I had an epiphany last week. I looked in the bathroom mirror and realized that I couldn’t see my face clearly until I put on my reading glasses. Which led me to wonder: How do you put on makeup while wearing glasses? Lots of people must do this because lots of people wear glasses. But how? And is it normal to wake up one day and suddenly not be able to see your face in the mirror? What else am I not seeing? And what else, dear God, is next?
Which led me to my epiphany: We need a guidebook for growing old. We have traditional books, “How Not to Become a Little Old Lady,” “Honest Aging,” “The Book about Getting Older” full of advice about how to age. Plus we have, everywhere we look, anti-aging messages assailing us: Tips for anti-aging. Make-up for anti-aging. Diets for anti-aging. Meditation for reverse aging! Would that there were an actual fountain of youth. But there isn’t. If you live long enough you will grow old. So how do we navigate these years?
With a guidebook!
“As you are getting older, everything about you is changing: the way you look, the way you are shaped, the way you feel, the way you react, and the things that you find interesting. This happens for every girl your age, but sometimes it feels as if you are the only one going through it.”
This is how the very popular American Girls book, “The Care & Keeping of YOU, The Body Book for Older Girls 2″ — written for girls 10 and up — begins.
So why not a guidebook like this for even older girls (and even older adults)?
First, let’s talk about the word “seniors.” When you’re 18 and a senior in high school, the word is positive. Same when you’re a senior in college. But not when you’re a senior citizen. In the US, there’s a lot of negativity attached to senior citizens.
In September 2021, AARP reported that those age 50 and over are seven times more likely to be portrayed negatively in online ads than people under age 50. If you’re over age 50, you already know this: There is blatant bias in advertising.
But age is good. Age is wisdom and experience and a lifetime of knowledge. Age is to be honored. Elders is a word that implies these attributes. It’s time to retire senior and adopt elders. And so our guidebook would be called “A Guide for Elders.”
Chapter 1: When should you call a doctor? My friend has what she refers to as “the dizzies.” Some days the dizzies keep her close to home. Some days the dizzies disappear and she feels fine. Is this normal? Are the dizzies as innocuous as a teenager sleeping for 15 straight hours, then pulling an all-nighter two days later? Is growing old as mercurial as growing up? Wouldn’t it be handy to have a book that addresses issues like this?
Chapter 2: Let’s talk about body changes. Who stole my waist? And where did it go? And why are there hairs on my chin that I can’t see but can feel? And when did they appear? And why are they there? And should you shave them or buy one of those fancy facial hair trimmers for women or just yank them out with tweezers?
Chapter 3: Why can’t I remember the name of the book I just read? Is this normal? Have I read too many books? Is this why I can’t remember anymore? Or is this, as the poet Billy Collins wrote, simply the way it is: “The name of the author is the first to go followed obediently by the title, the plot, the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel which suddenly becomes one you have never read, never even heard of …”
“Treat Your Body Right”
“Your New Look”
These are just some of the chapters in the American Girl book.
“The Care and Keeping of You, The Body Book for Older Girls 2,” all of which help kids navigate the unknown (to them) stages of growing up. Why not a similar book for people who are growing old and navigating unknown (to them) stages, too? Some practical topics: “Closed captioning is your friend.” “Why high beams coming at you at night are blinding.”
People who are over 50 make up 34 percent of the US population. Kids from 12 to 17 make up just 7.6 percent. There are a lot more people growing older than turning into teenagers in this country. And these growing older people still buy — and read — books. A simple guidebook would not just be useful, but a certain bestseller.
Beverly Beckham’s column appears every two weeks. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.