The Beauty of Age

Autumn trees

I wasn’t able to watch the Grammys last night, although I will catch a glimpse of some of the performances this evening on the Internet. Admittedly, I don’t know all of the newer artists, but of course I remember with fondness the performers of yesteryear—the musical geniuses who provided the backdrop to all of the special moments in my life. I loved them then; I love them now. In many cases, their talent just keeps getting better.

Today, I ran into a friend who asked me if I saw the Grammy Awards. She told me she always loves to see what outfits people will wear, and experience the old and new talents—some of which were pretty outstanding. This was a long time friend of mine—a very good friend; someone with whom I can discuss anything. But as she talked about the Grammys, there seemed to be no energetic vibe, no glint of excitement, no glimmer of joy.  Finally, she revealed how saddened she was to see a few of the older entertainers, who, instead of proudly representing their age, apparently felt the pressure of having to puff up, cut up, or chemically stiffen their faces so many times,  they had practically become caricatures of themselves. She felt badly about the pressure these major talents must have felt that prompted them to change their appearance—and this had even started to make my friend feel badly about herself, knowing full well that if that is what an older person must do to stay in the game, what a dismal state of affairs.

I am all about doing whatever anyone wishes to do in order to feel and look better. What I question, however is feeling we must cave to the pressure that our youth-oriented culture puts on older adults; causing many of us to desperately try to stay looking twenty in order to feel attractive and valued.

Has anyone ever denied the beauty of an autumn tree? Not long ago, I lived on a road lined with stately old trees from which long graceful branches on either side, reached out to touch each other, forming an endless lush arc of foliage. In autumn this arc took on the brilliance of sunlit gold, orange, red, and rust. People who drove on my street experienced a breathtaking—almost blinding work of Nature; a droplet of spiritual beauty to the eye of the observer.

And while no one thinks of autumn trees as unsightly just because they no longer have the tender blossoms of spring—we humans haven’t fared so well when it comes to perspectives on aging in our society. We are bombarded with anti-aging messages that in essence tell us to keep trying, keep hoping, keep chasing the pipedream of being twenty once again, instead of honoring the beauty inherent in every age, the evolvement of the soul, the depth of accumulated intelligence and wisdom we possess in our autumn years.  It is time to start proudly celebrating each birthday, each month, each day, each minute that we are given the privilege to celebrate our life.

While we may not be able to single-handedly change others’ perspective on ageing, we can refuse to buy into it —by respecting ourselves. With unabashed gratitude we owe it to ourselves to acknowledge the beauty of our age, the immensity of our hearts, and the capacity of our minds.  This “third age”, I have discovered, is wrought with exquisiteness. This is the time to live our gift of life to the fullest:  in strength, confidence, grace, and goodness.  What a relief it is to know that we are fine and even perfect just the way we are—without having to chase anyone else’s impossible dream of who they think we should be. Now is the time to live out YOUR dreams, YOUR way.

COMING IN NOVEMBER, my newest book : “Aging Happy: How to Knock Out the Nonsense and Make These the Best Years of Your Life “(Linden Press).

For speaking inquiries : RaeleenMautner@gmail.com

Senator Feinstein, I Stand Up for Your Right to Run

           Senator Dianne Feinstein

Have you ever been the target of age discrimination or heard comments that made unfounded presumptions about individuals because of their age? I recently read an Internet article, published in the online version of The San Francisco Chronicle, in which the reporter raised concern over US Senator Dianne Feinstein’s running for another term. Feinstein is one of the oldest US Senators. She is a very vibrant and sharp 84 in anyone’s observation. But the writer gave three reasons that would contraindicate Feinstein seeking reelection; although to some readers—like me—it may have seemed there was only one:

Her age.

The article cites:

  1. Health concerns, given Feinstein had recently been the recipient of a pacemaker;
  2. Being “out of step” with the Democratic party, reasoning that she has been “slow to criticize Trump”, and
  3. Age, which was “perhaps the most pressing issue”, according to the writer, because you can never predict how well the Senator might be functioning toward the end of a potential next term, when of course she would be even OLDER.

Wow.

Let’s start by ignoring the fact that the pacemaker was a voluntary procedure for Feinstein (which actually would improve—not worsen– her heart’s functioning), and the fact she took almost no time off after the procedure; a testament to her resilience.

Let’s also ignore the preponderance of research that shows men generally age faster (biologically) and die younger than women.

And what exactly does “out of step” with her party mean? I heard one commentator on the radio this morning saying that the “old” politicians such as Feinstein should step aside to let some “younger blood” in. Maybe that person should look up the definition of ageism.

I don’t know about you, but I always thought we should vote on the basis of a candidate’s platform and political record. Not on the basis of whether (s)he is young or old (male or female, gay or straight, black or white, etc.).

But no pass for Feinstein. Instead, a statewide survey asking voters if the Senator should run for a 5th term. 48% said YES. Then afterwards her age was revealed to participants. Now only 38% felt she should run. Leading the witness anyone?

Of Feinstein’s age, the reporter fears it is hard to predict how she will function toward the end of a new term should she win; given that she will be in her early 90’s, even if functioning very well now.

True Story: My very strong, active, and seemingly super healthy husband woke up one day when he was 57 and dropped dead 2 hours later when we were about to go grocery shopping. So much for predictability in the basis of age.

Furthermore, we might wonder if the writer has earned a PhD in Gerontology for coming to the following conclusion “Few people work stressful hours at that age because the body and mind can perform only so well at that point in life.”

True Story: My father is almost 98, is still physically very active, and so mentally sharp that he can still out- calculate me in mental math, despite my having taught statistics.

You might say, well the above two examples are atypical, and a sample of 1 does not a sample make. Well you would be right. But that is my point. No one is typical. That is why stereotypes are unfair.

If voters are concerned about a candidate’s body or mind not being up to par, there are cognitive tests and physical exams that we may want to require of ALL of our political leaders, regardless of birth year. Some people show signs of dementia in their 50’s; some have heart attacks in their 30’s. Let’s not assume that advanced age makes a person incapable of doing their job, or that they no longer have anything meaningful to contribute to society.

I am not singling out politics, either. Ageism happens in every field, and outside of the professional world, too. I have been witness to ageist slurs that seem to roll off of people’s tongues, just the way “mafia” slurs flow way too easily from people’s mouths when referring to Italians. In academia, for instance, it was not uncommon to hear students remark that this or that professor “should retire now”, just because they are passed a certain age. When a worker reaches the age of 60 questions like “When do you plan to retire?” seem to come flying out of walls. It is difficult to find a novel where the protagonists are past the age of 35. If you are an actor, you know how few roles are written for the over-50 crowd. And how many of you “over 50”s have had certain goals and dreams thwarted—not because of lack of ability or hard work—but because you are no longer young?

Ageism, like any “ism”, is about making sweeping judgments that don’t necessarily correspond to reality. Unlike some of the more vocal political movements that have sprung up over the past few years; no one in the public eye that I know of has started an anti-age discrimination movement that points fingers and brings law suits. Yet we all know it exists in every sector.

The truth is: Everyone ages differently. Some of us die early, some of us are able to keep age-related diseases at bay longer; some of us suffer from dementia younger—some older—and some not at all.

But lest you begin to feel too confident or giddy over having lived to whatever age you currently are, the writer leaves us with this sobering thought to reflect on: “Aging is a reality that is never pleasant but a reality nonetheless.”

Am I angry over this article? To the contrary; I am actually grateful for the writer’s questioning whether Feinstein should retire because of her age. In doing so, he unintentionally brings to light an ugly reality that goes far beyond the reelection of a single Senator, to make us aware of the ever-lurking undercurrent of ageism that runs through our society—with no strong champions willing to stand up for older adults.

That is why it is up to you and me to take action when we witness (or are the target of) ageism. We do that not only by writing to our lawmakers, but also by making the speaker or perpetrator of ageism aware of their biased statement or actions; pointing out that such attitudes are not innocuous; and that age bias and discrimination deprives all of society of the productivity and wisdom of older adults.

Let’s start a conversation. What is your story?

References

Should Sen. Dianne Feinstein retire? By Larry N. Gerston, San Francisco Chronicle April 29, 2017

https://www.sfchronicle.com/opinion/openforum/article/Should-Dianne-Feinstein-retire-11109694.php

Blagoslonny, M (2010) Why men age faster but reproduce longer than women: mTOR and evolutionary perspectives Aging May(2)5.

© Raeleen Mautner, LLC

Do You Use Make-Up to Enhance Or Hide?

Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra

Back in the late 60’s, my M.O. included large hoop earrings, ironed hair, and a splash of Oh de London, before leaving the house with my transistor radio to do the beach strut. I thought I looked pretty dam good. That is, until one particular girl –Yvonne–caused all the boys in our summer neighborhood fall all over themselves whenever she walked by. What the heck did she have that I didn’t? Well, frankly quite a bit, but what it really boiled down to was her— LIPSTICK. Yes, it was the lightest of pink, almost pearlescent. And rumor had it, that it was peppermint! , I never heard one comment about her knockout bikini figure, her large, hypnotic eyes, or her gorgeous dark curly hair. NO. It was all about that lipstick. Not that any of the boys had actually kissed her but that little tube of tint had the capacity to make every boy at least dream of what it would be like to steal a kiss from the alluring girl with peppermint- coated lips.

That was my first observation about the power of makeup to create a perception of beauty— dating back the time of Cleopatra, who was adored for her intriguing painted eyes, long blackened eyelashes, and rose colored lips and cheeks (made possible by red ochre, a type of iron-enriched clay).

The majority of research studies support the fact that women who use makeup are perceived to be more attractive than those who don’t. In one study, women were professionally made up with customized products and application thought to best enhance the specific individual’s features. Then the “judges”, male and female, would look at the same woman’s face in 5 conditions: a) no makeup; b) foundation only; c) eye make-up only, d) lipstick only; and e) full facial make-up (with all of the above). Female judges thought the eye makeup alone condition was most attractive, while the male judges rated eye makeup and foundation to be the most attractive. None of the judges chose the “no makeup” condition as being most attractive.

Personally, I enjoy the “artistry” involved in using makeup, although the older I get the less I use. I have no desire to morph into a “whatever happened to Baby Jane” version of myself; but I do think a little color here and there enhances my current-aged self. Self-adornment can be a reflection of self-respect, although many women bypass make up altogether—and there is no problem whatsoever with their self-esteem. Some older women, however, feel they MUST use makeup or cosmetic procedures to hide their age, because of the consequences of living in a youth-worshiping culture, where they may face age discrimination on the job, or become “invisible” when trying to relate to others.

In fact when women 50-70 years old were interviewed about their reasons for engaging in “beauty work”, to enhance their appearance (e.g., hair dye, makeup, cosmetic surgery, and non-surgical procedures); their explanations included the following:

  • To fight against the invisibility of aging
  • It was part of a lifelong investment in one’s appearance
  • Desire to attract a romantic partner.
  • Because of employment-related ageism.

If you are among those who use makeup to hide your age, because you are either ashamed of the physical changes of growing older, or fear the societal consequences of being perceived as “old”, let me reassure you, you are not alone. But you alone do have the power to turn others’ perceptions around.  You can start by improving your own body image, and acknowledging your ageless beauty. Have fun with makeup if that is your thing. Wear clothes that make you feel great. Stand up tall and proud. Respect yourself and believe in your unique contribution to this world. And only after all of the above– if you feel like buying a tube of peppermint pink lipstick–You go for it 🙂

Do you enjoy or avoid using makeup? I’d love to read your thoughts, so do leave a comment below! 

References:

Clarke L.H., & Griffin M. (2008). Visible and invisible ageing: beauty work as a response to ageism. Ageing & Society (28). 653-674.

Indianpublicmedia.org “Did Cleopatra Wear Makeup?”

Mulhurn et. al. (2003) Do cosmetics enhance female Caucasian facial attractiveness? International Journal of Cosmetic Science (25) 199-205

 

© Raeleen Mautner, LLC

“Everyone Gets to Be Young. Your Turn is Over.”

My mother (the avid card-sender) and grandmother

My mother would send a greeting card almost every day. We would even go to a special store where she would get her Italian language cards for someone’s onomastico (name day, which coincided with the Saint everyone (except for me apparently), was named for), birthday cards galore, Holy Day of Obligation cards, holidays and everything in between. They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree but in my case it must have fallen into the yard in another part of the country. I don’t send greeting cards. Will I call someone, or send an email to wish him or her a Happy Whatever? Yes. I know, I know, it’s not the same, but the good thing about growing older, is that we have earned the right to be who we are; whether we are card senders or not.

The other day, however, I decided to “turn over a new card-sending leaf”. A friend of mine was about to turn 60. Yes, dammit, I will send a card. And so begins the search.

“Everyone Gets to Be Young. Your Turn is Over” sounds like it could be a line from the 70’s Sci Fi movie, Logan’s Run, where everyone lived under a pleasure-perfect dome—that is until they turned 30, at which time they were to be annihilated, to keep from growing old.   But No. The above “greeting”, and hence the title of this post comes straight from a greeting card! Ehm…Was that supposed to be an uplifting message?

And so I looked further:

After a certain age, your body is like a garage sale—Some stuff looks old, some stuff doesn’t’ work, and some stuff you can’t identify.

60 year olds like to nap, stay warm, and have things done for them—so basically you turn into a cat. 

(Picture of a donkey with sunglasses)—Your ass looks good—for 60

Psychologists say you go through 7 stages of adjustment when you turn 50—Denial, Denial, Denial, Denial, Denial, Denial, Denial.

Don’t sweat being 50—nobody likes a sweaty senior citizen

Now I have a sense of humor that rivals the best of them, but as I looked at these cards I wondered what vile undercurrent these messages were really sending to older adults in our society. If you substitute any other “ism” for the ageism in those sayings, you would be horrified, I’m sure. Can you image a card that says “Don’t sweat being _______ (a woman, black, Italian, blind, gay, etc.)—-nobody likes a sweaty ———-?

Having spent a good part of my career investigating the effects of stereotyping on both the people being stereotyped and the ways peoples attitudes toward the stereotyped are formed—I say we stop with the “senior moment” jokes, implying that older people can’t remember things (I don’t know about you but I have been losing my car keys from the time I graduated high school), and stop spending our bank accounts on “anti-aging” potions that make aging seem like a dreadful disease to be stomped out. It isn’t. It is a natural privilege that not everyone (certainly not my late husband) gets to enjoy. But you and I do! And that is why the ageist buck must stop with us.

So I bypassed those cards. In fact, I almost decided to go back to my old ways and not send a damn card at all.

Until…

Happy Birthday!

            Here’s to aging

            Here’s to wrinkles

            Here’s to laughing

Till we twinkles (all right, somewhat corny, but so what)

Here’s to the one’s who see us through

            Here’s to birthdays

            Here’s to YOU.

Well hallelujah.  And that is the one I sent.

To all of my Readers, for whatever the occasion– Here’s to YOU!

© Raeleen Mautner, LLC