The Changing Definition of a Full Life by Luke Yoquinto and Joseph Coughlin in The Atlantic and other articles like When Did I Get Old by Alice Fisher M.A. M.S.W. on her blog The Radical Age Movement really resonate with my own thinking and experience. Both articles are asking the questions, How old is old? What does old look like nowadays? How do we treat those we consider old?
I am actively seeking out more articles like these because I think this topic is long overdue for discussion. In the first article the authors discuss how people in their late sixties are not really “old” these days. They use the example of David Bowie and how his death, at 69, was viewed as coming too soon and that he was still very active as an artist right up to his death.
In the second post from Alice Fisher, she writes about a discussion with a friend. She and her friend, Karen, are both 70. They talk about how they are treated differently by people and feel old when they internalize the negative messages and stereotypes in society and in the media. This can be dangerous, Fisher says, because when people internalize the negative messages it can affect their health and longevity. She continues and cites a study:
“We are segregated. We are marginalized. We are oppressed. And all this can easily become internalized as feelings of worthlessness. Becca Levy, Ph.D., a psychologist and doctor at Yale University, has done quite a bit of research in this area. Her results demonstrate that older people who are subject to negative stereotypes of ‘old’ are not only mentally but also physically less resilient than those who see ‘old’ as a positive stage of life. Older people who internalize the negative stereotypes are more likely to shorten their life span.”
There was a part of Fisher’s post that really struck a cord with me. Her friend Karen says that, “when I’m doing something that requires the least amount of physical agility, there is always someone who wants to help me even though I’m capable of doing it myself.” I felt like laughing because I recognized this as an experience I had at my yoga class. A woman kept helping me put away my yoga props after class. It started to make me feel uncomfortable. I finally said to her one day, “Why do you keep helping me, do I look disabled or something?” She really made me uncomfortable and I thought to myself, ” Do I look 100?” Then I thought maybe I am being too sensitive and now she thinks I am nuts. But after reading this post by Alice Fisher, I am thinking I was right in my interpretation.
I think the stereotyping and negative messages can make us less resilient because it wears us down. You are often confronted with it when out in society ( and at yoga class) and feel you must shield yourself against this onslaught.
I do think things will be changing but it is hard to have to live through the transition. And I really don’t want my longevity cut short by this stuff.