A Man’s Take on Ageism

Ageism works in many different ways. It’s like a lot of other destructive “isms” – sexism, racism – based on assumptions, stereotypes and projections of our own fears and failings. Some are barely subtle, like “you look good for your age.”  Other kinds of Ageism are more overt.

For instance – ever hear this one?

“The sexual peak for men is about 18 years a old, and for women around 30 years old.”

This falls under Hitler’s “Big Lie”  – (“tell a lie big enough and often enough and everyone will believe it”). There are many of these Big Lie’s in all “isms” – particularly in Ageism. But let’s start with that one.

This sexual peak quip seems to have originated from the 1950’s.  Dr. Kinsey, did you get anything right?  He wrongly equated hormonal peak with sexual prime. But I suspect this concept proliferated because a lot of men in the 1950’s embraced this factoid as a way of explaining their own behavior, or lack of performance.

Modern Research is pretty clear that the overall physical peak for both men and women is in their early 30’s. But let’s be clear about the use of the term “physical peak” and its implications:

Physical peak generally means you can be at your best in your early-to-mid 30’s – or primed  to be at your best physical shape at this age.

Think about the best professional athletes out there – not Olympiads who train for a single performance every 4 years – but professional athletes who train to compete almost continuously. While there are many who burst on to the scene like a phenomenon in their early 20s, most of the lasting-legends hit their peak-stride (their best performances) while in their 30’s.  Think through your favorite sports, and favorite legends: Serena and Venus Williams? Muhammad Ali? Michael Jordan? Derek Jeter? The list is very long. Sure, there are exceptions, younger, older – but the bell curve for peak performance is very wide for the mid-30’s.

But so what? These are professionals and outliers. Not exactly. This “peak physical shape” assertion just means that – whatever kind of shape you are in your mid thirties is like a multiplier – it will determine how fit you will be for the rest of your life. The downside is that, if you start getting sedentary and out of shape at this time of your life – this will stick, too.  Part of this is physical, and part of it is lifestyle (mental) – ie. habits, routine etc.

What usually happens to most people is, by the time they hit mid-thirties, they have major lifestyle changes:  Steady job, spouse maybe some kids, easier hobbies and habits like watching TV – that preclude exercising as regularly, or as intensely. Then it’s a downward cycle. Your body adapts and gets used to it. This was very commonplace in the 50’s and 60’s and earlier, when getting married and settling down was common, and expected.

But since the 1970’s -we’ve become a fitness society. Gyms are on every corner, aerobics classes, yoga, spinning,running, using our Fitbits, Jawbones and Garmins.  Ever look at a photo of a 40 year old from the 1950’s? They look liked a senior citizen.

Want to see what 40 looks like today? Look at Leonardo Dicaprio and Reese Witherspoon. Jennifer Aniston is 47 and Julia Roberts is 48; Hugh Jackman is 47; Matt Damon and Mark Whalberg are 45.

Want to see what 50 looks like today?  Look at Brad Pitt, 52 or Michelle Obama – same age. Think Johnny Depp is sexy?  53; Tom Cruise,  George Clooney are both 55 years old; Bruce Willis and Liam Neeson – who both still do action movies are in their 60s; Denzel Washington?  61.

Harrison Ford made the last Indiana Jones movie (The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) – doing some of his own stunts AND with his shirt off – when he was 66 years old. Robert Redford just turned 80, and Clint Eastwood is still attracting and dating much younger women – at age 86.

Remember Sean Connery? He beat out some pretty-boys and beefcakes to be named People’s Sexiest Man Alive at age 59 – and Sexiest Man of the Century, at age 69. One more: Barack Obama – 55 years old.

These are not freaks of nature. And this is not about people whose jobs are centered around being professionally good-looking. This is just who we are now.  It’s who we all are now.

It reflects how much better we are keeping in shape. Maybe it is the proliferation of fitness options, or nutritional products.  Or, maybe the bar has been raised since we’re such an image-conscious society. The fact is that we are living longer, and taking care of ourselves and are in better shape.  And if you’re keeping fit during your mid-30’s, chances are you’ll remain fit and health for the rest of your life.

The modern cliche “40 is the new 30” is passe. Today, it’s “50 is the new 30”, and in many cases 60, 70 and beyond. Ageism, well, this is soon to be outed as mere jealously, because that 20-something is nowhere near their peak yet.

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