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Redefining Being “Old”

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Redefining Being “Old”

These days we’re quick to categorize people. Just ask any Millennial aged person, the stigma they face just because of the year they were born is one they just can’t shake. The same goes for those of us in our later years – old people. But are we really old? Most of us who are, technically, old, don’t think of ourselves that way.

We’re healthy, active, engaged, the very opposite of what an old person is in our minds. Old is something of a state of mind, it seems, rather than a chronological fact.

If Not Old, Then What?

So what are we? Elderly? Retirees? Seniors? Hags? There are lots of words skirting around the ugly term “old”, mostly because we have an image of a grumpy, hunched over, wrinkled thing, and that’s not us (well, not all of us). The fact is most people in their 60s and 70s see old as other people, not themselves.

The question becomes, should we redefine what old is, or should we find a new term all together? So far nothing’s stuck too well, although many appreciate Boomers, however that, of course, eventually expires. One woman, Maureen Conners, a fashion technology expert, calls us perennials, as if we’re flowers blooming over and over again and again (and again). A fresh term hasn’t solidified yet, but one thing’s for sure, old is a short four-letter word.

Pride in Old

Some people think we should take the term and embrace it, change what it signifies. That means “old” isn’t insulting, it’s a compliment, like how we describe an admirable older person as wise, or mature, or sophisticated. It would have to come down to us to rethink the word, which means we’d have to tell everyone we’re old.

Maggie Kuhn, a co-founder of the anti-aging group, the Gray Panthers (now there’s a term), would give speaking events in the 1970s. She’d tell everyone she’s an old woman, beaming with pride, and encourage the audience to do the same. It’s a nice idea, but it didn’t stick. Perhaps she’s onto something, though. Maybe we should change our attitudes.

The Media and Old Age

For so long America has been a culture that embraces youth. It makes sense, then, that we feel resistant to classify ourselves as the opposite. But as we live longer, so do actors, and so do consumers, and that means shifts in how the media must sell. It isn’t all young people going to the stores now, we older people are active, we have money, and we need to be entertained just as much as those Millennials.

On Netflix, there’s a show with Lilly Tomlin and Jane Fonda, “Gracie and Frankie” about senior women, and the beauty magazine Allure has decided to remove the phrase “anti-aging” from its repertoire. Going further, they even struck a deal with the glamorous Helen Mirren to be their spokeswoman. It seems being old is becoming more common, and less terrifying. So maybe Maggie Kuhn was onto something after all. Whatever you want to call it, our generation is as lively, and energetic as ever, and that’s something to be proud of.

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