No, No, No – Age isn’t just a Number

This is the first in a series of our OUTRAGE opinion columns about what gets our personal goats as older people. Please do join in. Write to me at rosejanerouse@yahoo.co.uk with your suggestions.

It appears on threads in discussions all the time. This innocent anodyne little sentence – Age is just a number. It is served up like a dish of cold ancient rotting turkey as a rationale for agelessness, as a justification for our ‘do what we like’ oldster rebelliousness, as part of our pride in ageing well.

BUT THIS IS DISINGENUOUS.

It’s more of the same, the same – we are young really, we don’t need to age, eternal youth is here. Misguided bollocks, in fact.

Can’t we decide as a community that ageing, getting older, putting on the years, doesn’t have to be something that we constantly avoid?

Being in our 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, 100s is not monstrous. We are not monsters because we are Over-50. It’s not just the external – media headlines like the Daily Mail denigrating older women far too often – critics that matter, it’s our internal critics that sabotage us.

The ones that tell us that we’re not worth anything now with these creases, fuller figures, aching bones, worsening eyesight, tiredness. I’ve got them too – those voices that instruct me to lose weight, that insist that my jowls are sagging – but I am determined to defy them.

Mary Beard urges a grey revolution around this very thing. Now Mary Beard has declared she wants to create an ‘old movement’ to encourage people to take pride in growing older.

The television historian announced that she is ‘reclaiming the word old’ in the same way ‘queer’ was embraced by the gay community.

And the 59-year-old said she hoped to rally older people into joining her in a political debate to take away the word’s negative connotations.

She said: ‘I do, partly to annoy people, say “how could you say that to an old woman like me”. I do it to reclaim the word “old”. Old instantly connotes the hunched lady or gentleman. I want an old movement. By the time I die I want “old” to be something we say about ourselves with pride. Guardian

Do you say how old you are in an assertive yet graceful manner? For me, being able to say how old I am publicly and without the everlasting shame of being old – has been liberating. Now I can relax. I no longer pretend to be younger. I just say it how it is. It all started when I was 60. I’d been on dating online sites and taken ten years off my age in order to get men my age to look at my profile. I always pretended – in my 50s – that I was younger than I was. I actively longed for people to look at me and come to the conclusion that I was at least ten years younger. I couldn’t bear not being looked at by men my own age.

And at 68, I’m still there. Out and proud. I always say how old I am. Age is not just a number. It’s part of my lived life. It’s a declaration of substance. I have been here for 68 years and I’d like to be recognised for it. I have survived. I’m not running away from the physical consequences.

Although I really do not want to be patronised either. Recently I have been working with two young black choreographers creating a dance piece for Over 60s. They told us that their collaborators assumed that our group of Over 60s were frail, elderly and limited in our movements. We are not as extensive in our movements as we were but we are doing pretty well. Rhys, one of the choreographers who is 28 said – ‘They would be surprised at the depth of movement that you all bring’. That made my soul sing.

And then Rhys mentioned that he’d heard me saying something about ‘being in my twilight years’. I remonstrated. ‘I would never say that,’ I declared emphatically. But you know, I was deluded and defensive – I am in my twilight years and what’s wrong with recognising that. Twilight years is a bit twee for my liking. Old is fine. But I am still learning what to re-evaluate and accept.

However, age is definitely not just a number – it is a certain number and we are all different at our different ages. That’s the point too. We are not a uniform bunch of older people – we are the motley array that we are!  I still haven’t come round to pensioner!

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