I promised to write more on the topic of ageing. So, here come some of my personal thoughts…I would love it if any of my readers could share their thoughts and feelings too.
When I turned 30, 40, 50, people asked me if I was depressed, or felt old. My answer was no. I genuinely didn’t. My parents died young so I gloried in every extra day I was privileged to live past the age they died. I loved my job, had a good life, great friends, no health problems, and I felt okay. On my 50th birthday I jumped the highest bungy jump in the world, got another tattoo, and wore a bikini.
Something started changing at around 53 though, and I noticed more and more how ageing affects us all. Your body starts slowing down. You look into the mirror and see a stranger. Your neck and hands belong to an old person, and your body parts all seem to migrate south. It is harder to maintain your weight and your shape changes. Hairs sprout on your chin. Your body starts to betray you. You are not interesting on the job market. You get tired more easily.
You become invisible. Society does not see you anymore.
Part of my job as a translator a year or two ago involved working with knowledge reviews about an ageing workforce. As we live longer and longer, the retirement age will rise to reduce the expense of pensions and caring for the long-lived elderly. The baby boomers are a huge generation, and following generations were much smaller, so those of us in upper middle age are needed to work as long as possible. Fifty years ago people did not live much past retirement age. Nowadays if you retire at 60 – 65, you could have a good twenty years ahead of you. So an important factor for this demographic will be adapting workplaces for people who are retiring later. This involves working with lighting (for poorer eyesight), noise (for people with impaired hearing), ergonomics (making it easier for people with hip and back problems), accessibility (ramps), to make it possible for people to work longer. Good thinking, right?
Well, according to this knowledge review, workplaces don’t feel the same. At the age of 48 a woman is considered old to an employer. For a man it is 51. This means you are not considered for promotion, special projects, new employment, further education, competence development. You are seen as no longer useful or worth investing in. Despite what the law says, we are not universally attractive to employers.
When it comes to fashion and beauty products, over 50s account for 47% of consumer spending in the UK. Despite this, over 50s are way underrepresented in fashion and beauty campaigns and in the selections offered by stores and large fashion and beauty chains. A stylish older woman like Helen Mirren is seen as an outlier. The rest of us are perhaps expected to shop via mail order from the back pages of the Woman’s Weekly instead of being able to walk into a shop and have someone see us.
Magazines who have ‘Fashion/Beauty at any age’ articles usually stop at 40. At the same time, actresses we grew up with are either face-lifted beyond all recognition, or stop getting offers of work entirely. Or both.
Below are photographs depicting Nicole Kidman if she had had no plastic surgery, and as she looks now. I think she looks absolutely stunning in the first photograph, but in a society that celebrates youth it seems unacceptable to have a few lines and wrinkles. Men are movie love interests into their 70s, but women over 50 are expected to play the mother or grandmother role.
I have been the subject of two people separately insulting me because of my age. One, because I reported to eBay that she had stolen photos from my blog to sell something and was refusing to take them down – despite several polite requests – told me, ‘at your age you should know better than to behave like this’. Someone else was amazed I knew what the Twilight Series was, and yet another told a 50 year old woman that she was too old to to to a rock festival. I have read ‘old people shouldn’t use social media’. I am a regular shopper at Sephora but they never ask if I am a member. I once asked why and was told ‘you don’t look like our regular members’.
One of my clients went out with his wife for drinks, dinner and bowling. The people behind him said ‘isn’t it sweet when old people go out’. He was 55.
John Kullmann (JK) Scheinberg is the brilliant Apple engineer who was responsible for the shift of Apple to Intel processers (he developed a MacOSX that ran on PCs, getting it going on a Sony Vaio in two hours). He had retired but found himself getting bored. He applied and was turned down for a job at an Apple Genius Bar, because of his age. He was 54 at the time.
I also saw this on social media today
So inside we feel the same. We have the same hopes and dreams and wishes and desires as we had when we are young. Our insides stay young. It’s just the outside that becomes old and frail. But the constant messages bouncing off our ageing shells is that we are no longer attractive or useful. I wish more people realised that. Getting old is indeed, not for sissies.
I grow sad sometimes thinking that I never will get to all the places that I wanted to visit, that I have more of my life behind me than ahead of me, that I will never be allowed to adopt a cat from my local shelter again (though I think I am allowed to adopt an ageing cat), that I am not eligible for most study grants. As time goes by I have to scroll further and further down electronic forms to find my year of birth. I am shocked to realise I am OLDER than the main characters in the Golden Girls
Overall though, I am positive. I am healthy (apart from a knee that is giving me troubles and worsening eyesight), I am happy, I love my job (despite the fact that my clients keep getting alarmingly younger and younger). And I have learned that the older I get the less I care what people think. I don’t have THAT much time left so I am not wasting it on people who do not deserve my time. I live my life the way I want. I wear what I want, I do – more or less – what I want. But sometimes ageism is hard. I wish western societies had the same view as many tribal cultures about ageing. They revere the aged and the wisdom, knowledge and peace that often comes from growing older.
There are some inspirational accounts to follow on social media but they are still relatively rare. I like
I have mixed feelings about getting older. I do wish I had appreciated youth and beauty more (oh my constant diary entries at the age of 16 saying how fat and hideous I was, when I was actually slim and beautiful). But ageing is way better than the alternative. What do you think?