Feb 19, 2020

Let’s not airbrush being old: it’s OK not to be forever young

Regular readers of HelloCare Magazine will know that – as a longtime pro-ageing activist keen to destigmatise the word “old” – I have a big problem with phrases like “young at heart” and “70 years young”. And I’ve written critiquing both of these phrases, variously, in previous articles.

So you can imagine that I was not happy to see the two of them used in one very recent email. It came from that Australian movie goers’ Mecca, the Palace Cinemas, and promoted both the forthcoming Young at Heart Seniors Film Festival, and conductor Andre Rieu’s latest filmed concert, entitled 70 Years Young.

Out of curiosity, I decided to do a bit of online research on what each of these very commonly used phrases actually means; and Google produced – separately – very interesting descriptions of both.

On a site called Lifehack, writer Amy Johnson provided “15 Signs You’re Very Young At Heart”. In summary, they were that:

  • You see the humour in life
  • You love to be outside
  • You think it’s important to try new things
  • You try to be courageous, instead of fearful
  • You appreciate the little things
  • You don’t hold grudges
  • You enjoy interacting with animals
  • You love to make new friends
  • You embrace being creative
  • You are proud of your scars
  • You live for today
  • You don’t worry too much about things you can’t change
  • You push yourself beyond your limitations
  • You love to try new things
  • You are aware of the world around you

For a fuller description of each sign follow this link.

As you’d see there, for each of them, her key point –  either explicitly or implicitly – was that it was something that only the young – usually explicitly children – do, and definitely not something characteristic of those whom she saw as the variously jaded/weary/disillusioned/fearful/lacklustre old at heart.

Looking for amplification of 70 years young, I found a long The Daily Mail feature which journalist Angela Epstein wrote in 2018, on the basis of interviews with several categorically old people. According to the headline, they showed “How to be 80 years young. Believe it or not, these men and women are all octogenarians… Here, they reveal secrets to defying the years.” Each interview was followed by an expert’s opinion on those secrets which, in summary, included:

  • Good posture and a great marriage! [Male]
  • Works full time and drinks veggie water [Female]
  • Bovril and a kick-about with grandchildren [Male]
  • Loves Pilates and avoids painkillers [Female]
  • Vegetarian for 60 years and never taken pills [Female]
  • Man who’s 93 but feels 25 [Male]

For more information about each of these examples of young-olds, follow this link. Tellingly, in what could be seen as a more realistic summing up, a subheading promised that “Here the super-agers reveal their top tips for ageing well and avoiding illness.” 

Taking both of these articles together, what I found most interesting about the signs and tips was that they could be read as a mix of personality characteristics, lifestyle practices, life lessons, and simply ageing well, rather than being ways of clinging or reverting to our younger selves, in some instances all the way back to childhood.

Incidentally, too – as a grandmother observing a dear bunch of little people who are living so many of the young-at-heart signs in their now – what struck me most of all about those signs was that they can be seen as being very much a part of both the innocence of youth and the wisdom of age. In that light, we could be seen as going full circle, but with the critical difference between youth and age being that with our age we have learnt to value what we took for granted in our youth. So, vive la difference and let’s urge our media to celebrate that, rather than sweeping it under the carpet of youth.

Last but not least, I am nonetheless definitely going to go to as many of the Young at Heart movies as I can, since they are a great mix for older people: seven films about old people, three that are multi-generational, one old classic (tears welling up already at the thought of the original Brief Encounter, which I am old enough to remember), and four with historical themes. And then, which romantically inclined older person wouldn’t love to be swept away by the lushly timeless music of Andre Rieu, accompanying the story of all that he has achieved between his early music-loving childhood and his 70th birthday?

Anne Ring ©2020

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  1. Thank you Anne. What a sensible way to approach old age. After an awful accident that robbed me of my independence for six months, I grieved that for the first time in my 76 years I felt old. Now, I think that a renewed mindset and acceptance will see me being kinder to myself, rather than berate this body that refuses to do what it did 20 years ago.
    Starting last week actually, when we saw Little Women movie. It was wonderful.

  2. Hello Patricia – I am delighted to hear that you are much better after what must have been a grueling six months, and it is amazing that we are gifted with a body that has such a wonderful capacity to go on repairing itself (with or without help, as the case may be), into our old age. And as for me, if I do manage to live long enough that my fate is to be mainly sedentary,as a movie lover I am so looking forward to finally having time to work my way through the wealth of films offered by Netflix and all those other streaming sites, with a bowl of nuts and box of chocolates at my elbow. Best wishes.

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