In a recent interview about her new movie, actress Jennifer Aniston reported that she finds it frustrating when people say she looks good for her age. The actress continued to say that “we are sort of erasing numbers” and age these days, understanding better how to take care of our respective minds and bodies. But erasing age? I’m sure the actress made her comment on impulse, meaning that she probably didn’t think about all the issues associated with saying that we can “erase” our age.
There is no erasing of one’s age. In fact, once people hit 40 (or maybe even 35?) they start noticing little – or big – changes in the body that result from aging. But at the far end of the spectrum, we have elders who commonly live to be almost 100 or even older. If we think about age from this perspective, maybe Ms. Aniston is right! People really do seem to live forever.
Which brings me to my grandmother, a woman who is on track to turn 100 very soon. The problem with my grandmother turning 100 is that I haven’t recognized her as my grandma for years. Like many seniors, my grandmother has dementia. Yes, she is still alive, but she looks miserable, bored, and has said on countless occasions, “I just want to go already.” Okay, Ms. Aniston, you’re sure we’re “erasing” numbers?
One problem I have with Hollywood women (or men) making such ignorant statements is that these individuals actually influence the way some people think, including those individuals who regularly purchase tabloid and celebrity-oriented magazines. Others are influenced by plastic surgeries they may have, and the wish to undo aging with plastic surgery isn’t winding down. Actually, the anti-aging industry is bigger now than ever before.
My chief problem, however, is that making such ignorant statements about aging to the masses sends a seriously distorted message to women and young girls. Suggesting that we can erase age and numbers tells teenage girls that looking young and pretty is one’s most important calling card in life, even though we know that materialistic possessions (including plastic surgeries!) do not necessarily lead to happiness.
What does lead to happiness? Simply put, good health. Recent research from Angner and colleagues (2012) showed that there was a relationship between disease and happiness. Specifically, the degree to which a disease disrupted daily functioning was associated with reduced happiness. In many ways, we already know this relationship to be true. As men and women traverse the lifespan and move toward the elderly years, their bodies become much more susceptible to disease. Accordingly, one’s age is not erased at all – it has everything to do with the disease process later in life.
From a psychological perspective, a Hollywood star stating that we can erase age and numbers is both narcissistic and grandiose. It makes sense, actually, that movie stars develop some level of these pathological personality traits (if they weren’t already there pre-Hollywood). The adulation that stars receive practically requires that the star start to believe he or she truly is special and distinct from all the rest. Well, if you believe them, they don’t even age.
Erik Angner, Jennifer Ghandhi, Kristen Williams Purvis, Daniel Amante, Jeroan Allison. Daily Functioning, Health Status, and Happiness in Older Adults. Journal of Happiness Studies, 2012.