The Elusive Fountain of Youth: How and Why the U.S. Prides in the Young and Preys on the Old

Patricia Oprea

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“Triumphing the enemy” is a phrase that might bring images of war, of revolution, of change and victors and losers to mind. However, this phrase can be used to describe a rather natural phenomenon, something that happens to everyone everywhere—old age.

“Triumphing the enemy” stated Dr. Glenn McGee because the United States has a 150 billion dollar anti-aging market. The country has carried, (or dragged), Europe and South America along too, McGee said. This market includes all ends of the spectrum, from hormone replacements to anti-aging supplements—pills, creams, lotions, shampoos, gels soaps, drinks; entire stores and rows of shelves bursting with products.

McGee presented “Old is a Four Letter Word: How Americans Learned to Love Botox and Hate the Elderly” at UNH as part of the Marvin K. Peterson Library Faculty Lecture Series on Feb. 17. He talked to a group of students, staff and faculty in the library on why some societies embrace the elderly, particularly Asian countries like Japan, and why others will do anything to avoid aging, like the United States.

In terms of food and beverage sales in the U.S., anti-aging is the third largest sector, and leading sales of industry giants like L’Oreal and Avon.

Bodies fail and provide new markets. The question is whether these processes have more complications than they’re worth. After using Botox once, eventually another procedure is required, it is a never-ending process.

Naturally, cells reproduce and begin to change until they don’t have their former abilities. Lethal genes copy until richly coloured hair becomes flat and gray. Aging is viewed differently in today’s culture, challenging our perceptions of what youth means and what old age should entail, and if those two things can coexist.

McGee began to describe how the U.S. culture disvalues the elderly, and why. First, the society has a strong work ethic. Productivity is a measure of success. When one’s activity is diminished, their life is underappreciated. When time is money, and money is success, anything to slow this process of society will be unwelcomed.

Second, society’s bent towards the future leads us to disvalue the elderly. We are always searching for the newest model, the software updates, the up and coming technology. Even if the new technology isn’t so much different, it is still the trendy. There is the concept of selling a new model in and of itself, just because it is new.

As a culture, the U.S. values power, and those who don’t have as much power are disregarded or excluded. The elderly aren’t appreciated for their power of experience or knowledge, because this may not directly materializes into a benefit for society.

Finally, in the United States, and many Western cultures, perhaps due to religious contexts, we fear death. The first thing people may say when they hear of death is no. “It couldn’t be.” “It’s not true.”  People substitute words like “passed away.” There is “an art of making the body appear alive,” stated McGee, citing embalmers and open casket funerals. Even before death occurs, most people will try to pass their legacy on through others to not be forgotten, in spirit or idea. Parents live on through their kids.

However, everyone is still subtly preparing for death while pretending it is not occurring. Commercials for retirement homes, for life savings, and spending the last years on a sunny beach are common.  It is a mentality of “my life may be bad now but…” soon I’ll retire, soon I’ll be able to relax, soon I’ll be free.

McGee urged people to love their own real life. “Youth shouldn’t be a life sentence.” It is okay to age; it is normal.

McGee listed seven tips to aging happily: love that everyone has a value, love to be diverse in age, love the lesson of human limits, love the moment, love change, love rest, and love to care for those who age.

It is possible to “enjoy life in a steady state,” McGee said, taking every experience as it comes.  Trying to reverse time is futile; one can only appreciate the elderly for their wisdom, and avoid discrediting them for abilities or appearance.

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The Elusive Fountain of Youth: How and Why the U.S. Prides in the Young and Preys on the Old