Aging Is Highly Stigmatized, But It Shouldn't Be

Older woman sitting outside

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There's this stigma that getting older isn't fun. It's been portrayed in the media as a dreadful process and a sure promise of aches, pains, and monotony. I'm curious who or what is responsible for these ideals that seem to chase us throughout adolescence, making so many anxious to greet adulthood. 

This longstanding unwritten declaration of doom around aging has sparked a phenomenon where we outline arbitrary milestones as a means of highlighting our successes and shortcomings. To heighten our anxieties a bit more, we link our age to our physical appearance, taking inventory of how our figure and muscle memory compare to younger generations.

We do all of this rather than offer gratitude for all our bodies and minds withstand over time. The truth is: Every idea we have about getting "old" is just that; an idea. These ideas never have to be claimed as our reality. We don't have to accept age as our demise but rather our essence. 

I panic a little whenever I think about approaching my 30s. Just yesterday, I was a sassy, misunderstood, and overachieving pre-teen. As I experience sadness for the previously naive versions of myself, I also feel obligated to part ways with my youth and vibrancy. Why does getting older have to mean I'm no longer exciting and spontaneous? With this question in mind, I'm led to wonder how best to age with grace. 

Where Does Stigma Around Aging Come From?

It's no surprise many of us deal with anxiety about getting older. Within the last 20 years, much of what we see around us doesn't align with embracing the aging process as the natural phenomenon that it is. Studies show the boom in cosmetic surgery is tied directly to felt or anticipated age discrimination within society. This has impacted our need to cling tightly to the societal perception of youth. More commonly in North America, assumptions around old age are negative, associating it with mental and physical illnesses or deficiencies, and of course, loneliness.

The two main topics that haunt us when we reflect on our lives relate to appearance and personal accomplishments. It's not a coincidence media channels love highlighting a younger demographic and their larger-than-life achievements, some boasting closets filled with thousand-dollar bags, shoes, jewelry, and a luxury car for each day of the week; you name it. Although entertaining, we must remain aware to avoid making unrealistic comparisons about what we've been able to accomplish within twice the amount of years as our young celebrity "idols."

It's important to understand continuing to hyper-focus on this era of not-so-reality TV, celebrity idolatry, and validation seeking keeps us in a state of lack. Within this millennium alone, a slew of shows focusing on cosmetic surgeries have aired and have proven to pique viewers' interest in getting similar procedures done. While everyone has a right to do what they want to their body, the direct correlation between cosmetic surgery culture and body image dissatisfaction is undeniable. 

Embracing Aging 

Remaining grounded in our path and learning to shake feelings of self-doubt can help us live a carefree life at any age. After connecting with men and women of all ages, I was pleasantly surprised to learn there does come a point where we can embrace the beauty of the aging process.

"I felt more beautiful in my 30s than I did in my 20s," Nicole Williams*, 71, shares. "Although I'm not obsessed with numbers, I'm very much aware society provides better opportunities for the young and beautiful. My advice is to take care of yourself mentally and physically. Practice a  beauty regimen that works for you.  Eat properly, get regular checkups, and exercise regularly. Most importantly, be happy with who you are naturally." 

For Jasmine Brown*, 40, learning to embrace aging has been a process. "I'd be lying if I said I didn't have lapses of doubts or comparisons, but I am learning to stand firm in the mantra, 'My path is my path," she says. "I also find solace in the fact that there seems to be a community of my peers committed to learning and growing through this phase as well."

When thinking about the future, Jordan Beckett, 30, is full of optimism. "The older I get, the more access there is to achieve the dreams I have for myself," they said. "You no longer have to worry about restrictions around age, which can be discouraging. Despite the stigma of growing old, aging is a blessing in disguise. I feel more youthful at 30 than I did at 25 or 23. There is a clarity and a sense of calm that came for me between 29-30, and I think that comes with maturity and deepening your practices. I find joy in being creative and exercising my imagination every day." 

Jonathan Thomas*, 56, is also welcoming aging with open arms. "What is there to worry about, or why is there a need to fight it?" he says. "It's meant to be a process. Let it be a process."

Final Thoughts

Feeling worried about getting older is quite common (and normal) because the future feels unknown. But, we owe it to ourselves to accept aging as a beautiful gift. Every year brings more opportunity, abundance, and knowledge. Aging can be an exciting process if we find ways to release our expectations and flow through the process. Being able to experience life over different seasons is all the more reason to practice gratitude. Take it easy; aging is what we make it. 

*Some names have been changed.

Article Sources
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  1. Pearl RL, Percec I. Ageism and health in patients undergoing cosmetic procedures. Aesthetic Surgery Journal. 2019;39(7):NP288-NP292.

  2. Dionigi RA. Stereotypes of aging: their effects on the health of older adults. Journal of Geriatrics. 2015;2015:e954027.

  3. Crockett RJ, Pruzinsky T, Persing JA. The influence of plastic surgery “reality TV” on cosmetic surgery patient expectations and decision making. Plast Reconstr Surg. 2007;120(1):316-324.

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