• Sandra B

Be Wonderfully Unforgettable Whatever Your Age

Does every generation think they look younger than their elders at the same age? I thought about it when a friend at a meeting this week remarked that her grandparents looked so much older at the same age. We all smiled and agreed (because most of us have had the same thought at some point), but is it true? Could it be that it was more about the way they dressed and lived, which almost inevitably looks old fashioned to every younger generation?

Or is there something quite evolutionary going on? Is middle age and older starting later as overall health improves and people live longer? Interestingly, there’s been quite lot of research on this topic. We know that the Baby Boomer generation (55-73yrs) are reinventing later life with energetic passion and unbridled zest, seeming not yet to think of themselves as old at all.

Much of that may be because they were the first generation of teens who lived through the life-changing sexual, musical and political revolutions of the sixties and seventies. A time when lives, especially for women, changed beyond all recognition with the advent of the pill, both parents working, families getting smaller and rising expectations of equality at work and in the home.

What an emancipation that has been for groups of women friends. When I was a little girl growing up, our working-class mums didn’t have regular night outs and women-only weekend breaks and holidays. The pub lunch hadn’t yet been invented and, by and large, women didn’t go to bars much at all. A half of lager with hubby in the lounge bar now and again perhaps, but a pub lunch with your pals? Out of the question!

Mums and grans stayed at home with the children while the men went out to catch the pub before it closed at 10 o’clock. My own kids can’t even imagine that type of society now and have seen me enjoy a wonderful social life with close friends and colleagues as they grew up. Thank goodness times have changed.

Recent social research on ageing confirms that a lot of it is to do with us all living longer. The Office for National Statistics reports that people in the UK are living after retirement for up to 24 years – as much as 50% more than their parent’s generations. And a largescale survey done in 2015 by the respected IIASA Institute in Austria concluded that old age has changed dramatically over time. They said “200 years ago, a 60-year-old would be a very old person. Someone who is 60 years old now, I would argue, is middle aged.”

The average UK lifespan 200 years ago was just 30-40 years. Reaching 60 was very unusual and with it came the expectation that you were fragile and slowed down. In the 1970s I remember seeing my own grandparents huddled either side of the fire, looking fragile and resigned to the expectations of old age - the pipe and slippers generation. Compare that with the photos plastered all over Facebook these days of agile, attractive, healthy, affluent and active folk in their 50s, 60s and 70s having a very good time.

IIASA’s conclusion that old age doesn’t now start until around 74 – the age, on average, that health now starts to deteriorate - was widely reported by the media. The term “middle-aged” increasingly seems redundant. After all, if human lifespan is now around 80, the middle (half-way) point is just 40 and it would be absurd to describe that as what “middle-aged” has come to mean.

Effectively, most of us now have at least 74 years of vital, active, relatively healthy, life to live before we have to deal with the challenges of an aging body, which is welcome news. I also believe that each generation getting older, now and in the future, will demand to be treated as well as the young. Age discrimination should, for good economic and business reasons, fade away and be consigned to history. I certainly have no intention of being invisible or muted in older age and nor should anyone. We can contribute and be appreciated during the whole of our lives. Nothing less is acceptable.

Are we we also looking a bit younger as we age in the 21st century? Yes, I think many people are and for lots of reasons. How we dress and present ourselves is much less restricted by age than it used to be. All age groups wear jeans and other fashion trends and women can keep their hair long throughout life if they want to. The age-giveaway “blue rinse and tight perm” is happily a rarity now. More and more older people are physically active, stylish, curious and spirited throughout the whole of their lives.

My most glamorous and lively friend, Margaret, when we discussed this long ago,

said that “the key is not to try to look younger, but to look and feel the best you can for the age that you are. After all, everyone in your age group is ageing too and you can take comfort from knowing that you are wearing well alongside them.” Just take a look at the three gorgeous ladies in the photo here - full of vitality and living the life to the full. That's the way to do it!

Invisibility is NOT inevitable as we get older. Eleanor Roosevelt famously said that “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” In my view, nor can they make you feel old and past it. Express yourself and be wonderfully unforgettable whatever your age. There’s nothing more impactful than zest for life.

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© 2019 by Sandra Burke