We live in a society that is emphatically anti aging – but we can still have a healthy and sane approach towards getting older if we choose to, says Elaine Bruce.

In the world’s most enlightened cultures, none are more revered than the elders – those members of the family
or community who possess the unique wisdom that only decades’ worth of life experience can bestow. This is in stark contrast to the prevailing attitudes in our throwaway society.

Ours is a culture that is utterly fixated on youth and on all things “anti-aging”. It is a deep irony that, as a society, we are simultaneously addicted to habits that make premature aging inevitable (processed food, sugar, coffee, alcohol, pharmaceutical drugs, stress and late nights to name just a few). It is no wonder that there is such a booming trade in Botox, fillers, face lifts, liposuction and other procedures designed to artificially recreate the idealized face and physique of extreme youth.

With a healthy lifestyle, a supple, lean body can be yours at every stage of life, as can a radiant, glowing complexion, clear, sparkling eyes and many other attractive attributes generally associated with youth.

However, there is an important distinction here and one that is being completely missed in parts of the raw food arena. Aging itself is not unhealthy – it is completely natural. It is absolutely possible to look fabulous at 50 (and at 60, 70 and 80) but if you think you’re going to look like someone half your age, you’re going to be disappointed.

Once we reach a certain age, wrinkles – and features that have migrated south by at least a few millimetres – are not signs that anything is amiss. They are – regardless of any rejuvenating diet or lifestyle we choose to employ – natural and inevitable (the latter unless, of course, we choose to fight nature with surgical procedures).

Yet these days many are going raw out of a desire to delay the aging process beyond a level that is feasible. And not just for health reasons – nor even primarily that – but for youth and social acceptance reasons. This is a relatively new phenomenon – fuelled no doubt by the extreme anti-aging attitudes of the mainstream culture.

A few decades ago, the raw and living foods literature was all about regaining lost health – or improving and prolonging excellent health. The word “rejuvenation” was used, but it was used in the context of detoxifying and nourishing the body to prevent disease and preserve vitality and energy. Nowhere was there any suggestion that we should all be measuring ourselves against youthful beauty standards.

I had the privilege of knowing the living foods pioneer Dr. Ann Wigmore personally and I can tell you that in her latter years, her face was lined like any other person in their ninth decade. Longterm adherence to a regime centred around wheatgrass, sprouts and energy soups did not prevent that – and I fear for those now in their younger decades who are adopting the raw diet because they believe it will. Although her face showed the natural signs of aging, Dr. Wigmore had the most amazing alert, clear, sparkling blue eyes. This is true health and beauty.
Yes, we want to avoid premature aging – those unsightly symptoms of unhealthy living, including such misnomers as “middle-aged spread”. There’s no question about it: if we look after ourselves with a healthy diet and lifestyle we will look and feel very different – at 80, at 60, at 40 and even at 20 – from our same-age peers who do not.

A full outline of all you can do to look and feel your best at any age is beyond the scope of this article. However, I will offer two brief pointers: 1. Summer is the easiest season to upgrade your eating habits so if you are not already making a daily green juice, and a power-packed raw energy soup or smoothie, I suggest starting there. What “aging accelerators” can you give up to make room for them? 2. Never let the sun burn your skin but be
aware that smoking and coffee do far more wrinkle damage than moderate sun exposure, as do late nights and poor sleep.

Confusingly, the mainstream media is full of adverts for foods and drinks that are guaranteed to accelerate aging – and articles promoting these lifestyle habits – yet it sends us the message that looking anything older than about 25 is to be avoided at all costs. Consider that magazines routinely airbrush any fine lines off the faces of models in their 20s because these do not conform to the narrow image of extreme youth which is, we are asked to believe, all that is acceptable.

To those men and women reading this who are well into their later decades: if you have internalized the destructive media messages and now think you’re “past it”, consider a 1970s experiment on Alzheimer’s patients. For one week they had to live as if it were 20 years ago. They had no carers, and they lived in an environment that mimicked the one they had actually lived in 20 years earlier, eating 1950s food, watching 1950s TV, and so on. At the end of the experiment, the subjects showed improvements in their physical and cognitive ability and IQ scores, and better vision and hearing.

The message here is clear: act young and competent and you will become young and competent. This underlines extremely strongly how important it is that we do not let our self-image nor our lives be dictated by the superficial media dictates regarding youth and age. Make no mistake: if we do, we will measure ourselves against destructive attitudes which devalue us as individuals.

However, while this applies to both sexes, it does not apply equally. Men are not devalued to the same extent women are as they age, nor are they measured by the same impossible standards when it comes to their appearance.

If you watch TV you’ll know that lined and flabby – and even short-tempered and cantankerous – older men are lauded as attractive, powerful and charismatic. At the same age or earlier, women are either quietly moved out of the spotlight or dismissed as “past it”. What this inequality both reflects, and helps perpetuate, is a very deep-seated social perspective which has its roots in the view of the female as being at the service of the male.

“Many are going raw out of a desire to delay the aging process beyond a level that is feasible.”

As individuals, we can’t single-handedly change these unhealthy attitudes, but we can all do our bit to promote sanity around this subject. I am going to focus here on what women can do – though of course I’m not suggesting that enlightened men don’t have a very important role to play here, too.

If you’re already well into life’s second half, simply switching off from this nonsense may not be the easiest response, but it is certainly the wisest one. Much wiser, for sure, than allowing your self-image to be dictated by society’s bizarre attitudes. Ask yourself: what is the more important thing about you? Is it your looks – and specifically whether they conform to the narrow, media-dictated ideal – or your relationships, inner life and contribution to the world?

Feeling comfortable in your skin starts at an early age, so my advice to the younger women reading this is: start now to value yourself for who you are, not how you look. If you spend the first half of your life trading on your looks then the second half is going to be that much more difficult. Those wolf-whistles from the scaffolding may be tiresome now but one day they will stop, and – unless things have changed a great deal – you will suddenly
find yourself seemingly invisible as you walk down the street.

I suggest all younger women start considering how they will support themselves through the menopause long before it is upon them. And I’m not talking here so much of the physical changes but of the emotional upheaval this time brings to those who are not ready to embrace it.

No amount of rejuvenating techniques, wonder drugs or surgical procedures can possibly deliver what is really needed at this time of life: a serene outlook, allied to an unshakeable sense of self-worth, and a lively and insatiable curiosity to learn about the world and other people. Only a sane and balanced response to this natural transition can do that.

From personal experience I can tell you that yes, life does begin at 40. It begins anew at 50 and 60 and it opens out again, differently, at 70. I’ll let you know about 80 when I get there.