Words Dominique Afacan
There’s a lot of ageist scaremongering in the world today. You only have to switch on the TV or scroll through the internet to recognise that youth is cherished and growing old is something to fear. We are sold creams and potions that promise to ‘turn back the clock’ and are chastised when we dare to challenge what society thinks we are ‘too old for.’
Is it any wonder we are terrified to grow older?
I set up Bolder to change the conversation around ageing. As a journalist, I saw first-hand that people over a certain age were not represented in the media – and my instincts told me they should be.
Together with my co-founder, photographer Helen Cathcart, we set about interviewing and photographing the most inspirational people over 70 we could find. Crucially, they were nothing like their media-prescribed ages and in every instance they were still doing, making or creating.
Three years into the project and we’ve realised that old age doesn’t just ‘happen’. It is a constant for all of us – and the prescribed happiness deadline is an illusion.
The message is clear: ageing is a gift.
I interviewed three pioneering and innovative pillars of our community, and asked what ageing means to them.
“Age is a blessing in many ways. The only problem is the diminishing of one’s energy – but if you’re lucky enough to stay healthy, getting older is absolutely wonderful.
I wanted to be an artist since about the age of five. I never considered doing anything else. However, one of the problems with being an artist is that you never really know if you’ve cracked it, so you have to keep on going because it’s always the next piece of work that’s going to be perfect. My idea of happiness is completing a painting and for five minutes I think I’ve got it right.
I would say that aside from my twenties, the years after 60 have been my happiest. I know what I’m doing, I know what I want, I understand a whole lot of things I didn’t comprehend when I was young, and my ambitions now are tempered. With any luck, one has achieved something by their 60s.
I don’t have a life motto, I simply hope to keep doing more and more projects, and hopefully the energy to do it. I will never retire.”
“I was brought up to be well-dressed and went regularly to the tailor to have my suits made. This shop began because I kept buying clothes as gifts for my relatives, which they sometimes didn’t want. I’ve been here for four years now and I will never stop working, I can’t imagine how I would pass the time.
I have a youthful curiosity, which keeps me going. If you’ve retired, the best thing you can do is go back to school. I only wish I had studied more. I realise now the times when I was learning something new, are the times I look back on with the most pleasure.
Possibly young people think older people are obsolete but it’s not so bad here in Iceland, lots of people keep on working. My grandmother was a herbalist and would run up to the mountains to get ingredients well into her 90s. Even when I was 16 I had difficulty keeping up with her. I don’t think anyone treats me differently because of my age, but maybe I just don’t notice it.”
“I get to make things every day of my life. I exhibit all over the world. I’m in demand as an artist. I consider myself a work of art and every morning, I curate myself. I can’t take my art with me when I leave the house, so I wrap myself in it. I’m a walking collage. Instead of being locked up in a lunatic bin, I’ve become world famous for being a weird old lady – it’s the best thing that ever happened to me!
Ageing is a blessing, of course it is; what’s the alternative? We’re so lucky to be alive – it’s time travel! There is an old lady revolution going on right now and we’re becoming much more visible. People are living longer and living better. A lot of advertisers are using older women and the silver pound phenomenon is helping to change attitudes. I feel I’m a pioneer as I’m very vocal and do a lot of public speaking on ageism. I’m also very active on social media.
I believe we are all ageless but we’re not immortal. You have to make every day count.”