A not-so-quiet revolution has been picking up massive steam on the Internet ... and I'm proud to be a part of it. It's all about how we talk about, view and react to aging in America.
We are continuously bombarded with messages at every turn urging us to join the war against aging (at a cost). We listen to the "anti-aging sirens" sing sweet words of encouragement (and promises) in our ears whenever we turn on the television, see a movie, or read a magazine (even those allegedly aimed at "older women"). "Youth is beauty," the sirens sing. "You don't really want to age... do you? Who will hire you? Who will love you? Who will desire you? Come with us, and be young, young, young... forever."
Advertisers who desperately want the baby boomer dollars often use models half our age, or those so airbrushed they make 50 truly look like it's the new 40 (a ridiculous line invented by some marketer, no doubt) in a distasteful attempt to have us believe that we can, in fact, reverse the clock.
Plastic surgery is on the rise (for men as well as women) even in the face of massive unemployment and high debt loads among the "over 50" market. A recent Wall Street Journal article -- "Debt Hobbles Older Americans" -- opens by announcing "More Americans are reaching their 60s with so much debt they can't afford to retire," and yet we, as a group, are willing to shell out mega bucks on skin cream, invasive procedures, chemical peels, Botox, and so on in an effort to erase our lines, recapture our youth, and compete head to head with the true youth of this country for jobs, love, sex and attention.
When my grandmother entered her 50s it was a level playing field. The only ones who got their faces lifted (in strict secrecy) were major Hollywood stars. Everyone else just hoped for the best and went down the aging path together. In today's world, however, the level playing field is a distant memory. Those who can, often do. Those who can't... well... time to become invisible, perhaps?
There's a dearth of celebrity role models who choose to age with grace, vitality and dignity... in public. Helen Mirren jumps to mind, especially since in "real life" her hair is a natural, beautiful gray, and just recently she was voted as having the "Body of the Year." There are many well-known women over 50, a few who are true cultural icons whom we watched grow up right along side us, but I would never refer to them as role models for aging without fear. Too many are soldiers in the anti-aging movement, marching through their 50s and 60s with hair impossibly blond or black, faces too smooth, bodies too taut and toned.
Isn't it time to change how we view aging? Have we created a society of "haves" and "have nots" based not so much on how much we have, but on how much we can spend on looking younger? Have we completely removed any opportunity for a level playing field? Have we fooled ourselves to the point where we actually believe we are younger just by erasing crow's feet with Botox? And do we think we fool others?
Not long ago, I posted an article -- "Why Should Gray Hair Work Against Women?" -- which opened a floodgate of comments and emotions here on Huffington Post (as well as on Facebook and Twitter). It's clear that many people believe once we start to age -- and look it -- we are doomed, especially in the job market. But the good news is these same people are starting to get angry, and take action.
I see more and more women every day talking on Facebook, websites, Twitter, and other social media in an effort to shift the discourse and create a societal sea change. Recently, I asked women on Facebook to post their greatest New Year's wish for post 50 women. Here are a few, reprinted with their permission, that clearly underscore our collective desire to change the way we talk about aging in America:
I hope women over 50 throw their arms around social media and band together to create a strong community and social change. (Zoe Nicholson)
No matter what life has presented you with, we are 50 something and these truly are the best days of our lives. Don't be afraid, embrace your age. (Donna Vesel Ryan)
May you realize that you are braver then you think, smarter than you realize, more beautiful than you imagine, and more valuable that all the treasure on the earth. (Joyce Frazier Melanson)
May we all understand how important it is to take care of ourselves. We have spent the majority of our lives nurturing and caring for others. We are now at a marvelous time in our lives where we are brave enough to embrace new possibilities. (Vickie Stahl)
My wish is that all women over 50 find their voice... and use it. (Denise Taylor Tremaine)
In an effort to move the paradigm shift along, I've come up with a few of my own "Creeds" to live by. I hope these simple words inspire you to embrace your age and live your life to the fullest:
- Be fearless after 50
- Embrace your age, no matter what it is
- Don't focus so much on what others think
- Embracing your age and wanting to feel pretty, healthy and fit are not mutually exclusive.
- Whatever you do, do it for the right reasons
- Get angry about ageism, and take action
- Know how beautiful you truly are
- Support and encourage other women. Chances are good they feel as you do
- Be a role model for younger women by showing them how fearless you are
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"Friend" me on Facebook and "Tweet" me on Twitter (BGrufferman). Staying connected is a powerful tool! And remember ...
Turning 50 is more than an age ... it's a movement.