Monday, February 8, 2010

Warped Ideas About Aging Make for a Phobic Culture

I often think about our obsession with youth as a culture, and how demented it all seems. I mean, besides wanting the vigor and agility and all our body parts working and such – these are things we’d all like to hang on to, and there’s nothing crazy about that. I’m talking about the way we romanticize being young, to the point where we become consumed with the ludicrous notion of “perfection” (enter cosmetic surgery here – above and below the belt) and rob ourselves of the benefits of aging by assuming ways of thinking and operating that we have long outgrown. We make ourselves miserable over every grey hair, bald spot or wrinkle we find, as if these things make us less attractive. So we buy in – often for the wrong reasons – waging war on ourselves, and any discernible evidence that we’re getting older. Anti-aging products and programs are big business. If you’ve got money you can really go the distance, branding yourself in every conceivable way, dressing the part, and frequenting clubs or parties to flaunt your goods – all of it par for the course in Hollywood. Yet this is where a lot of our ideas about age come from.

When I was a teenager – or younger – I used to look at people over 40 (hell, even 35) and think to myself how uncool they were. I was stupid, and na├»ve, and uncultured, but also the product of a massive marketing machine in our films, television and media that propagates the idea of young as hip and “older” as washed up, tired or out of the groove. It’s unbelievably twisted and backward. One of the most popular sitcoms of all time, Friends, features an episode of the gang sitting around the kitchen table, lamenting over the hideous prospect of turning 30. In Sex and the City, Charlotte York (played by Kristin Davis), a knockout of a woman by any standard, battles the feeling of being an “old maid”, refusing to age another year on her birthday. Hallmark cards joke about the so-called horror of turning 40 with the greeting, “are you 39 again?!!”

This is all old news. Phobias around aging or so deeply entrenched in North American culture we hardly ever see them for what they really are: distorted, out of touch and deranged. Funny – just exactly what one might define as senile.


Anonymous said...

Hello Jesse, this is a great post, and hits the nail on the head perfectly. I agree absolutely with you that treating getting older as a "horror" simply does oneself a disservice. The only thing it achieves is to make one feel even older and "washed up". I propose that we all do ourselves a huge favour by lightening up, getting real and celebrating all the good stuff about ourselves. It's so much more satisfying. Best regards, Suzy Barker, Just Midlife (

Jesse Mendes said...

Dear Suzy

My heartfelt thanks for your feedback, comments and support.


Jonathan Herbert said...


I found this post eloquent and elegant.

I refuse Hollywood, TV, magazines, newspapers, radio and as much advertising as I can manage to avoid, in all its forms. New York City often reminds me of the opening scenes of Blade Runner (a movie I did see, and really liked).

On the other hand, I remember the peace I felt in Tulum, nearly completely devoid of the clamor of the propaganda machine as it attempts to willfully erode one's self-esteem, offering up external solutions to lighten your wallet but never your load.

If you don't know this book, you may find it interesting: When Society Becomes an Addict by Anne Wilson Schaef

It's wonderful to learn, as our moment alive continues, that life never gets less delicious, less sensual or erotic. Aging is a powerful, giving process. And death is sacred.

Thank you.


Jesse Mendes said...

Jonathan, my apologies for such a tardy reply to your thoughtful post. Thank you *so much* for commenting. I have just begun to explore your site and can already HIGHLY recommend it to readers:

I am so glad we met. I'll be in touch.