Who wants to be old? The sad and sorry onslaught of false teeth, withering skin and narrowing career options, followed by death as the ultimate full stop. What’s to like? Youth is king. Who needs life experience and wisdom when you’ve got glowing skin, a body to thrill and decades ahead of you? Switch on your TV or read a magazine as adverts and culture propagating the anti-age message seep into your subconscious. Ageing is bleak – or so the conversation goes. Fight it. Or at least die trying.
Ageism is out there. It’s ingrained in our culture. And it starts early. As women, we’re constantly reminded of our biological clocks; we’re asked why we’re still single or why we’re childless. We are all sold creams, gels and miracle cures to change the way we look. Trying to defy nature has become a multi-billion-dollar industry – and most of us are on board. Older people past a certain age are often seen as a drag on the nation’s resources, of little value to the workplace. After all, they’re stuck in their ways, they’re out of touch, they’re weak. Even our road signs for the elderly show a couple hunched over, one with a walking stick, vulnerable as could be. Together, we’ve learnt to dread the ageing process and everything that it means.
For us, both in our mid-30s, ageism had already won. We were scared of getting old. Terrified, in fact. And who can blame us? Old age looked like an unhappy place. We pictured it mostly filled with loneliness, rocking chairs and possibly some tea and biscuits, if we were lucky. Our present lives were vibrant, energetic, filled with travel, friends, new experiences, love and liveliness. When was old age going to knock on our door and tell us the fun was over? When would we stop being relevant, attractive and heard? Our happy days felt numbered, the dread of ageing was creeping in, so we decided to do something about it.
We set about finding people who made old age look good. Bolder was born. Four years and 50 interviews later, we’ve realised there is never a knock on the door. Old age doesn’t just ‘happen’ one day. Ageing is a constant and a privilege for all of us. And ... gasp, it can be fun. One of our interviewees fell in love and married, aged 82. Another swims a mile in the Mediterranean every morning, aged 85. Nearly all of them are still working or creating in some way. So many of them cite the happiest age of their lives as now, not then.
Of course, we can’t get carried away. Ageing inevitably has its hindrances and its hiccups. Death, for one, draws ever closer, and nobody wants creaking bones and thinning hair. But we are already, collectively, fixated on the negatives. Through Bolder, our mission is to change the conversation by highlighting the much more positive flip side of growing older. This book is full of real people, not acting anything like their media-prescribed age, telling their inspirational stories. They sit among the society-wide scaremongering, demanding to be seen and heard, changing the dialogue on ageing now and for our futures. They are anything but invisible.
The best part of it all? Now that we’ve stopped to listen, there’s so much to learn. What follows are some of our favourite lessons.