A few days ago, a blogger friend wrote that she was discouraged about getting older. She posted this:
I’m kicking, running and screaming from the downhill slide. How did/are you all handling the realities of aging? What’s your secret weapon (person, place or thing)?
The blogger got a lot of input from her discussion group. Here were some of the suggestions:
- Good food
- A wardrobe update
- Change to more age-appropriate makeup style
- Have a positive outlook
All good ideas, but here was mine:
- Why do you consider aging a downhill slide?
Life is what you make it. If you see yourself as cranky, crotchety, wrinkled and sexless, you probably are, in which case, it’s time for an attitude make-over. I mean, I get the thing about death and all, but if you’re sixty, you might have 25-30 (or even more) good years left. That’s a gift! That’s as long as it took to work your career, or create a fully-formed batch of offspring.
Hey, I’m not in denial about the crappy side of getting old, but a bad attitude about aging can hurt you. According to Barbara Strauch in her wonderful book, The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain, seniors who were tested for memory did better when they were first given positive information about aging. The group that was told negative things? They didn’t do as well.
You can dispute the study, but you’ve lived long enough to know that attitudes and words matter. What happens if parents repeatedly tell a child she’s stupid, incompetent, clumsy, or bad? What will happen to that kid? Why is it different for us?
Margaret Gullette, a researcher at Brandeis University, says we’re victims of the “ideology of decline.” We’ve allowed ourselves to be “aged by culture,” and taught to think of ourselves in an “age graded” way, based on the sense that “the body fails at midlife and this bodily failure matters more than anything else,” while the positive aspects of aging, such as maturity, competence, and compassion, are not seen as age-related. According to Gullette,
(This) ideology works to enclose us in self doubt, embarrassment, shame, humiliation, despair…By learning to concentrate on an ‘aging’ body, the twentieth century midlife subject learns how isolated and helpless he or she is.
If we’re allowing ourselves to be “aged by culture,” maybe we should look to a different culture. My good friend, Julie Mahoney, told me that the Japanese have no word for menopause. The closest they come is konenki. Literally translated, ko means “renewal and regeneration,” nen means “year” or “years,” and ki means “season” or “energy.” Isn’t that beautiful?
So, I challenge you to counter our hair-tearing assumptions about aging. If you need scientific backup, I wrote here about your incredible aging brain.
And here is Isabella Rossellini with her “Surely you jest” attitude about aging.
Finally, here’s how my Mom got over on those who would devalue her due to her age and diminutive stature.
Okay, I’ll stop with the links or you’ll never get anything done. Have a great weekend.