I suspected that I might find a kindred spirit in Anne Karpf, and her excellent article in the Guardian about why we shouldn’t fear getting old confirms it. Karpf writes of the turning point in our twenties when disdain for those younger than us turns to disregard for our elders, and the consequent body dysmorphia, “propelled at least partly by a fear of ageing, [that] has become a cultural condition.” So many adolescents are getting Botox injections that there’s a name for it: “teen toxing!”
Karpf suggests, interestingly, that “the two main ways in which ageing is represented are actually aspects of the same gerontophobia (the dread of growing old and hostility to old people).” In one scenario, olders contribute nothing and and aging is pure decline; in the other, denial simply eradicates it. Apparently New Age guru Deepak Chopra’s followers join him in a land where “old age, senility, infirmity and death do not exist and are not even entertained as a possibility”. “Now where would that be – la-la land?” Karpf asks tartly. She and I are working to describe the vast and nuanced territory between those extremes—the land we actually inhabit, in which “Ageing is a mixture of gains and losses” (the title of the article).
I liked her analysis of an anecdote by a 61-year-old woman, who, upon entering a room full of gray heads, forgets for a moment that she is one of them. “This is like people who say: ‘I don’t feel old,’ as though there were some special feeling that age brings, instead of just being themselves but older,” Karpf writes. And I loved the concluding anecdote quoting Grey Panthers founder Maggie Kuhn. “Her 30th birthday was her worst, she recalled – when she was 85 – and her battlecry, ‘Learning and sex until rigor mortis,’ is as welcome today as ever.” I’ll second that. A copy of Karpf’s new book, How to Age, is in the mail and I can’t wait to read it.