America’s Fear of Aging
Popular American culture is preoccupied with youth and the fear of aging. Such a culture unconsciously shames persons as they grow older. For example, on 30 January 2022, Cheslie Kryst — a highly educated and multi-talented person — tragically ended her life. Less than a year ago, she wrote in Allure about her fear of aging,
“Each time I say, ‘I’m turning 30,’ I cringe a little. Sometimes I can successfully mask this uncomfortable response with excitement; other times, my enthusiasm feels hollow, like bad acting. Society has never been kind to those growing old, especially women. (Occasional exceptions are made for some of the rich and a few of the famous.)”1
America’s Cult of Youth and Beauty
In general, Cheslie is right. Popular American culture worships youth and beauty. There is, though, really nothing new about that. For instance, many years ago, psychiatrist Viktor Frankl (referring to a study by the academic psychologist Edith Weisskopf-Joelson) wrote that the fear of aging is an unhealthy trend in the United States, which stresses “the value of youth.”2 For instance, I recently went to Great Clips for a hair cut. On the walls of the room, I was surrounded by photos of young men and women with various hair styles. I asked the woman who was cutting my hair,
‘Why don’t you have on your walls photos of middle-aged or older men and women? They also matter; their lives are worthwhile.’
She laughed at my comments. Her response may have been shaped by popular culture, with its cult or worship of youth. As Frankl observed,
“[T]oday’s society … adores the young. It virtually ignores the value of all those who are otherwise.”3
I went shopping at the King of Prussia Mall and there they were again: Photos of young men and women, adorning the walls of one store after another. To me, it confirmed Frankl’s point of idolizing youth in American culture.
Having the Right Attitude about Aging
Contrary to the mentality about aging in popular culture, aging does not diminish a person’s value; nor should growing older be thought of as a premature “death sentence.” Aging may, in fact, depending on a person’s attitude, enhance the value of life, making it another meaningful stage of being human.
There is nothing to be ashamed about in getting older. But shame on popular culture — the social “climate” that idolizes youth and beauty – for shaming young women and men for undergoing the normal, aging process, a process of life itself, and treating them as though they were second class citizens or, even worse, as though their lives did not matter anymore. However, in such a culture, the very ones doing the shaming, if they do not die tragically at a young age, will themselves be shamed for getting older.
The popular cultural cycle of shaming may begin to stop right now by an attitudinal change about life, respecting human beings in all stages of their lives — whether young, middle aged or old. All human lives have inherent value or dignity, precisely because they are human beings or human persons. They are not to be treated as if they were disposable items, discarded when they are over 30.
The Importance of Cheslie’s Life
In her short life, Cheslie accomplished much; her life mattered in itself and to others, especially her family and friends. However, the tragedy about her death was that there was so much for her to accomplish in life, so many more meanings to discover in the aging process. That is why, undoubtedly, those who knew her are shocked by her death.
Therefore, whether a person is 30 or 100, younger or older, life is still a gift. It is still good to be alive. The process of aging, then, may be looked upon as a challenge, namely, the challenge to live life well, to “carve out” ever-new meanings to life.
May Cheslie Kryst Rest In Peace.
If you or someone you know is struggling, help is available at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Call 1-800-273-8255.
1. Cheslie Kryst. 4 March 2021. A Pageant Queen Reflects on Turning 30. Allure. [Web:] https://www.allure.com/…/cheslie-kryst-miss-usa-on… [Date of access: 2 February 2022].
2.Viktor E. Frankl, Psychotherapy and Existentialism: Selected Papers on Logotherapy (New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1967), pp. 31, 84.
3.———-, Man’s Search for Meaning, 3rd ed. (New York, N.Y.: Simon and Schuster, 1984), p. 152.