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Looking Old

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Over the weekend, I came across a perfectly dreadful essay about how awful it is to look old. The writer starts out reacting to a new film titled The Company You Keep she had recently seen:

”...you could literally feel the collective, though silent, gasps emanating from the audience as soon as Robert Redford fills the screen. HLO! Hopefully, our next emotion is deep respect for this icon's courage in letting every one of those well-earned lines show...

“To Julie Christie! And Susan Sarandon! This is a TLO fest. Let's be brutally honest: one can't quite concentrate on what these still-glorious actresses are saying for awhile. We are too busy calculating their ages, considering work-or-no-work. And asking ourselves, if TLO, how must we look? Now, we are too depressed to watch the rest of the movie...”

[NOTE: As the writer explains, HLO and TLO stand for “he looks old” and “they look old” but leaves me wondering, since they are not standard acronyms, why she could not write out those words.]

I could only think how deeply our cultural worship of youth has warped this writer if the appearance of these long-gorgeous actors is so shocking she loses interest in the movie's story and can't see their new kind of beauty.

All three have been blessed from youth with the kind of good looks our era most admires and they have carried it nicely into old age. Growing old is the definition of life and they are as handsome now - with their decades of living on display - as they were in their twenties.

The article put me in mind Daniel Klein, a philosopher whose wise, little book about searching for a meaningful old age has become my regular companion.

In the first chapter, Klein discusses our culture's growing trend to extend the prime years of life into old, old age during which we are encouraged to opt for whatever it is that will keep us “forever young” such as setting new goals, taking up jogging, enrolling in language classes, signing up for cosmetic surgery and hormone treatments.

“I suspect if I were to take this popularly accepted route,” he writes, “I would miss out on an invaluable state of life...I would miss for eternity ever simply being authentically and contentedly old.”

After taking us through his meandering journey toward finding what that would be, Klein arrives at this:

“All of which is to say that perhaps authentic old age can consist neither of the breathless ambition of the forever youngster nor the unremitting despair of my friend Patrick but something meaningful in itself...focusing on the horrors of old old age before I get there would be a waste of the time I have left.”

On certain days when I catch myself in the mirror, I don't much like what I see but I never wish to be my younger self. Actually, I don't really wish to be anything but what I am and I continue to be curious to see how my face will change as the years continue to go by.

Although the essay writer, in the last sentence, gets around to saying, “we just LO - er and that's okay,” it is certainly not good enough after insisting for 10 paragraphs that looking old is shocking and abhorrent.

”...it's never easy to be the oldest person in a room,” she writes. “You know they may be thinking SLO, and they know that you know that they know. I have put myself in the ultimate such scenario, in that I am back in college after 35 gap years. ”

Perhaps this is something – among others - everyone must get through to eventually find a path to a fulfilling old age.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Dani Ferguson Phillips: The Foreign Exchange Student


Comments

I feel sorry for women who take that attitude about growing older. She should just be glad she IS growing older, since the alternative is not to our liking.

I do read Huffpo, but they publish lots of garbage you just have to skip over.

The media push garbage, and consumers buy it, which prompts more garbage. Thank you for flagging essays, behaviors, and messages that reflect poor self esteem and internalized ageism. Today's post is a sequel to your recent "Facebook/Hatebook." Thank you doubly!

http://www.timegoesby.net/weblog/2013/04/facebookhatebook.html

I look my age. If "ILO", so be it. I also look pretty darn good.

I have to admit that I get distracted when professional football cheerleaders are interviewed as I wonder how much plastic they have inside their bodies while forgetting what they are saying. And I recently have become even more distracted by the substantial cleavage shown by several of CNN's female wall street journalists when they talk about the economy. AND I AM a post menopausal woman. I guess we all have to be less superficial.

I'd love to be part of a new alternative underground movement of elders with pride. Pop culture hasn't ever been my favorite anything. Elders may be assumed to be a minority, but I think at some point we'll be the majority of citizens...don't you? Carrying with that our opinions, our music choices, our comfortable clothing, furniture, and life style choices...etc. It's a wave.

Last night I watched Louis C.K. (I'm a fan) make fun of an old woman walking her dog, going into great detail about her ugly legs. Sure, he attacks everything but this made me so uncomfortable. All the nastiness towards elders must come from fear of aging and death. Watching elders up close, I'm amazed at the bravery and stoicism it takes to go out at all, between aches and pains, weakness, and, too often, fear and depression.

Ronni:
From your excerpts, she sounds like a superficial idiot. As we've discussed. it's going to take time to change the attitude, but as people live longer, and the old demographic increases in number, it may slow down a bit.
By thy way, I like what I see in the mirror. I always have. 'Nuff said?

OK, here we go again . . .

What happened to those heartfelt feelings and endearing respect we had as kids when we visited Grandpa? Yep, he looked old (LO). Wasn't that a sign that he was older and wiser?

Seems like I could ask my Grandpa anything - and I'd get an answer that I loved. He was a wise old (WO) man! Wrinkles, deafness, baldness, walked with a limp - he was all Grandpa. I him loved for it.

Where has this generation gone wrong?

FH! (The last letter stands for "her".

Ronnie when I met you I thought you looked lovely and full of life. Don't let the dingbats get you down. I've been surprised to get some comments from my own grandkids about elders and so now I'm delivering my own consciousness raising sessions with them. I'm mostly ok with myself, have a couple of physical things that slow me down but in the main I am content with my age. Which means I've come a long ways from my mom who thought she was finished at 40.

Growing old is an accomplishment. Something no one can or would avoid given the alternative.

There is no fountain of youth so unless you accept aging as an achievement then you condemn yourself to your own criticism of "old people".

My granddaughter thinks it's a howl to hobble around like an old woman with a cane, crankily complaining. Another granddaughter calls me "granny."
But I don't care. We always have fun together. Of course, as I've mentioned before, I live in Hawaii, where ageism is not as bad as on the Mainland. A steady diet of being put down because of my age might get to me.
I suggest hanging out with people who come from cultures where ageism is not so bad.

First, Stefanie - Hah! Love it!

Second, Celia - you're very kind but it's not the age in my face I object to; it's how, with every passing day, I look more like my mother in her old age and I'm not pleased about that.

You can undoubtedly appreciate what tangled psychology is involved with that - something I will spare TGB readers.

I earned every line on this old face I have no desire to be twenty or even thirty.

Even at this late date I'm busy and involved with the world. And what's even better is that I'm meeting a lot of other like-minded elders to boot!!

Michele Willens needs a little smack upside the head.

Didn't we just get a spate of comments in response to Ronni's last post, about Facebook, suggesting we just ignore nasty stuff?

Not me. I'm about to email Michele.

Hah, Ronni. I know what you mean about looking more and more like your mother (and all that goes along with it). Young people tend to forget that they, too, will grow old, and this culture does not give them the message that it's all OK. I'd like to believe that we can change that, but I'm not so sure. Youth often comes equipped with blinders, unless they are nurtured to take them off early.

I guess I'm not quite as sure as most of you are about this issue--except that I'm foursquare against dismissal of older people just because "WLO". Like most of Ronni's Readers, I don't want to look (or BE) 20 or 30 again, but I gotta admit I'm not crazy about the sags, bags and crags that go with being 76 either.

I agree that looks are strictly superficial, but I still try to look as good as I reasonably can, although I won't devote a lot of time and energy (or money!) to my appearance. I'd settle for looking 63 again, but I'm not about to do anything drastic--so there it is.

Like "Yellowstone" I remember a time when age conferred wisdom and respect but that time is mostly long gone. Now we're regarded as hopelessly slow and behind the times to most younger people. However, those of us who are still around 10-15 years from now when the baby boomers hit their aging stride (shuffle?) may catch the "wave" of elder influence "Barb When I was 69" mentions.

I read the essay over the weekend and was appalled. I think I look fine--white hair and all. What bothers me most about aging is the assumption that white hair equals cognitive as well as physical decline. It gets tiresome.

I LO -- or at least the 65 that I am. After all, I am 65. In 10 years, I will look 75, whatever that means.

As for looking like my parents -- I do indeed look more and more like both of them as they aged. I couldn't care less, but I work not to take on those quirks which made them less happy or constricted their lives. That's something worth working on. :-)

I am in a grey area (double entendre allowed) as I am probably younger than most of you but also very ill; so on one hand I relate more to the idea of wanting to look as young as I can for as long as I can, whilst experiencing life with SS and being prematurely grey (literally). I do cringe when I see my mother in my mirror. I do look at movie stars, Julie Christie especially, as she was always on my 'most beautiful women' list (along with Jean Shrimpton and Sofia Loren) so seeing her older made me so so sad. Not because she was 'old' but because it bluntly highlighted even the most pretty things.. people included change. Changing is hard; accepting change is harder.

I'm the senior student in my night school French class.

Last week I made reference to the rapper "FLO RI DA." The youngest student turned around and shot me an incredulous look.. "you know this rapper?"

I just smiled and said "I read."

I am proud of my years.

Anyone wants to know my age?

"This is how 69 looks."

Simply because of our North American numbers, seniors are a force, no, a typhoon.

We can be the change agents we wish for.

It's funny, but living in a retirement home as I do and have done for about seven years, I don't feel as old altho I am well past 80 winters. That's because everything here is relative, meaning it's hard to gauge the "oldness" of our companions because it's exhibited in so many different ways. Oh, I can see I'm getting too involved here so will leave off. But I live with age and love it.

I don't mind laughing at an occasional joke about old people, as long as the joke is funny. And, of course, wrinkly skin is not as attractive as taut skin, everyone knows that. And yes, when I see someone I haven't seen for 30 years, I DO think, "Wow, she looks older." So what.

When I look at Ms. Willens' article, I sense that she is horrified and fascinated about the future prospect of losing her looks. That makes me feel sorry for her. If her whole identity is built around her youthful looks, I suggest she better develop some interests and skills, and maybe shore up her close relationships. Old age can be rich, beautiful, and rewarding. That is, unless your whole life is built around your looks, in which case there will be nothing but tough sledding ahead.

I don't have time to worry about youngsters who discount me because I'm old. I have too many things still to get done and too many good causes to support. Maybe I'll get to feeling inadequate later, but not yet.

I don't mind looking old but I don't like the vulnerability that it signals to those who might choose to exploit me--robbery, assault, scams, pickpockets, etc. I ain't what I used to be and the outer image confirms this to those that would choose to bother me.

Socrates talking to Cephalus—
“I enjoy talking with very old people. They have gone before us on a road by which we too may have to travel, and I think we do well to learn from them what it is like, easy or difficult, rough or smooth.”

I was never a beauty so I guess I am not as depressed about wrinkles, sagging skin and strange growths that appear on my old thin skin as someone might be who had more to lose.

I remember reading years ago that you have no control over the face you are born with, but you are the owner of the face you have when old. They were obviously not talking about physical beauty as we think it, but the beauty of character and serenity that comes from the way we have lived our lives. I have seen the faces of some former beauties now that they are old and they look bitter and unhappy. I think that someplace along the way they placed their values on the wrong things.

I'd trade a million wrinkles for clean arteries,a strong back and a solid shoulder socket. Oh, I'll throw sporadic tinnitus in too.

Can anyone remember who related a story about an older woman who gently chided a very young woman who was making fun of her age" "As I am, you soon will be - As you are, I once was." ? I love to think that thought when confronted with judgmental young people. Ithink there may be more to the comment but cant find it anywhere.

Happily my great-grand children have a full compliment of grandparents;and they have "Bop-bop" my ex-husband -- I don't know how he got that name but they're happy with it. I am "Great". I hope that subliminally tells them that the oldest generation is special in its way. I suggest this nickname for other grands.

I will be 62 this summer and I am finding great freedom in ignoring the cultural fascination with youth. There are all kinds of lines and spots where there once were none — but really, who cares? Who am I trying to impress? It's more than a preoccupation with youth — it's mistaking what we look like for what we are.
Two things: Julie Christie will always be The Great Beauty and I love going to the hardware store in my slippers.

Every once in a while I'll pull my face taut and smile at myself in the mirror. I love what I see, but my family shrieks in fear. "I LOVE YOUR FACE" is the best alternative to surgery :)
a/b

I love being busted on about my age and old looks by young people. Because I feed it back ( and work quit blue) but at ten lbs. away from what I weight when I got out of Seabees forty years back they better not be more over weight then me:) My tattoos are old and blurred but I can always say to a young people, "I got that before you were a twinkle in your old mans eye" trite yes but it still holds weight:)

How I wish I looked like my mother! She was not a raving beauty but had the presence of self, courage and willingness to meet everyone on their terms. She was loved!
At 85 I pray I can have her grace (or some of it) and dignity at the end!
We all end eventually--let's do it with style!

Had to send this quote from a "get the terrorist" book I am reading: "This close, Savas saw how old the man was—clearly in his seventies, perhaps late seventies. His skin was sagging and marked with many age spots.His hands trembled as he wiped the lenses of his glasses. An ancient man to tell them about ancient runes. Savas hoped Styer would last long enough to help them with this case."

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