Why Are We So Afraid Of Getting Old?

‘Ageing is not a problem to be fixed or a disease to be cured’

We’ve all heard the saying, ‘Oh you never ask a lady her age.’ But why is that? Because once we reach a certain point in our lives we start to dread getting older. We fear it, loathe it and do everything we can to stop it – and the billion-dollar beauty industry banks on it.

But why are we so afraid of getting old? When we’re young we celebrate birthdays with big parties and cake. In our twenties the cake turns into champagne but the celebration is still there. Yet then, usually somewhere in our thirties and definitely by our forties, the celebrations start to slow down. More often than not they become nonexistent or at least reluctant – and then at some point it becomes downright rude to ask someone’s age. Well, a woman’s anyway.

As a society we live in fear of the word OLD. Yet, for most of us, growing old is inevitable – if we should be so lucky.

Ask the mum who died, leaving behind her young children, if she wishes she could have grown old. Ask the young girl who died before she got to learn how to ride a bike if she wishes she could have grown old.

Growing old is inevitable, if we should be so lucky
(Credit: Getty)

We’re bombarded with the idea of how precious time is, so why do we disconnect this with age and ageing? Instead, we spend so much time (and money) trying to fight it, desperately clinging to this social ideal of youth.

“Ageing is not a problem to be fixed or a disease to be cured,” says Ashton Applewhite in her TedTalk ‘Let’s End Ageism’. “It is a natural, powerful, lifelong process that unites us all.”

“Women experience the double whammy of ageism and sexism,” she adds. “So we experience ageing differently. There’s a double standard at work here – shocker! The notion that ageing enhances men and devalues women. Women reinforce this double standard when we compete to stay young, another punishing and losing proposition.”

While most of us would agree we are much more comfortable with ourselves, our bodies, our lives and our sexuality as we age, why does this not translate into society? Instead, the idea of eternal youth is celebrated as the ideal.

Women tend to become more comfortable with themselves as they age
(Credit: Getty)

In her talk, Applewhite discusses how negative messages about ageing and late life bombard us: “wrinkles are ugly, old people are pathetic,” she says of what becomes engrained in us through cultural norms. Women become old and haggard while men become ‘silver foxes’ and are likened to a fine wine, in that they get better with age…

“You can’t make money off satisfaction, but shame and fear create markets, and capitalism always needs new markets,” she says. “Who says wrinkles are ugly? The multi-billion-dollar skin care industry. Who says perimenopause and low-T and mild cognitive impairment are medical conditions? The trillion-dollar pharmaceutical industry.”

So what can we do?

“Longevity is a fundamental hallmark of human progress,” says Applewhite. So reject the fear and celebrate the evolution. Once upon a time, humans were lucky to live long enough to see their thirties – now we are living longer than ever before. Ageism feeds on denial. Just like racism and sexism, the fear is based on the idea of us and them, yet it’s something that, for most people, is inevitable.

Longevity is a fundamental hallmark of human progress
(Credit: Getty)

Marie claire recently teamed up with T2 in an initiative to encourage us to start a dialogue on what are often considered sensitive or taboo topics, in the hopes of breaking down ignorances and prejudices. Ageism is a socially constructed idea, which means we can change it!

So reject the idea ageing is a negative, embrace every day, every wrinkle and every experience. Celebrate your birthdays, call your grandparents, hire that mature-age candidate for the job or invite your elderly neighbour over for a cuppa. You might just be amazed at what you get out of it.

Want to read more about ways to challenge social ignorances? Then click here.

Related stories