Youth obsession and reality of ageing set to collide

11/08/05

Australian society's obsession with looking younger is set to collide with the reality of an ageing population, a University of Queensland researcher has warned.

According to researcher Mair Underwood, who will present her work at the Emerging Researchers in Ageing (ERA) 2005 conference in Brisbane this week, the current fixation with trying to postpone ageing is increasing and the current older generation may be the last to age gracefully.

"There is more and more emphasis being placed on postponing and reversing signs of ageing and we are increasingly being given the means to look younger, with options such as cosmetic surgery and botox," Ms Underwood said.

"If the appearance of ageing is starting to be thought of as 'a choice', how will those who look 'old' be regarded? Will they be considered failures? We already stigmatise those who are 'fat' because we consider the condition of their body to be their responsibility. Will this also be the case with the appearance of ageing?"

Ms Underwood's PhD study on how people of different ages feel about, and understand their bodies indicated that baby boomers were at the forefront of the anti-ageing movement. The sheer numbers of this group will result in the doubling of the population over 65 by 2051, so coping with ageing will become an important issue.

"People show at least two responses to the threat or reality of a stigmatized body. While some choose to change their body to prevent stigma, there are, of course, limits to how much you can change the body."

"Therefore, some take a second option to redefine who they are so that it doesn't include the body. Older people told me that they were still the same person, it was just their body that had become 'old'."

In general, it was younger people (under 60) who were found to take the first option to change the body, while older participants were more likely to accept their changing bodies and adapt by using non-body related factors to define themselves.

There was some indication that baby boomers will age differently. Participants in the study used hair-dye, cosmetics, and more extreme measures such as cosmetic surgery to keep their bodies in line with feelings of youthfulness.

"It seems that the younger cohorts are going to fight the appearance of ageing tooth and nail. We are living in a society where we are told that our appearance is a reflection of our worth. This is going to have major implications in a population that is ageing, but in which nobody wants to look 'old'."

Ms Underwood will be joined by emerging researchers on ageing from throughout New Zealand and Australia who will present on topics including:

  • how to counteract workplace ageism

  • the risk of alcohol-related problems in the elderly

  • the reluctance of elderly people to work after 65 (despite government encouragement)

  • the isolation experienced by grand parents who "parent".

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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