How AARP and the Media Whitewash the Realities of Growing Old

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Carol Orsborne’s Article,  AARP: Mortality Whitewash hits it on the head when she discusses how AARP, the largest publication for boomer adults continually whitewashes and dresses down the realities older adults face about growing old. We know that there are very happy and thriving 60, 70 & 80 year olds. We know that older adults are enjoying life, reinventing themselves, honoring their pasts and opening up to new vistas of travel. We get it that seniors are living and exploring life, all the while enjoying active and healthy lifestyles.  Most older adults experience this and are witnesses to this in others. It is a reality for us.

The problem is that there is more to the story…….We also get sick, have physical challenges, and experience the deterioration of our own bodies. Loved ones fade away through disease and die. We grieve and mourn not only those we have lost, but parts of our lives that no longer exist or that we know one day will disappear and never be what was. We struggle and begin, to varying degrees, to come to some acceptance and peace about our own mortality.  Being older is a time of paradoxes and complexities: a time of joy, yet a time of new challenges; a life stage of great opportunities mixed with loss and knowledge that things will never be the same. It is a time of life mixed with the light and the shadow. 

Dr. Orsborn describes AARP’s romantic depiction of Valerie Harper as she was facing her mortality: “Faced with inoperable cancer, the beloved star of Rhoda, reacts just the way we’d want her to; with gritty determination and a hearty laugh.”

Reacts just the way we’d want her to???????  Are they serious?   

That’s not the depiction I want to see of anyone facing death.  I don’t want to see some sanitized version of the real story. I want the truth. I want to know how she grappled with the diagnosis: what choices she made about her medical care and how, and if she accepted her own death…… 

And that “hearty laugh.” Did she have a hearty laugh when she got the diagnosis or as she lie on her deathbed, surrounded by her loved ones? 

We don’t want to see a happily dying Rhoda……We want to see the real Valeria Harper.

As older adults, we deserve and I would say, demand that we be represented with images, language and stories that mirror who we really are – complex, beings, living life as fully as we can, as we embrace both the gifts and challenges of growing older. We do not want our lives trivialized, simplified, purified and sanitized. We do not want the media  fabricating who we are to make us look “pretty’ rather than real…….

Pretty may work for Hollywood, but not for us seniors……

Those of us who are getting older need real stories and we need to have real role models. Yes, we need to see images of vital, active, thriving 60+ people  We are out there and we are doing great. But we also deserve and demand to see the truth: people grappling with serious life and death choices, families having to make challenging and difficult decisions. And we need to see the unaltered faces of older adults who, wrinkles, and all, are real human beings facing the challenges of growing  older with courage, questions, spiritual quests, tears, fears and many unknowns.

I believe that it is incumbent upon us, the aging boomers, to step in and  step up and to become the change agents ourselves. We must speak out, write, dramatize, tell stories about who we really We must let it be known who we are, what we are doing and how we are living.

So, get your pens out or open your computer. When you see an article or even a photo in a newspaper or magazine depicting a senior that is supposed to represent us, let your opinion be known whether it works for you or not.  Write a letter to the editor or make a phone call. Write your own blog; read blogs written by real seniors.  Talk to young people – your grandkids or your neighbors children.  Let them know who you are and what you are doing.

We, as seniors, do not want to be whitewashed by the media nor do we want to be brainwashed about the realities of aging. We are complex, dynamic beings living our lives while facing the challenges of growing older.  We are real. We have wrinkles, aches and pains and and are confronting the eventual reality of our demise in this life form.

Let’s face it, seniors live in in a youth oriented society where we become more and more invisible the older we get. We say, NO MORE…….AARP  and all the other media……See us, feel us , take the time to know us……And to my fellow seniors, take charge and let us join forces to be the real voice and image of growing older.  That’s really the only way that we will be honestly represented and truly visible….

By Roberta Teller