Life After 50: The End of Aging as We Know It

Isn't it time to change how we view aging? Have we created a society of "haves" and "have nots" based not so much on how much we have, but on how much we can spend on looking younger?
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There's nothing short of a not-so-quiet revolution picking up massive steam on the Internet... and not a moment too soon.

We are continuously bombarded with messages at every turn urging us to join the war against aging (at a cost). We listen to the "anti-aging sirens" sing sweet words of encouragement (and promises) in our ears whenever we turn on the television, see a movie, or read a magazine (even those allegedly aimed at "older women"). "Youth is beauty," the sirens sing. "You don't really want to age... do you? Who will hire you? Who will love you? Who will desire you? Come with us, and be young, young, young..."

Advertisers who desperately want the baby boomer dollars often use models half our age, or those so airbrushed that they make 50 truly look like it's the new 40 (a ridiculous line invented by some marketer, no doubt) in a distasteful attempt to have us believe that we can, in fact, reverse the clock.

Plastic surgery is on the rise (for men as well as women) even in the face of massive unemployment and high debt loads among the "over 50" market. A recent Wall Street Journal article -- "Debt Hobbles Older Americans" -- opens by announcing "More Americans are reaching their 60s with so much debt they can't afford to retire," and yet we, as a group, are willing to shell out mega bucks on skin cream, invasive procedures, chemical peels, Botox, and so on in an effort to erase our lines, recapture our youth, and compete head to head with the true youth of this country for jobs, love, sex and attention.

When my grandmother entered her 50s it was a level playing field. The only ones who got their faces lifted (in strict secrecy) were major Hollywood stars. Everyone else just hoped for the best and went down the aging path together. In today's world, however, the level playing field is a distant memory. Those who can, often do. Those who can't... well... time to become invisible, perhaps?

There's a dearth of celebrity role models who choose to age with grace, vitality and dignity... in public. Helen Mirren jumps to mind, especially since in "real life" her hair is a natural, beautiful gray, and just recently she was voted as having the "Body of the Year" There are many well-known women over 50, a few who are true cultural icons whom we watched grow up right along side us, but I would never refer to them as role models for aging without fear. Too many are soldiers in the anti-aging movement, marching through their 50s and 60s with hair impossibly blond or black, faces too smooth, bodies too taut and toned.

Isn't it time to change how we view aging? Have we created a society of "haves" and "have nots" based not so much on how much we have, but on how much we can spend on looking younger? Have we completely removed any opportunity for a level playing field? Have we fooled ourselves to the point where we actually believe we are younger just by erasing crow's feet with Botox? And do we think we fool others?

Last week I posted an article--"Why Should Gray Hair Work Against Women?"--which opened a floodgate of comments and emotions here on Huffington Post (as well as on Facebook and Twitter). It's clear that many people believe once we start to age--and look it -- we are doomed, especially in the job market. But the good news is.. these same people are starting to get angry... and take action.

Julianne Franklin Tutko, a blogger, posted this comment on Facebook:

Last night I was watching television and an ad for a product promising "Complete Gray Coverage!" featuring Andie MacDowell came on. My first thought was "What would happen to the perception of gray hair on women being somehow 'bad' if all the Andie MacDowells of the world simply stopped coloring their hair and went gray?" Is this a case of 'art imitating life' or 'life imitating art'? I believe it is the latter. We believe that gray hair on a woman somehow detracts from what passes for beauty because we are fed a steady diet of women in their forties, fifties, and well beyond who don't have one gray hair and are held up as icons of beauty. And that is simply ridiculous!

Brilliant writer and author of Marrying George Clooney, Amy Ferris, wrote:

When we're in love -- with another person, with life, with our pets, with our self, with our work, with our faith, with our friends, family, with our country -- there are no wrinkles, or grey hairs or schmata's that become the focal point. You can't fake it. Orgasms you can fake, love you cannot. I don't wanna be younger. I want to be wanted. I want to be needed. I want to be useful, and I'm pretty sure I can't get that in a bottle.

Around the time I was researching and writing my book, The Best of Everything After 50, a guide to living life after 50 with health, vitality and style, a revolution was taking shape on the Internet. Sophie Lumen quit her job and started The Art of Aging, which has gone from several fans to almost 10,000 and growing. Like so many of us, Sophie was dismayed by the constant anti-aging messages, and instead chose a different message: It's okay to age. In fact, it's a privilege. She recently told me why she thinks her website and Facebook page are gaining such momentum:

A quiet revolution is growing online that transcends income, race, culture and every kind of demographic except one--women over the age of 50. It is a movement that has left advertising out, social media in. It even has it's own Creed:

  • I will age with humor, serenity, and to the best of my efforts, health.
  • I will continue to express my creativity and personal style.
  • I will challenge the stuck way our culture looks at getting older.

Sophie explained:

I started The Art of Aging Facebook Page out of a desire for a real community of mature women powered by heart and wisdom, not by marketing agendas. The response has been passionate and enthusiastic. Women are responding because we all need new ways to deal with aging in our culture. I've used what I have on hand as a contribution--my own art, inspirational ideas, and videos with plops of humor. It is a very collaborative, evolving project--the inspiration works both ways. The women in The Art of Aging community generously share years of experience, kindness, and wit with each other. It's very real.

Wanting to show how she truly walks the talk, Sophie recently posted a close up photo of herself on The Art of Aging Facebook Page, showing every line and wrinkle. That photo, she said, has received more "hits" than anything else she has ever posted.

Sophie and I are seeing more and more women every day talking on Facebook, websites, Twitter, and other social media in an effort to shift the discourse and create a societal sea change.

Maybe marketers are starting to pay attention. A few days ago, executives at Bare Escentuals, the company that put mineral powder makeup on the map, unveiled the brand's new advertising campaign--"Be a Force of Beauty"--designed to focus on women's inner beauty, inspiration and humor, not how to look younger.

In an effort to move the paradigm shift along, I've come up with a few of my own "Creeds" to live by:

  • Be fearless after 50
  • Embrace your age, no matter what it is
  • Don't focus so much on what others think
  • Embracing your age and wanting to feel pretty, healthy and fit are not mutually exclusive.
  • Whatever you do, do it for the right reasons
  • Get angry about ageism, and take action
  • Know how beautiful you truly are
  • Support and encourage other women. Chances are good they feel as you do.
    • Be a role model for younger women by showing them how fearless you are

And lastly:

Love yourself, love your life, stay as healthy as you can, move your body, be informed, stay engaged, use your mind, keep a handle on your finances, be bold, be brave, walk with confidence, live with style . . . and then . . . you will know how truly wonderful life after 50 can be.
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For more information about living your best life after 50, visit Staying connected is a powerful tool. "Friend" me on Facebook and "Tweet" me on Twitter (BGrufferman). Stay in touch and be well!

2011 New York City Marathon Weekly Training Countdown (9 weeks to go!)

I'm running in the NYC Marathon in November to celebrate my 55th birthday and raise money for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, in memory of a friend who succumbed to the disease last year. Here's an update on my training schedule for this week:

Saturday: 6 miles using a run/walk ratio of 3 minutes/30 seconds
Monday: 7 miles using a run/walk ratio of 3 minutes/30 seconds
Thursday: 24 miles with using a run/walk ratio of 30 seconds/30 seconds
Every other week, I'll be adding another mile or so to the long run (keeping the two short runs the same distance), and I will be adding "speed work" to my training. Stay tuned!

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