Three positively-presented stories about ageing caught my eye today. Playgrounds for the elderly. Vogue’s 100 yr-old model. And the secret of youth discovered (again). Or as the BBC puts it, scientists discover why some “retain their youthful looks” and some “age badly”. Erm, losing youthful looks is not “ageing badly”, it’s normal! Looking old is not a crime.
Keep young and beautiful
The “secret of youth” story was presented as an exciting breakthrough. Given the multi-billion pound cosmetic anti-ageing industry, researchers who find a way to keep people – women especially – looking young are onto a gold mine.
I’m all for research, ideas and products which tackle the real problems of ageing, like loss of sight or inaccessible public spaces or rethinking residential care. After a recent run-in with L’Oreal eye-shadow, I want cosmetics that flatter rather than coarsen an ageing skin. But why this assumption that we should try to look ten years younger, as if ageing itself is a bad thing? That’s a backward step.
Time to play
“Cities around the world have been designing outdoor gyms and play areas for older generations to improve fitness and well-being,” says the Guardian of playgrounds for the elderly. “Even non-specialist playgrounds are getting multi-generational. Play’s not just for kids…”
Absolutely. Though I have mixed feelings about “elderly only” things. Ideally, we want multi-generational projects where young, old and in-between feel happy to give it a go. Ping!, which provides free summer table tennis across the UK including Oxford, does exactly this. It’s fantastic to see it bringing different generations together.
Yet I also run “over-50s” table tennis. My justification is that the age limit signals that it’s a safe space for older people to try an activity they might not otherwise attempt. Though ultimately I’d rather the generations intermingled, creating “elderly playgrounds” encourages older people to have a go. And that’s no bad thing.
Looking old in Vogue
I was suspicious of Vogue using a 100 year old model. Harvey Nichols are running an advertisement linked to the photo shoot, and I usually avoid such marketing campaigns. Especially as I am definitely not a Vogue-Harvey Nicks sort of person.
But I clicked. And actually, I liked it. Bo Gilbert, the model, comes across as an interesting old lady who enjoys being stylish, as many older women do. Picking a 100 yr-old is clearly a marketing gimmick, but there was a point to it. Bo isn’t featured as defying her age, but as someone who like Vogue has been interested in fashion through the decades. She’s dressed up and made up, but they weren’t focused on making her look younger.
For all its prominence, the story about discovering the secret of youthful looks is the least interesting of the three. I’m much more inspired by the picture of older people being active and open to the world.