Why do we have to get Old?

The map of life on a womans face
The map of life on a womans face

Humans, as far as we know, are the only species conscious of our own mortality. Thus we are apt to obsess not only over our inevitable death but also over the slow road of exponential wrinkly decreptitude that leads us there.

Few of us embrace the process of aging and all the ugly realities it entails. Many of us fight against it, worry about it, get depressed over it and some go to extraordinary lengths to escape it. Futilely of course, for the aging process cannot be evaded and no amount of kicking and screaming will fend of Time and its effects. We are genetically programmed to get old. Perhaps  we'll figure out how to slow down the clock..but for now, it's the natural way of things.


The Fountain of Youth

In less sceptical times, the alluring legend of the Fountain of Youth spanned the globe, enduring for thousands of years. It was a mythical spring where the wrinkled and liver-spotted had merely to sip of its waters to return to beautiful youth. Probably we believed it because we so desperately wanted to...and if science hadn't turned out to be such a spoilsport in these matters, we'd probably be believing it still.

Indeed, there are some who still have faith in the existence of a fountain of youth but these modern believers generally seek out the elixer of youth at the cosmetic counter or the plush surgeries of plastic surgeons. As most of us know, the beauty industry is a multi-billion dollar dream-machine selling hope and illusion and the promise of a more youthful us to hoards of people hoping to wind back time.


The Fountain of Youth by, Lucas Cranach the Elder. 1546
The Fountain of Youth by, Lucas Cranach the Elder. 1546
Blanche has trouble confronting herself in the mirror.  Still shot from the 1951 Elia Kazan film starring Vivian Leigh
Blanche has trouble confronting herself in the mirror. Still shot from the 1951 Elia Kazan film starring Vivian Leigh

Blanche Dubois Syndrome

The beautiful but rapidly aging Blanche Dubois is a character in a Tennessee Williams play; A Streetcar Named Desire and it is a tale of a penniless, faded Southern Belle whose sense of identity is anchored in her feminine allure, which she shrouds in ladylike niceties. Blanche, living in a world of illusion, cannot accept the loss of her youth and beauty and yet..she must! There is a sad, compelling scene in the play, loaded with pathos, where she is dragged beneath a bright, direct light by her suitor Mitch and is thus forced to confront reality. She can't take the light.

Mitch tells Blanche that he doesn't mind her aging but it's her deceitfulfulness he can't take - the problem is internal, not external. Such is the fate of women who rely on the vanities of superficial beauty - it's called putting all your eggs in one basket and when the eggs are gone, there's an empty basket. In truth, Blanche is really a more complex character than I give her credit for here, but her story is a universal one in as much as many women, who once were beautiful find it hard to cope with the destructive nature of aging and what it does to the human body.

For many women, age brings insecurity and it's a little too late to develop a great personality at fifty if you haven't already formed one. I once heard beauty described as like owning a special passport that lets you travel to wonderful, exotic places but if you lose it, you suddenly can't get in anymore. Must be hard. Yet, trying desperately to retrieve that which is gone can have even more tragic results.


Jocelyn Wildenstein. Image from  Mail Online
Jocelyn Wildenstein. Image from Mail Online
The horrendous effects of cooking oil injections on a womans face. Image from The Telegraph.
The horrendous effects of cooking oil injections on a womans face. Image from The Telegraph.
It's ok to age
It's ok to age

The Tragedy of Trying too Hard

Of course Jocelyn Wildenstein, pictured at right and famous chiefly for making such a disaster out of her own face, is an extreme case of age-denial and quite possibly suffers from some sort of pathological condition. What else could explain such a mystifying form of self-destruction...? Poor Jocelyn, while perhaps eerily wrinkle free, has had so many surgeries and treatments that her original features are scarcely recognizable.

Scarily, Jocelyn is not an isolated case. There are many women who have ruined themselves in the pursuit of youth and beauty, however few cases are as tragic as that of Korean woman Hang Mioku, who triggered major damage to her facial features after injecting herself with cooking oil. Mioku was already anxious about aging at the dewy age of 28 and had her first surgery at that time.

Over the years several more operations followed until eventually surgeons refused to operate on her. Unfortunately, one doctor, who had given Hang silicone injections, supplied her with a syringe and silicone so she could inject herself at home. So obsessed with youth and beauty was Hang, when the silicone ran out and no more could be obtained, she began injecting her face with cooking oil. Surgery to correct some of the damage entailed removing 260g of foreign substance from her face and neck.

Though few youth worshippers are as extreme or as tragic as Hang, there are nonetheless hoards of women who spend small fortunes on fillers, plumpers. peels, laser treatments and a plethora of other cosmetic promises - some potentailly dangerous and all designed to stave off the spectre of aging. For a while, some of them do, as not all cosmetic enhancements end in disaster of course - but as far as beating Time goes, it will eventually roll around to everyone, no matter how rich or how beautiful. Botox can't hold us up forever and while I may be just making a value judgement here, tthere seems to be a point where some women, after looking great for years, appear to have just one injection/operation too many and start looking a little more alien sponge material than human. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with wanting to appear younger, although if beauty can be said to come from within, it''s my guess, (at least in theory) that diet, exercise and some kind of internal contentment are far superior ways to hang onto whatever youthful vitality we can.


A young progeria sufferer
A young progeria sufferer

The Aging Process: Why do we get Old?

Although aging is universal, we do age at different rates depending on such factors as genes, lifestyle, stress, disease, environmental damage etc. There have been various theories about what causes aging, such as harmful free radicals and the interesting idea that our cells work something like photocopiers and every time they reproduce themselves, the copy becomes a little less perfect.

It seems aging is caused by damage to our DNA, which may occur over time due to general wear and tear. How we respond to the damage is determined by particular genes, thus the reason why some people age more quickly than others. Children born with the rare, premature-aging disease, progeria, have been found to suffer a severe mutation in the XPF gene, which is involved in DNA repair. To confirm the effects of the mutation, in 2006 scientists in the laboratory manipulated mice genetically to create the rapid aging effect of the XPF mutation seen in progeria sufferers. However, the XFP gene, although very significant in repairing DNA damage, is not the only gene implicated in the aging process.


Will we ever be able to stop the aging process?

We're certainly working on it. The good news is, since 2006 scientists have been able to identify age-related genes and recent research into aging has been buoyed by the discovery of single-gene mutations that extend the lifespan of laboratory animals and delay multiple, age-related diseases.

These discoveries are quite revolutionary and could have big implications; for although in terms of longevity we were already doing much better than the generations before us (since the middle of the nineteenth century life expectancy has been increasing by about 2.5 years per decade) living longer means were picking up more age-related diseases. Scientists can now not only prolong life in laboratory animals but they can extend quality of life, that is keep them healthy and vital for longer. Not much point in extending decrepitude. As a wise observer of the human condition once said, "Why would I want to extend my life just so I can spend five more years in the geriatric home?".

More comprehensive information about this research can be found at the The Royal Society: Biological Sciences website:

The New Science of Aging


Image by JB
Image by JB

Aging Gracefully in a Youth Culture

George Bernard Shaw once famously said, "youth is wasted on the young."

If we knew then what we know now, what would we change...? A poignant irony of our existence that we don't, can't, fully appreciate youth until it has evaporated behind us. Perhaps it's really better that way, for if we were wise and knowing in youth, it would lose something of its special value.

Although youth and beauty has long been culturally eulogised, in no other age has it been so slavishly worshipped than in ours. In a billboard youth culture where image rules and every day we are bombarded with spectres of vitality and beauty, getting old can feel like a failure - when really it's an achievement. It means you've somehow been able to survive the challenges, dangers and general vicissitudes of life..you've hung in there. You're lucky!


Keep Young and Beautiful

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Comments 38 comments

Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 5 years ago from California Gold Country

I really liked this, and am old enough to appreciate it.

(The phrase "the slow road of exponential wrinkly decreptitude" was a little disturbing.)

The lady above the caption "It's ok to age" only has laugh lines.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Hi Rochelle, thanks. Yes, I was very manipulative with those photographs.

Instead of juxtaposing Jocelyn Wildenstein and the cooking oil lady with that flattering, naturally aged shot, I could have course, put an attractive photo of someone surgically enhanced next to an unflattering photo of someone with unflattering sagging jowls and a crepe neck. Then the caption "it's ok to age" wouldn't have worked very well...;)


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 5 years ago from California Gold Country

No-- I think it was just right. She looks a little like my daughter-in-law's mom, naturally attractive.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Rochelle, yes, she is naturally attractive, which is nice to see...and she has expression, which Botox and the like tends to iron out of you.


Terry.Hirneisen profile image

Terry.Hirneisen 5 years ago from Shenandoah Valley

Well getting old is a bitch, but not because you get wrinkles. For most people their Income level drops significantly along with energy. This recession isn't helping either. If it wasn't for all the loot I take in on HUB Pages I don't know what I would do!

My wife has good genes. Still beautiful at age ##.

Don't know, but I suspect women worry more about this than men. Thanks for the read.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Terry, there's only one thing worse than being old and that's being old and poor.

I think women do worry more about it but men might be catching up - they have their own line of anti-aging beauty products now.

Thanks for commenting and I'm glad to hear someone is making loot on HP...I thought that was just a myth..;-)


Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 5 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

I'm kicking and screaming! I don't want to get old. Oh, too late. Well, at least my brain can stay young. Hahahahaha


Rod Marsden profile image

Rod Marsden 5 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia

Good read. Not sure about aging being wear and tear on DNA or damage.

Another school of thought is that we are programed to fail over time. This programing is simply part of our DNA and the reason for it is we are sexual beings rather than asexual. Now asexual beings are less likely to have this programing. In other words we pay the price for having the ability to produce offspring the way we do. If there is any immortality it lies with our children.

Also, as you say, the more complex the creature the more things that can and will go wrong over time. Think of your typical asexual creature as a hand radio with batteries that last forever whereas you're a full home entertainment system with a huge viewing screen, video and DVD player and CD player and excellent sound equipment.

I will attempt not to become old and poor. Not too worried about the old bit provided I have at the time a woman who still needs me and who will still feed me when I'm 64! We will of course holiday on the Isle of Wight if its not too dear.


drbj profile image

drbj 5 years ago from south Florida

Fabulous hub, Jane, and an excellent exploration of the aging process and our all too human reactions to said process. I always say, however, that getting old is much preferred to the alternative!

Thank you for linking to my hub, "Old Age Ain't for Sissies." I will reciprocate forthwith, if not sooner. :)


secularist10 profile image

secularist10 5 years ago from New York City

Well, within a few decades science will probably end most of the aging process if not the whole damn thing, so patience would seem to be warranted. That's what old people are supposed to be good at, right? Patience...

What really intrigues me is the prospect of a future world where a wealthy, eternally youthful and vibrant elite (the ones who can afford the latest anti-aging treatments) reigns over a majority of aging people, stuck with the fate that nature gave them.

What will be the socio-cultural, economic and political implications of such advances? Will naturally old people be seen as inherently diseased? Will the "youth culture" simply become THE culture? If people in the future are able to remain sharp, energetic and healthy indefinitely, what value will "wisdom" or "experience" have? Will action trump reflection every time?

I'll see you (and Joan Rivers) in the future...


Rod Marsden profile image

Rod Marsden 5 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia

Sounds like your future world, secularist10, is a world ruled over by vampires.

If we don't have people moving on after X amount of years then our planet will become even more crowded. Advancements in medicine and sanitation have resulted in people living longer. The end results? The holy idiots have still to wake up and realize that humanity isn't in danger of disappearing forever from lack of children. We are not bronze age people where a scratch might turn into lockjaw and be the end of us. The trouble is the big three religions still think in bronze age terms.

If everyone was able to live say 200 years instead of possibly 80 or 90 like today then there wouldn't be enough food or water for all. We would be looking at mass starvation. Things are bad now but they would be a lot worse if that happened. With a lot of stupid bronze age thinking going on (thinking not stupid in the bronze age)humanity really does need to reverse course before it is too late.


Manna in the wild profile image

Manna in the wild 5 years ago from Australia

Jane this was well written enjoyable read and I rated it UP.


sueroy333 profile image

sueroy333 5 years ago from Indiana

Thank you for this excellent hub! My daughter (13) and I were reading this together. She was freaking out at some of the pictures. I found it interesting that when we got to the woman who is aging naturally, she said, "Wow, now that lady is beautiful!"

There is hope. :)

Rated up and awesome.... because it is.


Nancy B. profile image

Nancy B. 5 years ago from Kansas City, MO

Nicely written. Good research and the human touch on people's foibles where aging is concerned. Keep up the good work.


De Greek profile image

De Greek 5 years ago from UK

What an absolutely brilliant article. You have impressed me and I take my hat off to you.

(and I also enjoyed "exponential wrinkly decreptitude") :-)))


secularist10 profile image

secularist10 5 years ago from New York City

Rod, Well vampires are really misunderstood, lol.

I'm open to other possibilities, of course, but it seems to me all but inevitable that the negative effects of aging are basically on their way out the door with rapidly advancing science. I'm not a wild-eyed optimist by any means, but it does seem like a pretty good bet at this point, given the facts.

I'm not sure religion is particularly to blame for humanity's pesky habit of reproducing (I think we can safely chalk that one up to the libido for the most part). Although the tragic ignorance of the Catholic Church vis-a-vis condoms and contraception certainly doesn't help.

The answer to the overpopulation issues you mention is less reproduction (which Europe is already sort of providing a model for). And if we can beat aging, then we can have a low- or zero-growth society AND a productive and dynamic one at the same time.

I recently had a discussion with another hubber on just this topic, in the comments: http://hubpages.com/education/Human-Civilization-P...


Rod Marsden profile image

Rod Marsden 5 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia

I looked in and I agree with the hubber who says Thomas Malthus had a point.

The big three religions are gaga over increasing population. Like I said they think we are still living in the bronze age. The Catholics are pretty outspoken and dead wrong. In 1964 the pope of the day might have accepted forms of contraception that actually do work but didn't.


Anthea Carson profile image

Anthea Carson 5 years ago from Colorado Springs

Very well written, well thought out. It seems our youth obsessed culture has accepted and embraced the idea of chasing eternal youth without even questioning it, which is sad. We need to have the wisdom to respect and value all phases of life.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Austin, I can't see too many wrinkles from here.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Rod,

So sex is aging? Just as I thought. I too will attempt to not become old and poor, but my track record in accumulating funds is not too good thus far..;)

I just hope I keep my teeth.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Thanks drbj...yes, the alternative is not too appealing!


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Secs,

A few decades? That'll be too late!!

I do know what you mean about these marvels of science only being available to an elite - we may well get a two tiered society. Alas, I know which tier I'll be likely to belong to. Perhaps the genetically manipulated elite will view the "natural folk" much the same way we view chimpanzees.

If I ever end up like Jocelyn Wildenstein, I hope my loved ones have the decency to get me euthanised.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Thanks Manna!

Sueroy, your story about Chelsea warmed my heart, and I'm with her..those pictures freaked me out too. I'm glad she could she the beauty in that naturally aged woman. Mind you, anyone would look good next to the cooking oil lady..;)

Thanks for visiting


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Nancy, thanks very much.

De Greek, thanks a bunch. You're way to nice to me...but of course I love it..;)


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Hi Anthea, nice to see you. I like Mark Twain's quote on the issue - "Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter." Lol.


Rudra profile image

Rudra 5 years ago

There are lots of theories, one of them is that our cells start to die and hence organs become old and ultimately they die.


Rod Marsden profile image

Rod Marsden 5 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia

yes, Jane sex is aging but it has nothing to do with having sex just having the ability to have sex. You could go without sex all your life and still age because it is the ability and the possibility that makes you age. Or so I have read. Me? I hope i keep some of my teeth. Programing in our DNA makes sense to me because there is a time when we frequently replace our cells with new cells and this process becomes less and less frequent. A new born child I have been told has a fresh smell to it because it quickly loses the skin cells it was born with and produces shiny new ones.


corajane06 profile image

corajane06 5 years ago from Upstate NY

I know it's a bit vain, but I always feel happy and hopeful when I see a beautiful old(er) woman. But that only reinforces the stereotype about our fear of aging and getting uglier. I don't think anyone likes aging; as humans we are scared of change and like to feel in control of at least our own selves.

I really enjoyed reading this- that cooking oil woman is terrifying!


Disturbia profile image

Disturbia 5 years ago

Personally, I don't mind aging one single bit, after all, think of the alternative. I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma when I was 29 and I thought my number was up. But now, all these many years later, I'm still here, I feel great and thanks to my mother's good genes I look pretty great too. I've got wonderful friends, a beautiful loving family, and life is good. I say, have fun and enjoy your life and don't waste your precious time worrying about getting old.


secularist10 profile image

secularist10 5 years ago from New York City

As if on cue for Jane's article, this report has just come out on a woman who is apparently the world record-holder for cosmetic surgeries. She has had 52 operations done, and spent over $100,000 over the years.

http://news.yahoo.com/video/health-15749655/woman-...

Don't worry, you can look, she doesn't look like a monster, although she does appear a little plastic to me.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Rudra, thanks for visiting

Rod, I do realise that..heheh. It would be nice if we could just totally refresh our cells now and then wouldn't it?


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

corajane, it's not really vain, just normal. I feel the same way and that's a good point about feeling like your losing control. Aging is out of our hsnds, for the moment anyway.

That cooking oil woman really got to me. I mean why would you do that? ((shudder)). Thanks for commenting!


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Disturbia you've definitely got the right attitude - there's no point in worrying about aging, so might as well go with the flow. I think you just have to adjust your expectations -develop interests etc.There's still a lot to live for, as you point out. Thanks for reading.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Good lord secs, thanks for that. 52 ops! I'm surprised it only cost 100,000 grand. Does she have any original features left I wonder?

That woman has been doing this since she was young so she's clearly got long standing issues -sounds like an obsession with beauty, I agree she looks pretty good, in a *don't make me smile or I might crack* kind of way. Hmmm...you wonder though, if she will ever/could ever be satisfied?


Sun Pen 50 profile image

Sun Pen 50 5 years ago from Srilanka

Great hub with lot of information, knowledge and insights. Thanks.

Buddha has taught four noble truths that make his teachings different from teaching of all other philosophers. The first noble truth is suffering. There are seven types of suffering and one is aging.

One who meditates on aging can understand that it is a natural process and come to terms with it.

The Buddhist approach to put an end to sufferings (including aging)is totally different from normal mindset of the western traditions. Obviously that cannot make a business let alone a multi-billion industry. Even if I write a hub only a few people will be interested reading it.

Voted up and awesome.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Sun Pen...well, Buddha was right about age=suffering. Like being punished for a crime you didn't commit. But ah well, we just have to cop it as graciously as possible...as you say "come to terms with it".

Good point about the West..*emphasise the problem and sell the pseudo-solution*..that's the Western way. Thanks very much for the comment.


ChristineVianello profile image

ChristineVianello 5 years ago from Philadelphia

Jocelyn Wildenstein has gone overboard with surgery. Her face is so tight and looks like it is overfilled with juice.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Christine, she sure has. It's tragic really....she's ruined her natural feaures, all in the name of youth and beauty.Thanks for reading.

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