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Monday, June 13, 2011

Images And The Mask of Old Age

            Early images of aging reflected in the model ”Ages of Man” are represented as the stages of human existence on the Earth traced back to Greek mythology during the 6th Century BC. In those times the end period of human beings was seen as “… one final stage of physical decrepitude, symbolized by a stick or a crutch, as well as a close proximity to death usually portrayed as a skeleton and a tomb.”[i]  This was followed by Medieval Europe’s notion of life as a cycle going between pleasures of youth to the “woes of old age.”  The Ideal of those days was that a person could live to be 70 yrs old although almost all people didn’t. Considering mankind’s growing longevity, at 72 yrs I am happy to be active and energetic, even if it’s not quite the same as when I played football during the years of my post secondary education. Along with others I am inclined to say, “I don’t feel old.”[ii]  “
         As we become chronologically older, we discover that a subjective grasp of the meaning of old age is equally elusive.  Although our bodies may display signs of passing years the subjective self is not experienced as correspondingly old, and in a society where the dominant images of old age are negative, this tension between the inner personal and the outer social identity may cause us considerable distress.”[iii]
         I’ll share a simple example. When I look in a mirror and use my fingers to tighten the bags under my eyes, to me, I look a lot younger and I have thought about asking my doctor if it’s possible and healthy to empty the bags. It’s like they are a “mask” which brings us to last topic; the “mask” of old age. “The image of the mask of old age implies that the physical changes which accompany the life of 70 (plus) years are superficial or surface changes that conceal from the casual observer or untrained eye essentially unchanging qualities beneath.”[iv]
           Perhaps my thoughts are strongly influenced by the Western societies’ strong consumer culture, which emphasizes the activity of youth. For example, motion pictures focus on the beauty and strengths of youth and, even though there is a growing body of research regarding positive aging they rarely portray seniors.
         In research and some popular culture we do seem to be making some progress in regards to the inner self and wisdom. I guess I would rather continue to develop insight and wisdom rather than pay a couple of thousand dollars to have my bagged eyes “fixed.

[i]  Handbook of Communication and Aging Research  John F. Nussbaum &             Justine Coupland (Eds)  ISBN 0-8058-4070-2

[ii]   page 14
[iii]  page 19
[iv]  page 20

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