Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Are You Pro Aging or Anti Aging?

Wanting to stay young is nothing new. Remember Ponce de Leon and his search for The Fountain of Youth?  Ponce de León discovered Florida and his fabled search for The Fountain of Youth is commemorated by this plaque, which marks mineral springs in St. Augustine, Florida. We don't hear about thousands of hopefuls making a pilgrimage to those springs though, so we may assume that while they may be lovely healing waters, they won't give us the blush of 25 again.

People have looked for ways to remain vibrant and youthful since ancient times, but our society has brought obsession with youth to a new plateau with plastic surgery  and the many nostrums in the $80 billion anti-aging industry that promise to keep the dreaded signs of aging at bay.

According to an article in the Huffington Post,"Anti-aging enthusiasts contend that life spans can be prolonged through interventions such as hormone replacement therapy and dietary supplements. Critics, including much of the medical establishment, say many anti-aging interventions are ineffective or harmful."

Even without the anti-aging industry's products, we are the beneficiaries of a "longevity bonus"--with many healthy years predicted after 50. How will we use those years and how will we view the process of aging?

Anti-aging generally applies to methods for slowing, preventing or reversing the aging process. I am anti-anti-aging because I am pro aging. I completely support older adults being as healthy, vibrant and attractive as they can be, and I want that for myself, too. I just do not want to be expected to judge this stage of life by the standards or values of youth. I am not aspiring to be youthful. I am old, and I am okay about that. I do aspire to be radically alive. To me, expressions like "young at heart" are anti-aging with a sugar coating. What is the problem with being old at heart? I've already been young.

Anti-aging may be partly about preserving perceived beauty, but it is also about exerting control, and staving off fear of dying.  Old has advantages, including a bigger, deeper perspective from decades of life experience. I don't like anti-aging. I like pro aging. That means embracing the beautiful opportunities and inner tasks of later life and valuing later life as a profound stage of evolution and development.

Dr. Carol Orsborn

 I wanted to share two womens' pro aging messages, because I find each of them useful and inspiring.
In this You Tube video, author Dr. Carol Orsborn talks about ageism, noting that growing older is either romanticized or reviled  in popular culture, but never shown as it really is. She says to the boomer generation, "Yes we've done a lot about sexism and racism but why haven't we done anything about ageism?"

(Since this is one of the questions I've been asking through Sage's Play, I recognized Dr. Orsborn as a kindred spirit from the start.)
 Dr. Orsborn suggests that the reason that boomers haven't addressed ageism is that they have internalized the message that young is good and old is bad. Older adults don't want to be associated with being old. They want to pass for young.

Take a few minutes to watch her talk. It's worthwhile.

I follow Dr. Orsborn's reflections on aging at her digest Fierce with Age. where I am happy to be among the contributors.

Another writer I follow is Barbara Hannah Grufferman, a very pretty, fit New Yorker who writes for the Huffington Post and AARP. Check out Barbara Hannah Grufferman's article on embracing aging written for the AARP blog. In it, she writes,

"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 is in our bank accounts, but on how much we spend on trying to look 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?"

Barbara Hannah Grufferman
I don't know if we are trying to fool ourselves or others with anti-aging strategies, or whether we are simply trying to stay above water, to remain visible and engaged in the pressured confines of our ageist society. There are lots of ways to remain engaged and visible. You can even do it with silver hair.

I am very glad to see a grassroots pro aging movement growing. Ageism is unhealthy for all of us. It's time for each one of us to develop effective strategies to counter it.

I don't want to fight aging. The mere idea tires me out. I want to enjoy this time of life in ways that feel fulfilling. We will age; it's just a question of how we will do it. As Grufferman points out in her article, it's possible to embrace your age AND to place your attention on being fit, healthy and attractive. They are not mutually exclusive. Putting all of one's attention on trying to pass for young could even mean that one is so busy with outer appearances, one doesn't take the time to engage in some of the meaningful inner work of later life. This is a sure-fire recipe for avoiding wisdom. I myself would rather place my attention on becoming at least somewhat wiser as I age. What about you? What is your vision of aging?


  1. What age is Dr. Grufferman? To me she looks barely 50 and a bit like she uses Botox or has already had some work done. Is that part of her philosophy of aging positively? I don't know if someone in their early 50s has much to say about what's coming as yes, she's aging, but she's not yet into old age.

    I looked but could not find where either writer gave their birth year or age. Maybe I just missed it but it wasn't easy to find-- is there a reason for that? Since Dr. Orsborn says she writes for the baby-boomers, that could put her anywhere from I think 68 to 50s somewhere. Is their not giving their age an indicator that they think the number shouldn't matter?

    I can't get into the idea of fierce with age but I can get into positive aging. Some of what I do relates not so much to trying to stay younger looking or live longer but to live better for as long as possible. I can't say I am pro or anti aging as frankly it's not really a choice I can vote on. I am aging, and I try to be realistic for what that means. Some does relate to physical beauty, some to different ways of doing things.

    And I also resist that term young at heart. It makes zero sense to me but then I never thought of myself as young at heart when I was young. I don't have a desire to kick up my heels or do something because a young person would do it-- nor to give up what I like because it's not age appropriate.

    When I turned 60, it bothered me. I think because it felt like the gateway to old age and leaving beyond middle age. Turns out 60s are kind of a vague period and not really the same for how they impact us; but for me they ended up feeling more like middle age, other than a few more aches and paints and having to sign up for Medicare/make decisions on SS. Now though that I will turn 70 this year in October, I find it exhilarating. It's like okay now this is the real deal and I'm ready for it. I guess I'll find out if my 70s truly do feel more like genuine, real deal, old age. I've tried to experience what is happening in my life all along the way and that's what I expect for this period-- be there and don't pretend I am somewhere else.

  2. Hi Rain, Thanks for this wonderful message. I am sure that Barbara Grufferman is still quite young and her viewpoint is different from mine in some significant ways. I am glad that she is doing the work she is doing to open younger old folks up. Carol Orsborn is much more aligned with my own views and attitudes. I think she is in her 60s. She doesn't hide her age. I just don't remember it exactly. Aging is quite an adventure. I appreciate what you have shared about your own experience.

  3. I think what turned me off was that word fierce. It just struck me wrong. Like in your face. Obnoxious. Fighting. Angry. I don't care for serene either but we don't need an adjective for aging, do we? What about just it is what it is and make the most of it. I don't want to be an in your face type of person. It is so typical though of the Baby Boomer group that want it all their way at every age. It's not like old age is superior to all other ages. It is a step along the way to the end. That's neither bad nor good. It's reality. I guess if people want to sell things, sell workshops, books, they have to come up with something different, something that is going to push their view onto others. It just isn't the way I want to be or what i like to be around. I prefer the way you seem to present aging as reality but don't be caught in the stereotype of what it was for our grandmothers. We can make it be whatever we want for us. Less options, of course, but not none. I think it's a rather exciting time where we did the things we were supposed to do based on culture anyway and now we can do what works for us. I began to feel that freedom from the time I turned 60-- after I got over the fact that I really was 60 something lol

  4. I find Carol Orsborn to be full of great insights about aging. She is not angry or aggressive or serene but she is thoughtful and inventive. I like her work. In my musical revue, I have a fierce female archetype Baba Yaga. It's not that she's the flip side of the "Sweet little old lady" stereotype because she is mythical, but she does illustrate the value of fierceness in cutting through. I think that a well-explored old age is an integrative summation and a harvest, and in that sense it is better than the earlier times of life. Age if we are lucky or take the time to do the inner work allows us to deeper our self-understanding and contribute to others from a more full viewpoint.

  5. well we all see aging differently and the word fierce doesn't work for me. It stands for all the things people object to about the aged today as in demanding they/we/me get something while denying it to babies as in health care. And what about the old folks who supported Romney because they wanted things to stay the way they were? Suppposedly he had a majority of those over 65 voting for him. What the heck was that all about?

    Old age is very different for different people and will change for us as we go through it. Like the link you had about the woman celebrating 56 by running a long distance. She may be the very one having a knee or hip replacement at 66. Some of that is a denial of the body actually capable of wearing out body parts. And yes, some can keep right on doing those things into their 80s but it's not the norm or even what we should aspire to being. We should be us to the ultimate that is even if that means knitting in a rocking chair.

    I spend time off and on writing or thinking about old age but such introspection is not central to my life at all (but where you are creating a play about it, I can see where that is different for you. And that might be the difference between us. Mostly I haven't written about the old other than side characters (which I do love having in stories)< but I am building up the impetus to write a romance that will be about a woman in her late 50s, man nearly 70 and second male character of say early 60s although that age is undecided. It would be the first time I wrote about those issues in fiction.

    I wrote a blog which will be Saturday in my Thoughts blog about how we are the mother of who we will be and were the mother of who we are as well as going into the various aspects that make us who we are today. I spent time thinking about it for that but otherwise, I don't feel the need to constantly reevaluate where I am or have been or want to be. I try to live in the now which doesn't really involve thinking about aging as such other than when the now presents me with some aspect I cannot ignore-- like a muscle that won't do what it is supposed to do.

    Thinking of spending a lot of time on the inner work reminds me of a friend who was spending a lot of time connecting with her inner child-- workshops, meditations, the whole bit. I couldn't relate to that either. Maybe some of this is just our different personalities, experiences, expectations.

    I did quite a bit of reading about 'old age' when I was in my 50s, as it interested me then what might be coming and how I could make the most of it; but lately I read only really your blog and Ronni's for those that center on old age. And my own is a mix of many topics with aging being only one aspect. I might write though about how I think aging would involve one of the romances for Rain Trueax whenever I get the historicals roughed out and have time to think about that which might follow 'A Montana Christmas' where i actually found this possible new contemporary romance for the elders. I like the idea of a romance involving older characters. And have liked movies that sometimes do that so well-- and other times set up unrealistic expectations for what elders (the majority) can expect.

  6. Another wonderful blog, Gaea, that continues to help me broaden my understanding of ageism. The video of Dr. Orsborn IS well worth watching. I actually watched several more of her videos posted on YouTube. When she speaks of an Age Consciousness Group ... she is describing Sage-ing Circles. Thanks again, for helping to broaden my understanding!

  7. I'm not really into the choice...of dichotomies: pro or anti. I'm much more a both/and kind of person. Anything else locks me into being for or against, on one side or another. What would nature do? grow, evolve, inter-be. Yea, that works better for me. :-)

  8. Sue, Glad you enjoyed Carol Orsborn's perspectives. I am reading Christina Baldwin's book Calling the Circle right now. She is quite a wonderful writer and the book is very relevant to our Sage-ing work. Karen, are you both for and against war? Sometimes it makes sense to take a stand. Anti-aging as a field of thought promotes youth-ism. It plays on people's fears of growing old. Pro aging supports engaging one's aging experience as a growth opportunity. Rain, the "inner work" of aging describes the developmental tasks of later life, such as life review, life repair, leaving a legacy.

  9. I wonder how much of this is related to our experiences with the elderly. I had two great grandmothers, who early on were examples. One was a kick up your heels type who wore wigs and still had men wanting to be boyfriends well into her old age. The other more the sit in a chair and have the family gather around her. They didn't really talk about aging. They did it and not in any negative way. Same with my mother and mother-in-law. They didn't take classes, even read the kinds of books I did in my 50s, but they did age with grace. Mom broke a hoe handle over the back of a bull that had gotten out when she was in her mid 70s somewhere. She was walking and exercising actively right til the end of her life which came pretty fast. With those examples, it's probably influenced how I see it. Aging is not bad or good. It just is and to ignore what is means missing a part of a person's life. There are parts that obviously are better than others which is true of all of life's stages.

  10. Rain, what wonderful women you have had as kin! Thank you for sharing these great stories of how they aged.

    I am working in the field of creative, conscious aging, so I naturally do a lot of research, reading and reflection on the aging process, and I communicate with others about what I notice.

  11. Thanks for the "heads up" on the book you are currently reading by Christina Baldwin. I checked out her website today and found her passion for "Storycatching" and "Circles" quite inspiring. I'm sorry now that I missed her session at the Sage-ing Conference ... did you happen to attend her presentation?

  12. I did attend...I liked it a lot and think she has done years of amazing work using the circle for leadership and change--plus she is a wonderful writer.


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