News personality, Geraldo Rivera, recently celebrated his 70th birthday in an odd way. He tweeted a picture of himself in the almost-buff along with the words, "70 is the new 50." The picture, apparently taken in his bathroom at 2 AM of him adorned with only a white towel covering his nether region, was posted to his Twitter account, at least until he removed it. In a classic "note to self," Rivera later posted "no tweeting after 1am."
I'm not sure Rivera received the accolades he envisioned for a body that is, arguably, in good shape for a man hitting seven decades. One story I saw commented that Rivera's "selfie" -- a picture you take of yourself to post -- was "generally a new age thing." I'm not sure of that reference but ever since Anthony Weiner's infamous Tweet in 2011, these sorts of photos keep cropping up. There appears to be something almost irresistible about taking pictures of yourself and then posting them.
What caught my attention, though, wasn't the picture of Rivera so much as his tagline, "70 is the new 50." I'm sure he meant that as a positive, as a way to say that, today, it's possible to be as fit at 70 as people used to be in their 50s. Almost a decade ago, 50 was touted as the new 30. Don't get me wrong; I'm glad medical and nutritional science is allowing us to live longer and live better longer. As a man in my 50s, that's definitely good news.
There is, however, a bad-news side to this 70-is-new-50 and 50-is-new-30 mentality. Eating disorder behavior and body dissatisfaction, conditions that used to be thought of as the territory of the young, have expanded into middle-age, especially for women. Menopause used to be thought of as a marker for women, a time to shed not only menstruation but also the societal pressures that placed women's self-esteem in a vise. The fifties were the time for women to take a deep breath and relax, even if it meant popping a button on their waistbands. Mid-life was supposed to be a time to stop criticizing yourself, stop measuring yourself against others, stop trying to outrun the clock and become comfortable with who you were.
What used to be is changing. While preparing for a conference on eating disorders, I read some disheartening statistics. One study focused on women ages 50 and above. Almost two-thirds said their weight or shape had a negative effect on their lives. Almost eight in 10 said their weight or shape affected their self-perception. Over a third spent at least half of the last five years dieting. In another study of women ages 60-70, 90% said they felt very or moderately fat. Six in ten reported being dissatisfied with their bodies. Eight in ten said they made efforts to manage their weight. Eating disorders have traditionally plagued younger women. With 70 the new 50, and 50 the new 30, the age of eating disorders is on the rise.
I think what bothers me most about the Geraldo Rivera shot isn't the semi-nudity or the perceived narcissism. What bothers me most is the implied assumption that there's something wrong with you at 70 if you don't look like you're 50. The societal pressure to be young, be fit, be vital just continues to creep upward as we age. There appears to be no cultural time-out.
I remember being a kid and wishing I was older. Now that I'm older am I supposed to go around constantly wishing that I was younger? When do I get to just enjoy being the age I am? From the studies I've seen published, you could make a case that the only older people affected in all this middle and older age body/weight dissatisfaction are female. Geraldo Rivera's tweet argues otherwise.