Maybe you've had this experience:
You wake up groggy one morning, and while trying to maneuver a piece of bread into the toaster, you catch a glimpse of some older (to be generous) person in the shiny side of the toaster.
But you're about 10-15 years older than you really are.
At least in your own mind.
And that's where “subjective age” comes in. Turns out that after around age 25, we tend to think we're 20 percent younger than we actually are.
In making this finding, Michigan State University researchers had an unsurprising, yet worrisome conclusion: We don't want to get old. We don't even want to look like we're getting old.
As they reported in Frontiers of Psychology:
Why does a shift toward affiliating with youth happen more as people age? ...In short, people try to psychologically dissociate themselves from stigmatized groups (i.e., older adults). When stigmatized outgroups are salient, people engage in avoidance-oriented behavior...
Hmm... that got me thinking: How widespread is this mindset?
Well, with aging Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers in charge of the cultural moment, you can pretty much guess.
The Twitterverse recently noted that the glamorous, ready-for-change women on the current TV series And Just Like That (formerly of Sex and the City, which ran 1998-2004) are the same age – mid-50s – as the well-preserved but heading-into-the-sunset women on The Golden Girls back in the day (1985-1992).
One Tweeter was deeply shaken to realize that in Season 1 of the The Golden Girls, Rose (played by Betty White) was 55: “This unsettles me. This is Charlotte's age on And Just Like That... We have reached convergence.”
Currently, most oldsters-looking-younger is a matter of styling. You'd never see Golden Girl Estelle in Carrie Bradshaw's Manolo Blahniks. And from Charlotte's of-the-moment Junior League dresses, to Miranda's flowing frocks, these three are very much Vogue devotees.
Columbia sportswear is more my thing. But, no denying, I'm after a similar older-but-awesomely-relevant look. I've even made plum-colored hair my trademark. So there.
I'm no math whiz, but I know that as my age number gets bigger, so does the 20-percent-younger figure. So at 100, I will be lopping 20 years off. Deal!
It will be illuminating to see where these characters – and the rest of us – are in another 25 years. Indications are that we won't be stopping at style, given the growing array of procedures available for turning back the clock, with plastic and orthopedic surgery just for starters.
I hate to underestimate the culture, but I have a feeling the stigma against aging will persist as long as we imagine we can convincingly defy it.
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