The myths associated with ageing, often targetting women, are not only mean-spirited, they are also inaccurate. Margaret Jennings sets the record straight.
A website for men which rates the top 10 sexiest women in the world over the age of 60 says that although women go to extreme lengths to preserve their youth, those who “embrace the way their bodies and faces inevitably change” realise that “sex appeal is timeless”.
The website www.askmen.com goes on to name their choices, giving their reasons why and although many among the list have undoubtedly sought a little help, the fact that women in their sixth decade and more, are even being listed, is a thumbs-up for the anti-ageism lobby.
The survey is mentioned in a book called Great Myths of Aging, published in October, which looks at the generalisations and stereotypes associated with older people.
The authors, Joan T Erber and Lenore T Szuchman, take a humorous slant on these beliefs but use serious scientific research and data to support their ‘myth-busting’.
“Although there are some exceptions, myths about ageing and older adulthood tend to be negative (anti-ageing) rather than positive (pro-ageing),” they say.
The problem with stereotypes and myths dressed up as cultural beliefs is that, if not challenged, they can be accepted without question by ageing people themselves, who then perpetuate them by their behaviour.
On the subject of those 10 top sexy women over 60, here are five myths from the book:
Older women do not care about their looks.
Humour greetings cards showing older women as baggy, saggy, and dowdy perpetuate this myth.
The website askmen.com challenges this perspective, naming the top 10 sexiest women over 60 as: 1, Helen Mirren; 2, Susan Sarandon; 3, Raquel Welch; 4, Jane Seymour; 5, Goldie Hawn; 6, Lauren Hutton; 7, Tina Turner; 8, Jacqueline Bisset; 9, Catherine Deneuve; and 10, Meryl Streep.
Of 3,200 women aged 18-64 who took part in a global study in 2004, 89% agreed that a woman “can be beautiful at any age” and the older women — aged 45 to 64 — expressed a clear interest in seeing attractive women of different ages depicted in the media.
Older women do care about their looks. They are the main customers for cosmetic procedures.
However, there is a growth also towards chic older women who maintain their style and vitality without disguising their age.
Older people lose interest in sex.
Lots of research proves this to be false for all older age groups. For instance, a US study using data from 3,000 adults who participated in the National, Social, Life, Health and Aging Project, found 70% of men and 45.5% of the women aged 57 to 72 reported that they were sexually active.
Talking about older people’s sexuality is a sure-fire way to find out where ageism is lurking in our society. This can become apparent, for instance, in the infantilising of the romantic side of older adult relationships. Saying ‘aren’t they cute?’ is a way of desexualising an older couple and not having to think about what they do in bed.
Older adults can’t or won’t learn new things like technology.
Look up ‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ online and you will be directed to www.thefreedictionary.com which, will tell you: “You’re never going to teach your father at the age of 79 to use a computer. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, you know.”
The authors say if older people weren’t important consumers of technology, the industry would not market devices that are designed to appeal to them. Research shows older people are the fastest-growing demographic for using technology, including the internet for all sorts of services.
Wisdom comes with age, so older adults are wise.
Though it’s hard to rate exactly what wisdom is, several researchers have tried to measure it from a cognitive, emotional and reflective stance and the evidence so far does not support the myth that older adults are wiser than young adults.
Some older adults are wise and when they are, they often have a high sense of wellbeing. However old age does not guarantee wisdom.
Older people get more depressed as they age.
As young and middle-aged adults are often afraid of becoming old they often assume people who have already reached their late years are a depressed bunch. But there is no truth to this assumption.
There is no great personality change waiting for us in old age. Circumstances change, bringing different types of losses — but we do not necessarily change appreciably. Many older people think of the future as holding possibility, just as people in other age groups do.
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