the workforce long before they are ready, cutting off income and savings for retirement. Because the culture, the medical establishment often does not treat disease in old people as aggressively as younger people. Because of the culture, old people are marginalized in a hundred ways every day.

Much of it is due to the constant repetition that anything resembling age is bad.

With rare exceptions, most people who read TGB feel as good as I do about being old and I hope, over time, to help others overcome the prejudice they've been subject to and absorbed all their lives.

I believe in living deeply into every phase of one's life, but some phases are more enjoyable than others. Apart from the birthing, child-rearing phase, which I also revelled in, elderhood is the best, happiest and most fulfilling period of my life so far, and I am loving it. My sixties were marvellous and I am enjoying my seventies even more.
I have, by design, very little exposure to the mainstream media (e.g. we haven't had a TV in the house since 1985) so that 'daily stream of slurs' you referred to passes me by, thank goodness. (Sounds to me a bit like taking a shower under a sewage outfall pipe! Who'd want to do that?) Also, there's less of it around me here where I live. At least 85% of the other old women in my village have hair as gray as mine.
It's not that I am unaware of the rampant ageism in our Western culture. But since by choice I limit my exposure to it, I am not suffering from battle fatigue. Therefore when I do encounter it I have all the force and energy I need to fight it. (And believe me, I do!)This is not denial, it is 'skillful means'.
I learned years ago from the Vietnamese teacher of 'engaged Buddhism' Thich Nhat Hanh, that in order to retain optimum efficiency it is wise to limit one's exposure to pollution - of all kinds.

When I was thirty, I wasn't thinking much about my age but about supporting my family and being successful in my career. The truth is, I didn't have time to think about how old I was until I retired at 65 (10 years ago) now I don't think much about my age unless I'm reading "Time Goes By".

I gotta go and clean up the garage. No more time to think about being 75

Ronni, I’m just always taken aback at other’s ignorance still. This will not go away because it still hurts. I know this person’s name and she knows mine. My voice will be heard. I always get the job done if not today, you can rest assure tomorrow. To not say anything is not who I am.
I, too, wish you were in my class!!!

I feel like most of you,aging has a freedom that's wonderful, but I'm still culturally vain enough to also agree with you, Estelle, when you say, "I love it when someone doesn't believe my age (if I tell). Maybe it has something to do with the name. Estelle is one of those era specific names, at least in the U.S. I was going to be named Esther after my paternal great-grandmother, but my aunts didn't think it was fancy enough.

"I learned years ago from the Vietnamese teacher of 'engaged Buddhism' Thich Nhat Hanh, that in order to retain optimum efficiency it is wise to limit one's exposure to pollution - of all kinds."

This quote says it all, Good one

The other day, my husband and I were walking down a neighborhood past the hair salon where he gets his hair cut. His stylist was outside, taking a break, and after we exchanged "Hi's", she added (to me) "When are you going to let me start coloring that gray?"

Uh, never.

There are so many things wrong with this, where would we start?

“You can't help getting older, but you don't have to get old.” - I love this quote. I'm just wondering, will I ever say this phrase when the time comes along? Actually it's right. For me, it would be better if we still feel young even if we are gray because this will make us enjoy life.

Why would I want to feel young when I am the age I am? why would I think the young enjoy life more than the old? I don't get it because I don't see old as bad. Isn't fine wine better when it ages? How come we cannot see that with aging? To try and convince yourself you are as young as you think is to imply it's the superior thing. I do not believe it is. Life is what it is and each age is best lived fully without trying to cover it up or rush it ahead.

Love this post, Ronni! In my fifties, I let myself be talked into hair color by my stylist. What a mistake! It was expensive and a nuisance, but I stuck with it for years, probably due to the compliments I received. Having decided to get over compliments, it's taken me two years to get rid of the color, because the growing-out was so ugly (damn my lingering vanity!). I'm very proud to have come through the brindle cat phase at last. Life is simpler and both the budget and my hair are in better shape.

A blog for women over forty recently invited me to an interview for their weekly feature...very flattering. I was surprised by the question, What do you do to stay young? I answered, Nothing. I forgive them; at forty, they think they're on the brink of disaster...and so, I imagine, did some of us.

I so enjoyed this post and all the comments but must admit that, like a few of you, I'm not quite "there" yet as far as surrendering all attempts to maintain vestiges of my earlier appearance. Ah, yes, vanity lives! I don't mean struggling to maintain what I looked like at 40 or even 50 which would be a ridiculous pursuit of the impossible and inappropriate. I'd settle for the me of 13 years ago when I turned 60, though.

I haven't had, don't really want and can't afford plastic surgery, but I still color my hair beige-blonde (it blends with the gray) and wear subtle makeup. I walk daily and try to eat sensibly primarily for health, but also to stay trim. I still like reasonably stylish clothes. I work part time--for the money, of course, but also to stay involved with a world I've belonged to for over 50 years.

So, while I'm not quite at the point of accepting that I'm "old", I'm working on it and am glad I found the "TGB" web site. My husband, at 80, is doing a much better job of it but then he looks great (not a day over 65!).

Incidentally, Nance, in my experience most of the magazines and blogs for "over 40" women aren't intended for those of us MUCH over 40. I LOL every month when I receive my "More" magazine.

I agree with you Ronni. All us baby boomers are heading into the last third of life and to pretend otherwise is pointless. I hate that my mind is going, and I'm living with more pain, but that's reality. I've known younger people who have suffered more. It wasn't that long ago that most people died before they got old.

We're exploring new territory. My body and mind might be declining but I feel my soul is still improving. I know that's a funny statement for an aetheist, but somehow I feel the part of me that's me is separate from the mechanism that recalls words or feels pain. I don't expect another life after this one, so I accept the price of aging as long as I can keep going as long as possible.

My goal is find a new last third lifestyle. I'm hoping the folks here that are older than I am will blaze a path into this new territory. We have great ambitions in youth, and great ambitions in middle age, so why don't we have great ambitions for the last third of life?

Pretending to be 40 again is silly.

I don't ever want to be young again. Bette Davis said that "Getting old ain't for sissie." and she was right. However, it beats the alternative and I kinda like being old. Things that used to put me crazy don't anymore and I laugh at the people who tell ne I don't look my age because I think I do.

Right now I'm looking for a challenge to sustain me for however long I have left which, given my mom's and both grandmas' longevity, could well be another 3 or 4 decades.

Which reminds me. UCSD has done a study that shows massive doses of vitamin E helps with Alzheimers. Which also reminds me....and embarrasses me, that many of my intelligent woman friends who live in the north have all had face lifts. I agree in that I'm not fond of a chin that runs from my mouth to my chest, but I don't want to go back to bland again either. They say, only the young get the jobs. Now that my husband has been out of work seven months, I agree sadly with that one.

Well, after all, old is a state of mind isn't it? I known young people who seemed "old" to me when they were in the 30s, and 90 year olds who seem eternally young. It's all in the attitude.

Aging is not a disesae - it's a natural part of this thing we call "life". And, as Ronni pointed out, it brings it's own set of challenges: more physical pain, less stamina, some eyesight problems, etc. - but those are the outer manifestations. On the inside, I feel wiser and wiser and freer than I've ever felt. By that I mean free to be me, as I truly am, and feel happy about it.

I write a blog at where my tagline is "Change the Way You Age". I am up in arms about how we are treated by the media and society, and I'm on a mission to change it. I know, I'm only one person. But it has to start with us, one at a time, who refuse to be dumped in the old age garbage can by society.

There is a wonderful video I link to in one of my recent posts by a young man who created it to help his woman friend who had stopped dyeing her hair and had an identity crisis when it turned up grey. It is astoundingly moving and a must see.

Thanks, Ronni, for bringing up this important subject.

Great post, Ronni!

This age is the best for me, mainly because I've poked through all the emotional baggage and existential angst and tossed it all out and I can finally yell: "This is who I am!" and "I'm too old for this shite!" with no apology.

It took me a long while to get there.
Freedom is what comes to mind for me when I embrace this age, when I embrace all the scars and whacks it took me to get here when so many, many of my friends are gone.

What is there not to love? I live in a place I only dreamed about in middle age. I still do the paying work I love to do. I play house every day, arranging my bits and pieces as I choose.

I have reconnected with baking and cooking and knitting and reading. And have damn well who I want in for dinner or languid afternoon cups of tea.

I don't pollute my brain with television or nasty magazines that tell me how to de-elder myself. I've earned every wrinkle, every jowl and embrace them. And my hair grows long and gets put up, when I feel like it. But I really, really want a long braid.

I noticed myself deliberately slowing down behind daughter and teenage granddaughter on the icy sidewalk tonight and I just LOVED that.

Why? Because I always raced before.

And missed so much.


Ronni --

So glad to have discovered your blog. I think honesty about age is paramount. Grey for ever!

liz in Norwich, England

rnni --

I am 61, and have gone around and around about the Grey hair thing. Of course , in this society, youth gets first place, Walk in any store or group, and it seems that "youth has it all," either with attention paid, beauty treatments, makeup, facials, clothes etc.

For me, I notice i get much less attention or little because I look "older"

Today I am going to get a hair cut , period, no dye, no weaves, pure and simple and let my long salt and pepper frame my aging face, After all , this is living,

I have the pleasure of working as a mental health case manager in a geriatric mental health unit, where we manage elders with all types of dementias including mental illness. I can say that some of the most lovely heads of hair I have seen are those silver hair ladies. Despite the ravages of life which have left them pretty depleted, they are lovely unto themselves, Thank you, Nancy in usa

Every decade of my life has been better than the last and I have no reason to believe that won't continue. I still work at looking the best that I can but that doesn't necessarily mean looking younger. I don't think looking good = looking younger.

Looks aside, taking care of myself means I'll be around longer and feel better while I'm here!

I am 63. recently a man addressed me as
"young lady". I replied, " Is there anything wrong with old?" "no " He said. "good , I answered, "then you don't need to call me young lady."

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