The Downfalls of the Eternal Youth Narrative: Reject Ageism for Good

“Live fast and die young” has generated a more toxic narrative in global culture than we consciously realize.  This narrative has placed a stain on the fabric of the collective global consciousness for gender equality – romanticizing a lack of reason and endowing power in the unwise behaviors of the “ever youthful.”  I am mortified by how many adults well into their middle age are pretending to live like they are 20 years old on social media.  It’s a real problem.  Granted, we are all “kids on the inside” and we may have been profoundly impacted by our childhoods, however, that does not give way to solely focus on an eternal youth narrative in society.  I think it’s a detriment to moving towards global gender equality.  We don’t have time anymore to debate if gender equality is a good for the world.  There is more than enough information at our disposal that shows why gender equality is necessary to ensuring we live in a sustainable world and this is a problem which is time bound.  Now, let’s also move past the eternal youth narrative and move towards a more equitable world by letting go of the fantasy that eternal youth supercedes all.

I watched the film adaptation of Madame Bovary recently.  The famous tale written by Gustave Flaubert is coined as “literary realism” and it stands the test of time on a number of fronts: the perils of greed, the perils of consumerism… Ultimately Madame Bovary decides to fill her unsatisfied soul with luxury purchases as a way to fill a psychological void, but this was a symptom of a larger problem she had.  This story is a truly contemporary tale when you think about it.  It’s perhaps a combination of two detriments which prompted her life’s end: Monsieur Boulanger’s reckless and indifferent behavior towards her coupled with the pain she already felt from her depression caused by the banality of provincial life.  I’d like to focus on how her consumerism was a symptom of the pain she felt – similarly in today’s society, we naturally work towards “fitting in” to some degree to ensure our success; you cannot be an outlaw and expect full social acceptance, right?  In the same way, we engage in consumerism on one front to willfully comply with the unspoken expectations of societal normalization – i.e. the paradigm which helps us achieve personal success. This is understandable to the extent that we maintain basic social values, at a minimum, but more importantly, as Robert Reich has spent the better part of his career espousing: you need a robust middle class to have a strong economy.  However, engaging in consumerism to an excess is obviously not healthy.

While Madame Bovary “lived beyond her means” in the 1850s French countryside, she’s a figure who illustrates a contemporary psychological issue: the fear of ageing and what comes with age when you inhabit an ageist society.  What is more existential than mortality? Consumerism can rid us of this concern, if only fleetingly, with the promise of eternal youth in the products we buy! Right? Wrong. Breaking down ageist stigmas is fundamental in ensuring gender equality. Hollywood and the beauty industry excels at elevating the “permanently youthful.”  Take celebrity women for example.  They are constantly in the news for “looking great in a bikini at 55!”  It’s wonderful they love their bodies and are confident about it.  However, the narrative being shared with the public through these tabloids indirectly tells us, “You should try and look more like that, even well into your 50s or 60’s.  If you don’t, dieting and plastic surgery can be the solution.”  Because frankly, a perfect body well into your 50’s and 60’s is not the norm.  We are being told, indirectly, that this kind of body should be the norm – and that’s where the narrative goes wrong.  The beauty of time on your body is a process which does not need to be altered by plastic surgery, which words like “enhancements” have been used to neutralize the damaging impact of plastic surgery culture.  There is nothing more beautiful than the marks of life. Also, skincare is a regimen which is always a good idea. I believe in maintaining a healthy lifestyle and good skincare… but believing in having eternal youth through plastic surgery? No.

It’s always good to see women succeed in whichever avenue they seek success!   I can’t help but wonder, though, are we really existing in a post-feminist world that allows women to succeed however they would like to?  Or do barriers still exist through problems like ageism? Ageism sadly persists.  My mother experienced ageism when she was looking for work well into her 40s.  You know how this would look like?  You just don’t hear back from employers.  That’s part of the ageist narrative.  If we continue to not speak about what is at the core of the problem – when you don’t name the problem (ageism), society will never transcend it properly.  

I firmly believe we are at a precipice in our global society which is awoken to the fact that we can no longer ignore problems like ageism and push false narratives to live in a fantasy world which believes it “maintains order.”  The reality is this: let’s use our voice to say “no” to ageism and that begins with understanding why the idea to “live fast and die young” is so fundamentally flawed.  We will only improve our outcomes if we shed ageist ideology.

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