Heidi raises her head when she sees me and moves toward the gate to meet me. She moves slowly but regally, with a grace and calm acceptance of the limitations her advanced years place on her body. She ignores the younger horses in the herd that nip and chase each other in their version of a game of tag. Those days are gone for her. Still, her bearing commands respect. Unlike humans, this mare seems to know that growing old is a privilege, not an affliction. I envy that.
We are conditioned to revere youth and to treat ageing like a disease to be held at bay. It’s a fool’s errand but we arm ourselves with tools to do it anyway. Women turn to a bottle filled with a magic potion to temporarily restore grey hair to the shiny blonde, brunette or red hues of the past. Hundreds of dollars are spent on creams, serums and lotions that promise to hide the “signs of ageing”. Men fret over hair that has absconded, leaving an ever-widening expanse of scalp visible. They mourn the loss of their strong, youthful bodies and start fitness programs with the goal of recovering their six-packs.
It’s all so exhausting. But this war against the physical signs of age is mostly harmless. The real damage of ageism is in the mental well-being of older people.
In a survey analyzed by the World Health, 60% of respondents said older people are not respected. The lowest levels of respect reported were in high income countries. What impact does this have? Older people who feel less valued often suffer from social isolation and depression. Published research even shows that those who view their own age negatively don’t recover as well from disability and live 7.5 years less than those with positive attitudes.
I won’t lie. I don’t love the crow’s feet that crinkle at the corners of my eyes. I accept but don’t embrace the loss of a lithe, youthful body. And yes, regular touch-ups hide the roots of gray hair that stubbornly appear every few weeks. But I’ll be damned if I’ll let anyone make me feel that I am anything less than a productive, valuable member of society. Like Heidi, I intend to continue to command respect as I move regally through life.