This Article Really Made Me Think About Getting Old, Scarey!

BagAngel

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http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/femail/article.html?in_article_id=560372&in_page_id=1879

The day I became my grandmother: Our writer dons a mask to find out what it's like to be 90 in modern Britain

By TANYA GOLD - More by this author » Last updated at 09:39am on 18th April 2008
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/femail/article.html?in_article_id=560372&in_page_id=1879#StartComments


Patronised: Transformed into a 90-year-old woman, Tanya Gold found many people treated her like a child

Three years ago I went to Eastbourne with my 90-year-old grandmother. One morning, as we sunbathed, an unknown woman approached. "Ah, Grandma," she cooed, reaching to stroke my grandmother's cheek. "Isn't it lovely that you're out with your granddaughter?"
My grandmother opened an eye. "Just because I am old," she snapped, "it doesn't mean I am an imbecile."
I often think about this encounter. What it is like to live for nearly a century and yet be patronised by strangers?
My grandmother lived through the Blitz and the General Strike. She remembers the abdication crisis and Winston Churchill.
She knows more British history than most graduates, and yet strangers talk to her as if she were a child.
There are more than 300,000 women over 90 in Britain, and this figure will double in the next 30 years.
New research by the Life Trust Foundation, released yesterday, showed that women aged 55 now have a 25 per cent chance of living until they are 95 - and they will mostly live alone or in care homes, in a lonely waltz from sofa to bed to coffin.
The figures are also a stark warning to those who are ill-prepared to deal with their "extended" lives.
Financial experts claim many face a bleak future of financial deprivation - with rising costs of living, and nursing care, millions may be left with no option but to sell their homes and dip into their savings just to free up cash.
So what is life really like for this increasingly isolated section of society? What is it really like living under my grandmother's skin?
I decide to spend a day impersonating a woman of 90. How will I be treated by other people? And how will I feel?
First, I need to convince the world I am an old woman.
I call Kristyan Mallett, a prosthetics designer. His expertise is creatures, corpses and characters, and he says he can make me a mask that will convince people I am very old indeed.
I meet him in a studio in North London and he takes a cast of my face and shoulders. Two months later the mask is ready.
Kristyan has sculpted huge, sagging cheeks, a swollen nose, hairs poking out of moles and loose rolls of fat about the neck.
He glues it onto my face. My 34-year-old eyes stare into the mirror. The effect is astonishing and utterly authentic. An old woman, ugly and wrinkled, stares back.
At this point the mask does not affect me emotionally. It is a game, a costume, a joke.
I have decided to spend the day touring London, talking to people to gauge their reactions, and doing things not expected of the elderly so I can see what the boundaries of acceptable behaviour are.
More below.....................
 
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BagAngel

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I get a bus into the West End and I sit down in one of the priority seats. "Nice day, isn't it?" I say to the young woman on my left, ensuring that from the outset my voice sounds flatter and frailer than usual.
"Um," she mutters and stares ahead. She doesn't wish to speak to me.
When I get off the bus I ask a man for a cigarette. He gives it to me, but with a look that says - why are you speaking to me?
Shopping is the most natural thing for a woman. Can I do it today? In the HMV music store in Piccadilly, I go to the counter and ask to be shown "whatever music is at the top of the charts now".
The man serving me cracks up - he literally laughs in my face. I ask him, why are you laughing at me? "It's just funny," he replies, and I feel a burst of anger. Is there something amusing in an old woman buying music?
I begin to feel protective of my ancient alter ago. How dare this man laugh at her? Does he, like the woman who approached my grandmother, thinks she is an imbecile, incapable of being hurt?
His colleague sees my distress, and pushes him aside, and guides me to the Top 40 section, where he shows an Amy Winehouse CD.
"It's nice to see you out," he says, in the over-nice singsong voice you would use to a child. I recognise this voice, because I've used it myself when talking to the elderly.
As I leave, I wave at him, to thank him. And the entire staff of HMV waves backs - the 90-year-old woman looking for music is a story. I feel like a fairground attraction: a talking point.
Nothing about me matters, except that I am old.
In the Harvey Nichols department store I stop at the Lancome counter. I often shop there.
"Yes, madam?" says the salesgirl. "I would like some samples," I mutter.
She hands them to me, and says, briskly: "This is for your face, madam, and this for your eyes."
Normally the girls at Lancome talk to me, pass the time of day and offer to make up my eyes. But she turns away, as if she can't wait to get rid of me.
Perhaps my 90-year-old self is unacceptable to the girls who live to make us beautiful.

Before: Tanya as her 34-year-old self. She found people reacted much differently to her when she looked like a pensioner

I go and have a drink in the 5th floor bar. Everyone is polite, but I can sense a difference from my ordinary interactions with people.
What is it? There is no warmth in their dialogue, just an embarrassed fatalism. I am an old woman, I am here and they have to serve me.
There is no joy in it and no expectation of companionship.
As I get into the lift to return to street level, a man follows me, but seeing my face does an abrupt about-turn to wait outside.
He makes a show of taking out his mobile phone and dialling a number, as if he suddenly remembered an important call. I know I should be upset by this, but I am already slipping into the mentality of the aged - and his action doesn't come as such a surprise as it should.
Inside my mask I have conflicting emotions, which grow as the day goes on - shame at my appearance and anger that it should matter.
My 90-year-old self has a soul, too. Doesn't she?
I am usually reluctant enough to travel on the Underground because it's dirty and smelly and often a threatening place, but how much worse might it be for an old woman?
When I settle into a carriage after gingerly making my way down the escalators, some girls near me are speaking very noisily, so I take a deep breath, wave my stick and shout, "Couldn't you be quieter?"
"Get stuffed, Grandma," they reply. "What's it to you?" None of the other travellers even raise an eye from their newspapers.
After they get off, I feel determined to make strangers acknowledge me, however invisible I might appear to them. "Good afternoon," I say to one man in a suit, and "Hello, dear" to a woman with a child in tow.
The first ignores me after fixing me with a disdainful stare, while the mother offers only an exaggerated courtesy that is almost worse.
As they react to me, I can almost hear them thinking: "I am so nice being nice to this old woman." It is a kind of moral vanity.
Back on the street, outside a sweet shop, a homeless man comes up to me. "Can you spare some change?" he asks me. "I've only got my pension, I'm afraid," I reply.
He tells he's living on the streets and he's had a terrible time. We chat and I feel we belong together, both outcasts at the bottom of the pile.
And apart from this one man, no one in my day as a 90-year-old spoke more than a few words to me, except in a professional capacity.
Is this why the elderly are obsessed with family - because no one else will have them?
By now, my mask is having an emotional effect on me. I am usually naturally effervescent. But not today; today I am introverted.
And I am starting to become as doddery as I look. My hands shake and I fumble in my bag; I cannot find things and I feel confused.
I am beginning to feel as helpless and useless and shut out from life as I look. My prosthetic face wants to cry real tears.
I want to rip off my mask and say: "This isn't me! I am not old and ugly. I want to be alive again, and I want to be a woman again."
Perhaps the cruellest thing is the feeling of sexlessness I have. The street flirting that normally happens on a bright April morning - the cheeky calls of builders, the stopping to smile at a handsome man - is shut to me.
I hadn't realised how much flirting is part of my life, and how I use my femininity to form relationships.
Inside the face of a 90-year-old, I feel I have been stripped of all my charm and, with it, my ability to talk to people. I actually feel I have lost a sense, like my sight or my hearing.
I stop a few men, waggle my stick, and say: "What a handsome young man you are, son."
Their reactions are uniform - they are horrified, as if I am breaking a great taboo. Am I? Are old women not allowed to think about sex or romance?
What if I wanted to send a romantic card to a male friend, or a twinkly-eyed old suitor? In a card shop, I ask the man behind the counter for something that will show an old man just how keen I am on him.
The woman behind me in the queue bursts out laughing and, although the man sells me a card, I feel ashamed.
No kisses for this old woman - unless she wants to be ridiculed. Get back in your box, says society. Or do they mean coffin?
It is the same at a florist's. Here, I tell them my husband wants to treat me to some flowers. How much for ten red roses? Again, there is laughter, echoing round the shop.
How sweet I am, they think - this poor doddering woman looking at roses. How pitiful.
More below.....................
 

BagAngel

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On the pavement, I stop to watch the people passing. I feel depression clouding in on me, and I actually shed a tear. I think that if I really were 90, I would want to die.
I feel so isolated, so lonely and, above all, so neutered. I feel like a stranger in my own city, with no place to go.
Their faces say: "Why are you here? You don't belong here."
And then I remember I do this myself. I look at the very old with surprise.
I treat them as if they have less of a right to exist than I do - as if they know less about life than I do. Screw the Blitz and the General Strike, darling - do you watch MTV?
But I think I am beginning to understand. The distaste and detachment aren't personal. How can it be when it is universal? It's simply genetic - Charles Darwin would understand.
When the Londoners see my face, they see their future. One day they will be ancient and hobbling and dependent.
I am an ugly advertisement for their own mortality, and they hate it.
Just as we instinctively care for young children, we instinctively recoil from the old, who are no longer important to the survival of our species.
The way we treat the very old, it seems to me after today, is a process of disengagement with them, of letting them walk outside the tent to die.
Once you have dehumanised a person, you can let them die. And I think I am just as guilty as all the people who have treated me with such disdain as an old woman.
Now, I just want my real face back. And I can't stop thinking about The Beatles song Eleanor Rigby. It whirls round my head as I stagger off home: "Eleanor Rigby waits at the window, wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door. Who is it for?"
 

Bitten

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Yeah and if she was made up to look like a 17 year old punk, she'd go into an pricey shop and staff would call security, she'd go on public transport and people would avoid taking a seat next to her, they'd pull their bags close to them to make sure she couldn't steal from them. She could just be walking down the street and older people would try to avoid her, assume that she was going to make trouble because she's young. Prejudicial people make judgment calls about everyone based on appearance and age - it's not just the elderly. You will have to fight people's assumptions about your character based on nothing but your appearance including your age throughout your life, your ENTIRE like. It's just part of the deal - it's patronising of the elderly to assume that they can't handle it. It's patronising to feel sorry for an old person because of how you perceive others may treat them based on their age.

My grandfather is 83 years old. People treat him with respect whereever he goes because if there is any doubt about his capacity, he gently but firmly sets the record straight. It's not a tragedy of human nature that he has to say to people that he's not stupid. It's just human nature. It's like when I have to assure people that, as a 25 year old female, yes, I really can drive a car fast and well and I don't talk on my mobile when I drive. Is it presumptuous of others to consider me a bad driver because I'm a young female? Yes. Is it tragic? No. It's just one of the many things I have to deal with in my social interactions - it's all part of the journey, kwim?
 
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A friend once told me as I complained about the wrinkles and changes that are beginning to show up on my face: Growing old is a privilege Melissa. Appreciate the privilege while it lasts. Many of us don't make long enough to grow old.

I still sigh when I look at myself getting older, but this always sticks with me and I'm determined not to get hung up on "getting old."
 

ValleyO

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I stop a few men, waggle my stick, and say: "What a handsome young man you are, son."

Their reactions are uniform - they are horrified, as if I am breaking a great taboo. Am I? Are old women not allowed to think about sex or romance?
Umm, wouldn't anyone be weirded out if a complete stranger said that to them? :shocked:
 

PinkCupcake

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Seems to me she went looking for rejection and then acted surprised when she found it.

Look at the way she went about it: no makeup, no jewellery, overcoat, chin hairs, and then she goes into a music shop and asks for whatever's at the top of the charts. Of course it must have looked and sounded comical. If she'd been wearing make up, a beautiful suit and three strands of pearls, and asking for a gift voucher for her granddaughter, or where to find the Bing Crosby CDs, most likely she would have received polite and respectful service. Asking for the current chart toppers was simply inviting ridicule. And if she'd been wearing makeup and had her hair nicely styled when she went to the Lancome counter, and saying she needed help finding a lipstick that didn't bleed or a natural looking eyebrow pencil, she would have received the same sort of service she always does.

If you go out looking like you don't care about yourself, you shouldn't be surprised if other people don't care either. How you present yourself tells the world how you feel about yourself, and getting around with chin hairs basically says you've given up on yourself and invites everyone else to do the same.

I am 53 years old, I wear glasses and I'm only 5' tall. I'm probably a perfect candidate for invisibility, but it isn't happening yet and I doubt it ever will because I won't let it. I've actually been there; back when I gave up smoking my weight ballooned up from around 100lbs to close on 200. I felt awful and dressed to look as inconspicuous as possible. Not surprisingly, if ever I walked into a clothing store, the sales staff ignored me. Sure they probably didn't have anything in my size but I could have been looking for a gift for someone ... but they weren't prepared to risk wasting their time on someone who looked like she wouldn't be buying anything.

Ten years later and 100lbs lighter, when I walk into a clothing store I get immediate service. No doubt it helps in some cases that I'm carrying a Louis, but I don't think it would make much difference if I didn't. Basically I'm presenting as a women, getting older maybe, but one who still cares about looking as attractive as possible. It isn't ageing per se that causes people to turn away; it's looking like you don't treat yourself well and don't expect anyone else to either.
 

Shari

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Jul 16, 2006
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Yeah and if she was made up to look like a 17 year old punk, she'd go into an pricey shop and staff would call security, she'd go on public transport and people would avoid taking a seat next to her, they'd pull their bags close to them to make sure she couldn't steal from them. She could just be walking down the street and older people would try to avoid her, assume that she was going to make trouble because she's young. Prejudicial people make judgment calls about everyone based on appearance and age - it's not just the elderly. You will have to fight people's assumptions about your character based on nothing but your appearance including your age throughout your life, your ENTIRE like. It's just part of the deal - it's patronising of the elderly to assume that they can't handle it. It's patronising to feel sorry for an old person because of how you perceive others may treat them based on their age.

My grandfather is 83 years old. People treat him with respect whereever he goes because if there is any doubt about his capacity, he gently but firmly sets the record straight. It's not a tragedy of human nature that he has to say to people that he's not stupid. It's just human nature. It's like when I have to assure people that, as a 25 year old female, yes, I really can drive a car fast and well and I don't talk on my mobile when I drive. Is it presumptuous of others to consider me a bad driver because I'm a young female? Yes. Is it tragic? No. It's just one of the many things I have to deal with in my social interactions - it's all part of the journey, kwim?


:tup: Excellent post! Vety true as well.
 

Bitten

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Why thank you Shari ^^^. Although I have to admit, I am a total female stereotype when it comes to doing a reverse parallel park!:shame::girlsigh:
 

BagAngel

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Seems to me she went looking for rejection and then acted surprised when she found it.

Look at the way she went about it: no makeup, no jewellery, overcoat, chin hairs, and then she goes into a music shop and asks for whatever's at the top of the charts. Of course it must have looked and sounded comical. If she'd been wearing make up, a beautiful suit and three strands of pearls, and asking for a gift voucher for her granddaughter, or where to find the Bing Crosby CDs, most likely she would have received polite and respectful service. Asking for the current chart toppers was simply inviting ridicule. And if she'd been wearing makeup and had her hair nicely styled when she went to the Lancome counter, and saying she needed help finding a lipstick that didn't bleed or a natural looking eyebrow pencil, she would have received the same sort of service she always does.

If you go out looking like you don't care about yourself, you shouldn't be surprised if other people don't care either. How you present yourself tells the world how you feel about yourself, and getting around with chin hairs basically says you've given up on yourself and invites everyone else to do the same.

I am 53 years old, I wear glasses and I'm only 5' tall. I'm probably a perfect candidate for invisibility, but it isn't happening yet and I doubt it ever will because I won't let it. I've actually been there; back when I gave up smoking my weight ballooned up from around 100lbs to close on 200. I felt awful and dressed to look as inconspicuous as possible. Not surprisingly, if ever I walked into a clothing store, the sales staff ignored me. Sure they probably didn't have anything in my size but I could have been looking for a gift for someone ... but they weren't prepared to risk wasting their time on someone who looked like she wouldn't be buying anything.

Ten years later and 100lbs lighter, when I walk into a clothing store I get immediate service. No doubt it helps in some cases that I'm carrying a Louis, but I don't think it would make much difference if I didn't. Basically I'm presenting as a women, getting older maybe, but one who still cares about looking as attractive as possible. It isn't ageing per se that causes people to turn away; it's looking like you don't treat yourself well and don't expect anyone else to either.
Very good post Pinkcupcake, you make some excellent points!

However, I suppose though she was trying to portray an older woman who didn't have the resources to look pretty, I guess many older people do just lose heart & think there is not much point or many don't have the money living on a pension to take care of themselves & a beauty salon for a chin wax would be alien to them or again not affordable.

Regarding the music store she could have been looking to buy a present for a grandchild & obviously she would not have known what was in the charts so she should have been treated with respect.