25 September 2018
When you type “ageing” into Google, the first things to come up are links to “anti-ageing treatments”, “reducing thinning, sagging, wrinkling and the appearance of age spots”, and even an “Elixir of life anti-ageing smoothie recipe”.
What an absolute tragedy.
Although not much of a surprise that even amongst those who’ve lived the richest lives,
who’ve witnessed war and peace,
who’ve lived through the most exponential expansion of technology in history,
who’ve helped to build and shape the physical, moral and philosophical foundations of our society,
who’ve parented and grandparented and great-grandparented (and probably great great grandparented!) us,
there is still a focus on improving appearance and “fighting ageing”.
Why this is an issue for individuals of all ages
Perhaps some of you reading this are thinking something along the lines of, “You’re so young. How can you possibly make any comment on ageing?”
And you’d be right that I’m young. But I too am ageing. And I hope that I will be lucky enough to be old one day.
And the comments made about ageing affect all of us. Because even from a young age these ideals about being old are drilled in. Ageing creams are being marketed to younger and younger generations of women. We’re being told that if we don’t “do the right things now” we will “regret it when we’re older”.
I also Googled definitions of ageing.
You know what came up?
Ageing: reaching the end of a useful life.
The implication that ageing is the equivalent of being useless.
Again, what a tragedy. What a misunderstanding of the richness of a life.
We are more than our appearance.
I have this memory of when I was about 4 or 5 years old. And I am on the lounge next to my Nan who was doing some knitting. We were watching TV (I think it might have been Wheel of Fortune?), and my Pop was on another couch close by. The gas heater was on, and it was warm and cosy. I remember kneeling and looking closely at my Nan’s face and her wrinkles. I remember touching her skin and being interested in how it moved, playing with her grey hair. I remember feeling so content and happy in that moment.
Several years later when I was in my teens I remember hearing about how much my Nan had hated her wrinkles, and I was genuinely shocked. Until that moment I had naively thought that she felt fine about them, as I had. I associated her wrinkles with interest and comfort. As a child I had just accepted them. They hadn’t signified reaching the end of a useful life, or being unattractive. They had just been part of my Nan, whom I loved and adored, who made me laugh, and who made me feel safe and cared for and happy.
To me, she was so much more than her wrinkles.
A lecturer at uni who I had an enormous amount of respect for once said (and I’m paraphrasing here), “Why would I want to get rid of my wrinkles? They show that I’ve laughed! They show that I’ve smiled. They are symbols that I have felt emotion. They help me to communicate emotion to my clients. They tell a story.”
And as I’ve pursued my own clinical work, this has stuck with me. Will I get wrinkles? Definitely. What will that mean to me? That I’ve done good work. That I’ve been able to communicate authenticity in my responses to my clients. That I have felt real, genuine emotion in my life.
One of my favourite areas to work in is older adult mental health.
It is a pleasure and a privilege, and they’ve given me some of the best life advice I’ve ever received. It is not always pleasant getting older. You lose some of the functions you once had, you may not be as quick off the mark, and often there are significant physical aches and pains.
But you don’t lose your passions (despite what is commonly thought, research actually indicates that we get happier as we get older).
You don’t lose the capacity to love others.
You don’t lose the things you’ve created over the years.
You don’t lose the wisdom and knowledge you’ve shared.
So you want to know how to fight ageing?
Fight the idea that ageing is all about appearance, because it’s a losing battle.
Don’t waste your time and energy focusing only on how you look, because in the end we all age, we all get wrinkles, and despising them just leaves you frustrated, anxious, and sad. Consider all the other aspects of your life that are important to you.
Age like a fine wine.
Another definition refers to ageing as “the process of change in the properties of a material occurring over a period, either spontaneously or through deliberate action. E.g. the judicious use of oak ageing means the wines are capable of being confused with the great French Chardonnays.” Pursue joy, laugh often, seek out passion. And just like the oak, your youth will shine through and be enjoyed as beautifully as a great French Chardonnay.
Keep doing things you love, and don’t ever stop learning.
There is some evidence behind this one. Research suggests that continuing to do new things can help protect your brain from dementia and brain ageing. So do something brand new. And keep at it – if you’re finding it hard, you’re training your brain.
Try to see yourself as others see you. As the whole you.
Build self-compassion around thoughts about ageing. Self-criticism is so rampant, and we are our own worst critic! But you can learn to be compassionate toward yourself. Think about how others see you. Remember they love you, not only because of your appearance, but because of all the other wonderful qualities you have and all you bring to their lives. And try to appreciate and build those characteristics in yourself. By doing this, you’re not only helping yourself, but you are modelling to all those who are younger than you that it is okay to age, that they don’t have to fear becoming older, that you can accept your wrinkles as a 5 year old does – as something that simply is.
If you would like support or help around ageing or body image concerns, please give us a call. We’d love to help you to overcome your concerns and lead a more rich and fulfilling life.
Brodie is a psychologist who is passionate about working with older adults to assist them to bust the myths about ageing and to continue to live lives full of purpose and meaning. She enjoys working with adults and young people who have difficulty managing strong emotions, assisting them to develop tailored strategies to manage feelings more effectively & improve relationships. She also has an interest in working creatively with families, assisting parents to better understand and respond to their child’s behaviour and strengthen the parent-child relationship, to achieve the best outcomes for the whole family.