To say there is a modern day obsession with looking younger than our years could be something of an understatement. And with an anti-aging industry turning over a staggering 170 billion pounds annually, it’s also worth pointing out it’s an obsession we are happy to pay big money for.
At first glance it might appear that we’ve always had an obsession with youth, but it is only recently that we have developed a mandate requiring us not to look our years. Yes, women through the centuries might have always yearned for flawless skin, but there was a time not long ago when the later stages of life were revered and seen as something to look forward to. Middle age was a period in life where one would achieve a respect not found when young, develop wisdom and even discover spiritual connection. Like a good bottle of wine, life was considered to get better with age.
But all this changed in the 60’s and 70’s, when the old secure framework of morality, authority and discipline disintegrated and the teenager was invented. This was the first time in history when the old and young generations stood in stark contrast to each other. As a result many young people ostracized anyone they considered to be old – this usually meant over the age of 30.
The feelings of the time were probably best summed in the 1965 song “My Generation” by the Who, with the line, “I hope I die before I get old.”
What emerged from this clash of generations was a negative attitude towards age that has now developed into an epidemic of ageism. The irony of course is that it is the generation that created this ageism that is now feeling its sting the most.
For many, the process of growing old in a youth-centred world is not easy. But the struggle is not to do with vanity per se, rather it is more to do with continually having to question one’s place in the world. Whether we like it or not, we have now created a world where youth is looked upon as something of a commodity and to lose it can leave us feeling emotionally bankrupt.
It seems we are never fully prepared for the transition of fading youth and as a result our self-esteem is tested every day. When we struggle to transition from one period of life to another, we can become emotionally stuck and depressed. At the time we might be totally unaware of the cause, but nevertheless the pain is very real. This kind of depression can have many side effects including anxiety, substance abuse, sleeping disorders, relationship problems and in extreme cases suicide.
Most people’s idea of a midlife crisis is something of a cliché, but when you are in the midst of one, it can be very dark and real. In no way is it trivial to admit that aging is difficult.
But if approached properly, aging needn't feel like a prison sentence. The key to successfully transitioning through any period of life is the ability to keep reevaluating and redefining your values as you go along. Values change as we age and we have to be able change with them.
It is very unlikely that the values we set out with in our 20’s are still going to be working for us in our late 30’s and early 40’s. And these kinds of changes occur throughout our life.
We have also lost the ability to create appropriate role models for the aging process. Before the rise of a celebrity culture, the role models we looked to as we aged were usually people around us like our parents and others within the community. Without healthy role models it’s almost impossible to navigate all the hype, airbrushing and pressure that is on us to look a certain way.
It’s not the passing of years that makes us old, rather it’s a loss of our youthful spirit, as well as the combined effects of inactivity, poor nutrition and illness.
In order to truly be happy and healthy no matter what stage of life we are at, it would serve us well to rediscover many of the values of the past and perhaps believe once again that life can truly begin at 50 - or 40, or 60, or any age for that matter.