I’ve never been somebody that gave age, or ageing, a second thought. I never forced milestones upon myself with the deadline of age such as graduating, buying my own home, picking a career, or getting married. Nor have I ever understood this way of thinking.
It’s important to observe your life from the outside in to ensure you’re heading where you want to be, and I’m the queen of listing ambitions, compiling New Years’ resolutions, and always have a goal in mind at any one time. I’m even quite likely to put a time limit or a specific year on them, but for no other reason than to make sure they don’t disappear into the ether, or become lifelong desires which never get fulfilled. But not once, not ever, have I attached these aspirations to an age. I always thought, you have a lifetime to pack with interesting, enjoyable and fulfilling things to do, so why should the age by which you achieve them matter?
When I hit thirty, instead of dreading it, I was excited about the new decade ahead. But, a mere four years in, the world began to tell me, in no uncertain terms, that I was wrong, age did matter. (I’m actually right. It doesn’t). Yes, I was 34 when someone directed the first personal age related remark my way, and it wasn’t nice. It didn’t refer to anything physical, but rather the opportunities available to someone of my age, and I was staggered by it.
Then, on a cosy evening at the start of this year, I was watching The Voice UK when Boy George, baffled by where former Liberty X member Kevin Simms had been hiding out declared of his age, “35. It’s not old, but it’s not young either”. Taken aback by this assertion, I naturally tossed my 33 year old copy of Karma Chameleon on to the fire, 2 years before its expiry date.
Aside from the above remark, The Voice UK is to be praised for offering a platform for all ages, but the ever charming Daily Mail put paid to this progressive notion by chiming in to note, “With five contestants over 35 and two aged 60 and 77, you wondered if the show really wanted to find a star.”
Ouch. What on earth was going on here? Must we be in a rush to achieve everything we’ve ever wished for before we hit the dreaded three five, after which time the world makes a death mask of our accomplishments to be hung on a pin and admired as a beautiful corpse? It appeared so. Why can’t you be a star at those ages? There’s no denying that appears to be the prevailing attitude, but who decided this? And why have we as a public unquestioningly bought into this notion?
I wish I could tell you these are isolated incidents, but they’re not, and when I read Grace Dent’s piece in The Guardian, which she regurgitated this week in the misty haze of another muddy Glastonbury, I thought, enough is enough.
In this article, she argues that nobody over the age of (yet again) 35 should be seen at a festival. “Like most human beings with dignity, I stopped attending festivals in my early 30s” she professes, continuing “Typically I am against age barriers” before constructing age barriers by saying “But I firmly believe Glastonbury should be banned for the over-35s.”
Why? Yes, there’s the discomfort of camping, but the main reason is that we apparently look foolish dancing around and enjoying ourselves. What of fun, freedom and live music appreciation? ID please. Not tonight folks. We are to be consigned to the attic, Dorian Gray style, becoming more grotesque by the hour but without our beautiful, depraved, alter-egos to prance about in front of the Pyramid Stage on our behalves. Great.
Another Guardian article from a few years back asking if 35 was the best age to be, drew on research in which 2,000 people of all ages were questioned and decided it was. A startling notion arose from this, that 35 year olds “have several years to go before reaching the peak of their career at age 39.” The peak of your career at 39? They continue, “According to the same survey, 35 is also an age when you can be at or around the peak of your earnings.” Peak of your earnings? So that’s it, is it? You’ve plateaued at 35. Your job from here-on-in is simply to exist, and enjoy whatever fruits you managed to pick before then. The remainder, I’m afraid, is out of your reach. All hope of future endeavours or higher earnings lost. Dreams? Get thee hence. Aspiration and ambition? A plague on both your houses.
There are, of course, understandable reasons for imposing age limits on things. Alcohol consumption, consent, marriage, or the classification of films and computer games being just a few examples. And it is true, of course, that when it comes to having children, there is a biological time limit where women are concerned. Perhaps we’re conditioned to think in terms of age, and this has lead us to categorise ourselves and others accordingly. But what I can’t understand is why we are enforcing limits on things which should be free of restriction, like singing careers and going to festivals.
It’s certainly the case that there are things you are less prepared to do as you get older, such as waiting in the rain for a late bus when there are taxis, going out two nights in a row, visiting a pub with no available seats, or staying in a hotel room with a shared bathroom, but these are choices you make. They may be symptoms of getting older, but they are actions of your choosing. Society isn’t telling you you can or can’t, and this is the key point.
It is sadly abundantly clear that ageism exists all around us, both spoken and unspoken. For me, it is the perceptions of what can and can’t be done, or must be done, by or at particular ages that rob us all of the notion that life is to be lived to the full from start to finish, and anything is possible, no matter how old you are. It results in a restrictive and judgmental society which we are all ironically members of, at various ages, when there is no need for it. What a wonderful place it would be if opportunities were open to everyone, and we were all free to go out and seize them without barriers or boundaries, or ridiculous notions of what is and isn’t age appropriate.
Always wanted to act? Sing? Study? Climb a mountain? Travel the world? Write? Be a chef? Do it.
Age has never entered my mind in any considerations I have made, and my newfound shock at just how pervasive attitudes towards people of different ages are won’t deter me from continuing to live my life as I always have. To think that we are considered as peaking at 35, or shortly after, does a gross disservice to the fact that life is a gift to be lived to the full. Some among us will be lucky enough to reach at least twice that, and we should have the freedom to enjoy everything that comes our way without judgement or restriction.
By Emma Hynes