Why We Should Embrace Aging (Even Though Society Tells Us It’s Bad)
There is no denying that the ever-present youth-obsessed culture we live in assigns us the daunting (and impossible) task of looking young forever. I think it’s time that we start the discussion to shift the narrative around getting older. It’s time to realize that worth is not based on how we look; it’s time to realize that we are all inherently worthy. Here’s why everyone should embrace aging (even though society tells them it’s wrong.)
- American youth culture creates a stigma surrounding aging, perpetuating the idea of ageism. Ageism is defined as different stereotypes, prejudices, and discrimination based on age.
- Changing the narrative isn’t about ditching your SPF and retinol serums. Embrace aging and the laugh lines, crow’s feet, and wrinkles it brings.
- Older people are generally happier, better at managing emotions, are wiser, develop “immune memory” and decreased allergies.
How a youth-obsessed culture is damaging
It isn’t uncommon to take a spontaneous trip to your local Target in an XXL sweatshirt, last night’s mascara, and a messy bun, just to reach the checkout line and see an abundance of magazine covers with repetitive titles boasting “10 Products That are the Secret to Younger Looking Skin!” or “A Dermatologist’s Top 5 Foods to Help You Lose 10 Years!” There is nothing like the omniscient presence of American youth culture infiltrating every crevice of the beauty industry, glorifying the “youth is beauty” narrative to boost your self-esteem.
American culture is obsessed with youth. Each and every day, we continually fund multi-billion dollar industries that encourage people to latch onto their youth via a variety of retinol serums, hair dyes, plastic surgeries, and Botox. In 2011, Americans spent $10.4 billion on cosmetic surgeries, and in 2019, money spent increased to almost $17 billion.
As technology and the media continue to exacerbate this issue with photoshopped fine lines and the deceiving illusions of social media figures, I think it’s finally time we address this obsession.
The heightened American youth culture essentially shames people, especially women for growing up. The hyper fixation on the societal definition of “beauty” and the stigma surrounding age facilitates dissatisfaction and fear in women for literally just existing for another year. Where is the logic?
These hyper fixations over the years have led to uncontrolled, widespread ageism throughout our culture. Ageism is defined as different stereotypes, prejudices, and discrimination based on age.
The World Health Organization notes that ageism changes the way we view ourselves and has an impact on our health, longevity, and well-being. It is noted that ageism is associated with a reduced life expectancy of 7.5 years and a decline in physical and mental health. Overall, it has a tremendous impact on quality of life.
Billions of dollars worth of ad campaigns are launched every year on TV, on social media, in magazines, in stores, and even on the radio shaming the natural (and inevitable) process of getting older. Large companies profit off of these campaigns by perpetuating and encouraging ageist beauty standards, contorting signs and symptoms of physical maturity into reasons for shame.
As consumers, we unknowingly buy into this by placing such a high value on our physical image. This keeps the beauty industry thriving but unfortunately does the opposite to us as a society.
Changing the narrative
When faced with the disheartening message that female aging is somehow an irregularity that should be combatted, our cooperative response should be to reject these standards.
To kick off the changing narrative, consider the Evolution by Dove Beauty advertisement campaign from 2007. This commercial visualizes the progression of the alterations to a model’s face to make her look younger, thinner, and more “beautiful” via makeup and photoshop. The start-to-finish time-lapse encapsulates how our perception of “beauty” is shaped by the media. This campaign kickstarts the discussion about what it means to stand up for, and avoid playing victim to society’s definition of beauty.
If I’m being honest, I don’t have the time or energy to hate the skin I’m living in. And if I’m being even more honest, I don’t know anyone who does. This is the body we’re stuck with forever; learning to love and appreciate the bodies we were gifted with comes with time for most of us. This means that we are inherently getting older, and the wisdom that comes with age is something to appreciate.
Keep in mind that understanding how to embrace aging isn’t about tossing your SPF and retinol in the trash and canceling your next trip to the hair salon. It’s about realizing that we don’t have the power to stop time.
It’s about embracing the wrinkles, laugh lines, and crow’s feet. It’s about appreciating the physical results of a life filled with memories, experiences, and lessons that you’ll carry with you for a lifetime. There is no need to spend time and money making it look like you’ve lived less.
Benefits of aging
It’s obvious that the negative stereotypes surrounding aging are rampant. Aside from the beauty side of things, aging can often be associated with declining health and well-being; however, no one ever addresses the benefits of aging. Here are just a few of the benefits that come with age.
Older people are generally happier.
Laura Carstensen, a psychologist at Stanford University, conducted a study that followed adults ages 18 to 94 for ten years and found that as they aged, they got happier. Research reveals that negative emotions (think: anger, fear, sadness) become less prominent than in our younger years.
Numerous studies show similar data patterns. The conclusion? Senior citizens are generally one of the happiest groups of people, especially compared to middle-aged adults. It is inconclusive exactly why; however, it could be because of their ability to better cope with their emotions (see below), or simply because they’re more confident in their own skin. Maybe if we embrace aging a little bit more we could all have such a positive outlook on the world.
Older people are generally better at managing emotions and social skills.
A 2010 study conducted at the University of Michigan presented hypothetical letters to 200 people and asked them what advice they would give in the scenario. The results? Adults in their 60s were better than the younger adults at thinking of different resolutions, suggesting compromises, and seeing from different points of view.
This goes to show that with more life experience comes more empathy and social abilities, thus being able to better regulate one’s emotions.
Older people are generally wiser.
Yeah, yeah, we’ve all heard this one. But actually, the data backs it up. The Seattle Longitudinal Study (the longest of its kind) follows the mental abilities of over 6000 people since 1956 with volunteers tested every 7 years. Results have shown that older volunteers are worse at math, but are significantly better than those in their 20s at vocabulary, verbal memory, problem-solving abilities, and spatial orientation.
Despite research showing that cognitive functioning slows with age, it’s important to note that it isn’t all about speed. Recent data suggests that older people have much more information jam-packed into their brains, so naturally, recovering necessary information takes longer. Slow and steady wins the race!
Older people have “immune memory” and declining allergies.
Essentially, our immune systems are all individually catered to different invading germs that we learn to fight off. The older we get, the more exposure we’ve faced to a variety of germs. Our bodies develop “immune memory” to elicit a quick response from our immune systems to stave off any danger. Thus, this cumulative protection means fewer colds.
On average, the elderly only really get one cold each year, compared to three annual illnesses for those in their twenties.
Additionally, the main culprit behind those pesky allergies (I’m looking at you hay fever) is an antibody called immunoglobulin E, produced by the immune system. As we get older, this antibody diminishes. Overall, allergies tend to peak in our childhood and decrease with age. Once we reach our 50s and 60s, allergy symptoms are entirely less common.
Society has instilled in us the idea that getting older should elicit fear, guilt, shame, and disgust. And while it is clear there are downsides to aging, the idea that everything gets worse for us as we age is *total* BS.
You may not be able to run as fast, you may not have the same luscious locks that you did in high school, and you may need reading glasses. But this isn’t the whole story. The truth is, as you age, you see the world more clearly. That is why it’s time to shift the narrative surrounding getting older.
It’s time to free ourselves from the unfortunate age stereotypes and start owning our age. It’s time to celebrate every birthday, tell the truth about our age, and truly embrace aging instead of mourning it. It’s time to remember that judges used to powder their wigs gray to appear older and wiser to others. Being old used to be “in.” It’s time to appreciate it again.
Written by Morgan Taylor