This week I’ve been thinking about ageing. For the past few days my Facebook newsfeed has been filled with pictures of a young person who died of cancer in the very first days of the New Year. I didn’t know her personally, but many of my friends did.
I also read something quite wonderful. A friend of mine posted on Facebook, that she feels lucky to have the opportunity to age, as not everyone does. That wrinkles, grey hairs, aches, and pains are actually quite a luxury.
It’s interesting – or no, not interesting, it’s actually quite horrifying – the attitude we have towards ageing in Western society, and the obsession we have with youth.
In organizations today we see a lot of ageism. I often see research on top executives’ desperate attempts to stay young and virile, and to what ends they will go to do this. Everything from running up the stairs to the office on the 9th floor in order to give the right impression to actually getting major work done – I’m talking about plastic surgery.
In his book The Corrosion of Character, Richard Sennett writes, “For older workers, the prejudices against age send a powerful message: as a person’s experiences accumulates, it loses value.” In the current corporate climate, it is more about potential. What you have done is no longer important; it is what you will do next that counts.
A couple of years ago I read an article about a Finnish IT company that claimed to value elders and their experience, and hired a corporate granny. Granny came in a few times a week, made coffee, and was available to talk to, lending a sympathetic ear to stressed IT workers. According to the article, having a maternal type around did wonders for the atmosphere. As it happens, this granny was a recently retired career woman, but from the article I didn’t get the impression that she was expected to dish out business advice, she was rather valued for her warmth and her life wisdom. Which is great of course, but I’m sure she also had a lot of know-how, although her employers perhaps didn’t recognize that.
For women, ageism is especially pertinent. But not only that, this whole question of age, and what the right age to be is, is rather ironic. A woman is never the right age. Either she is too young and inexperienced, or she is in the childbearing risk group, or she is simply too old. When women get older and their faces and bodies finally show signs of experience and wisdom, they are pressured to do whatever necessary to look young and inexperienced. I find that quite ironic.
Manufacturers and advertisers are dependent on and target especially women and girls as consumers. Through advertising they create myths, images, and body ideals that are impossible to achieve, but that also ensure that women and girls will keep trying to achieve them, and will therefore keep buying their products.
In contrast to our cultural ideals, when I looked in the mirror this morning I felt quite happy about the wrinkles I have started to accumulate. My wrinkles speak of life and health and of the experiences I have had – both good and bad – that make me who I am. And, of course, of the years of experience I have as a professional.