Would You Mind Growing Old if You Were Treated Like You Were Young?
“I think inside every old person there probably is a young person screaming to get out, but your audience doesn't let you."--Estelle Strongin, FRONTLINE: "Living Old"
I found this quote from a 94 year old woman on the PBS site advertising their documentary, "Living Old" about how people cope with aging in America. I haven't seen the documentary and perhaps I don't want to; from what I can gather, aging in America sucks.
But not just for the physical reasons one associates with age such as illness, limited mobility, nursing home stays etc. but mainly because of the psychological ones: the loss of one's work, the way one is treated in society and the prejudice and dismissal that others often have for those who are older. It would be easy to say that other people's opinions of us don't really matter as we age, but in truth, they do, unless you live as a hermit which as far as I can tell, doesn't add to the well-being of the elderly.
I have always wondered why people tend to try and put those who are older in boxes--perhaps it is fear, denial or stupidity, or maybe just plain selfishness and prejudice. How many times do you hear people say, "Oh, so-and-so is just like that because they are old." I have and I can tell you that it makes me mad as hell. Does being old mean that people no longer have opinions, desires, the need for autonomy, longing, dreams, needs? Of course not. People are still themselves, just with a few more birthdays than some. Big deal.
But apparently, it is a big deal and it starts early. Jennifer Anniston is now referred to as "looking good for her age." She's 37. Mention Brad Pitt and people pop up with quips such as "he looked better before he got old." He's 42. Sure, these are stars and have to look good etc. for their roles, but talk to other people 37 and older and you hear a lot of the same complaints about the general society.
The ironic thing to me is that people seem to go on and on about how young they or others are up until about 37 at which point you are told you are old. Isn't there any in-between? And if we are told we are old starting by our mid to late thirties, what if we live to our 80's? What are the psychological repercussions of being viewed as "old" for 50 years? How depressing, and unnecessary. Why don't we just give each other a break and start treating people as individuals with ideas, interests, opinions, and worth regardless of age? Because if we gave the same respect and time to those who are older as we do to those who are young, maybe the fear of growing old would not be such a burden.