ColumnistsMy Turn

What Is a 79-Year-Old Supposed to Look Like?

By Bruce Frassinelli

I may be a senior, but, so what? I’m still hot.’
Betty White, 96

As I approach my 80th birthday (next June 2), I tend to over-analyze comments made to me about aging and my appearance. Yes, and I must admit to some ageism annoyances, as well.

Too many customer service representatives have this opening line, “And what can I do for you, young man?”

I actually feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand at attention when I hear this. Here is where the over-analysis comes in: “What is this person implying — that I really look old so let’s soften the blow by calling him `young man’”?

Over a recent holiday weekend, I returned to my hometown to visit my brother and his family. I ran into several acquaintances whom I had not seen for a number of years.

Some asked my age, which did not bother me in the least. When I told them that I was 79, several said, “Wow! You look great for 79.” It left me wondering: What is a 79-year-old supposed to look like?

I checked out photos of 79-year-old celebrities, such as “Godfather” director Francis Ford Coppola, Six-Million-Dollar Man star Lee Majors, talk-show host Maury Povich, actor Jon Voight and singer Kenny Rogers.

I lamented to a friend that they looked great for 79; I, by comparison, not so much.

“Yeah, but some of those guys probably had plastic surgery and did other stuff to their faces,” my friend said. “You have a natural look.” I was startled. Natural look? By this, I guess he means bald, wrinkles, jowls and other manifestations of the aging process.

After I had had lunch with a friend just after my 79th birthday, he told me that I “look different. You have a glow.” Me? A glow? What the heck does that mean? I tried to press him on what he saw that I didn’t see. He said it was a certain something that he could not describe. Mystery not solved.

Sir Isaac Newton would be happy to learn that I know a thing or two about gravity. I have the face and body to confirm that gravity has done its thing with me.

I have tried to over-compensate for having the perfect face for radio by being funny, witty, interesting and exhibit a sparkling personality. Success in these areas has been spotty, to say the least.

Stereotypes of aging include how people over a certain age should look, feel and act, rather than take into account individual differences and circumstances.

These stereotypes are primarily negative, because they depict not the desired “golden years” but a time for loneliness, dependency, poor physical and mental conditions and illness.

We all probably have a goal to “grow old gracefully” — whatever that means. Too often, the description of us older folks is not a particularly pleasant one, especially since these aforementioned stereotypes abound.

We’ve all heard it: As we age, we tend to get more demanding, grumpier, more opinionated and meddlesome. We’re described as sour-pusses, disagreeable and out-of-touch. Our children and younger acquaintances show us a rolling-of-the-eyes deference when we misspeak or commit a social faux-pas.

That whispering that you can’t make out because your hearing isn’t what it used to be involves you and your “senior moments.”

Not to overplay the negativity of growing old, there are positives, too. Many of us are still active, even well into our 80s, sometimes into our 90s. We’re alert, concerned about what’s happening in our communities and the world, enjoy eating out, going to movies, plays and concerts and engaging in leisure-time activities and traveling.

But we need to be honest with ourselves. As we have aged, we have diminishing abilities. We can’t do what we did when we were 30 and 40, even 50. Each year now takes a much greater toll on our physical abilities compared to a year when we were younger.

Once in a while, I conjure up this image in my mind’s eye of my hanging on to the minute hand of a clock as it tick-tocks its way toward midnight. Try as I might to pull the minute hand the other way, it continues its methodical march toward the hour of reckoning. Pretty grim stuff, huh?

Advice columnist Ann Landers once said, “At age 20, we worried about what others thought of us; at 40, we didn’t care what they thought of us. At 60, we discovered they hadn’t been thinking of us at all.”

Although beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, the feeling of being beautiful exists solely in the mind of the beheld.

I especially like the attitude of actress Betty White, 96, who said, “I may be a senior, but, so what? I’m still hot.”