Why is it getting older such a bad thing? If we eat well and exercise, surely we can age gracefully? So why does it feel like everyone, including myself, is obsessed with youth and trying to fight with Mother Nature?
I just returned home from a walk to the Co-Op, where I’d gone to buy a wine for my dad’s birthday. Having picked up a bottle of Malbec, and seeing the warning signs for anyone appearing to be under 25, I wondered for a brief second whether I’d get asked for ID. It would really piss me off, as I’d not taken anything with me to the shops but my house keys and a £20. Secretly though, I always want to be asked as it makes me feel young, but I felt sure, aged 35, I was well past that grey area for being ID-d for alcohol.
After picking up a few more items and having perused the weekly women’s mags, littered with the usual depressing cover lines - ‘she’s so fat and unhappy!’ ‘she’s tormented by her ex!’ ‘looking thin after her breakup’ - I went to pay.
Mistaken for 25?!?!?!
The lady behind the counter began scanning my items; when she got to the wine, she began studying my face intently, wondering whether she’d done the right thing. Oh my God, she actually thinks I might be under 25! This caused a small smile to break out on to my face. I did have my hair in a pony tail, no make up on and was dressed in jeans, trainers and a tracksuit top, which does makes me look a bit younger. I knew I ought to have gone to the young cashier, as she’d instinctively known I was much older than she was.
Anyway, the lady saw my smile, and must have wondered whether my smirk was due to having fooled her into serving me, so she said: “You’re young aren’t you?” to which I replied “No, but I often wish I was.” “Well you look about 28, but I wasn’t sure,” she said back. “I’m actually 35. I’m smiling because you’ve just made my day by thinking I could pass for mid 20s. But look here...” I said, leaning forward and pointing to my grey roots, as if those alone were proof of my age. “I’m now off home to dye those.” “Tell me about it, I know how you feel,” she empathised.
A false happiness
The sun was shining as I left the store and I had a spring in my step. ‘Yay - a stranger thinks I can still pass for 25’, I thought to myself, smugly. But another thought immediately raced into my brain to quash the smugness. ‘Why does that make me so happy?’ Why indeed? Because we all, myself most definitely included, want to stay young forever. And why is this? Because our culture doesn’t value older people, it values youth. Young, attractive people have it easier (well, on the surface at least - often they can be miserable on the inside). Youth is treated as a commodity in our society, which depreciates with age. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule, such as those fabulous women in their 70s and 80s who front ad campaigns (check out Selfridges #BeautyProject and see Jill, 71, a model fronting the ‘hello beautiful’ campaign) but by and large we dismiss older people in our culture, so we fear getting old ourselves, and sinking into obscurity.
Creating a new paradigm
Unless we work to change society and what people value in others, youth will always trump age and wisdom, at least when it comes to commerce. Getting that ‘affirmation’ from that cashier gave me a lift because it made me feel like I’m still ‘in my prime’ so to speak. But the times I get ID-ed will grow fewer and fewer, and then what? Feel permanently unhappy that I’m no longer young? Be miserable at my lost youth?
A former colleague I’d spoken to the night before had had a great attitude. She seemed happy to be leaving her 20s, and said: “People often brand you as unexperienced and stupid when you’re young, and they don’t take you seriously”. She also reminded me that young people might look great but most of them feel insecure, scared, and bewildered. I know I did in my mid 20s, trying to prove myself and carve out a career and definitely not thinking I looked good (I only see it now, looking back ten years).
What I’m trying to get at here, is that feeling good about ourselves must come from within; from self-acceptance, appreciating the way we look now, whatever age. Also, we can do massive amounts to slow the aging process and stay looking good for as long as possible through diet, exercise and other lifestyle factors, especially relaxation and stress management, all of which reduce our ‘biological age’ if not our chronological one.
And some of the we age will be down to genetics. We can either fight it tooth and nail - and spend a lot of money in the process - or learn to love ourselves as we are. Maybe that;s easy for me to say now, age 35. I wonder how I’ll feel in another 10 and 20 years time. But what I do know, is that if I want to be at peace and feel content in life, I must learn to accept the passing of time and to let go of what once was, in order to fully be present to the now, which is a really great gift after all. And at least, being older, you don't have to worry about taking ID with you to the shops :-)