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The Growing Trend of Amortality; Are You Amortal?

Carmen Dell’Orefice is an 81 year old New Yorker. She is the oldest model in the world and has modeled for the last 67 years, which places her in the Guinness Book of World Records. She has been modeling ever since she appeared on the cover of Vogue at the age of 15. In her career, She has graced the cover of Vogue six times, landed 14 cosmetics campaigns, and was photographed by greats such as Richard Avedon(an American fashion and portrait photographer). She is living proof that beauty gets better with age. In an interview with the Today Show, she said, “I think America may be growing up and accepting the fact that the bulk of life exists beyond 50 because demographically the vast population is over 50.”

Meryl Streep is 63 years old and widely regarded as one of the best living movie actresses. She has received a record 17 nominations, the most in Academy Awards history. In film, conventional wisdom has it that an actress’s career is effectively finished at 40, that there are no roles around for older women. But, Streep has broken Hollywood’s unwritten rules and has been getting broad recognition in her movies.

What we can learn from these two cases is that these are people who refuse to be defined by their age. That is, they are part of a fast-growing trend of women (and men) who are living agelessly. They live the same way, at the same pitch, doing and consuming much of the same things, from their late teenage year right up until their twilight years. Now, in a new book about the phenomenon, Time magazine’s Catherine Mayer terms these ‘ageless’ individuals ‘The Amortals.’ However, amortality is not invariably synonymous with extended youth relevant to anti-aging or down-aging. “Amortality sets itself apart by situating these trends within a broader social context; of longer life spans, greater wealth and the decline of traditional scripts around family, work and religion,” Mayer explains.

So, what has caused this shift? Not too long ago, the way in which we aged and the way we perceived age has changed radically. Especially, our attitude does play a significant role in determining how we age. The amortals rarely ask themselves if their behavior is age-appropriate, because that concept has little meaning for them. Also, they do not structure their lives around the inevitability of death, because they prefer to ignore it. Instead, they continue to chase their aspirations and covet new goods and services. 90-year-old former obstetrician, Kim Jeong-nyeo started the second chapter of her life, picking up a brush for the first time at age 55. She has published two art books, and in 2002 had a private exhibition in Baegak Art Space in Insa-dong. In an interview with JoongAng Ilbo, she said, “I thought there wouldn’t be much I could do after the age of 50, but my old age is full of happiness thanks to drawing. Living life doing what I love is such a blessing.”

In addition, as the average lifespan increases, people are living longer. Aging is not something to take lying down. “Across the developed world the average lifetime has lengthened by 30 years since the beginning of the 20th century. The fastest-growing segment of the world’s population is the very old, with the number of centenarians up from a few thousand in 1950 to 340,000 in 2010 and projected to reach nearly 6 million by 2050,” Mayer mentions.

Moreover, advancements in medical technology has added decades to our lives and must surely be on the verge of adding many more. Chaum is the premier wellness, longevity, and aesthetic medical facility located in Seoul, Korea. Combining the wisdom and the techniques from many different schools of therapy including oriental medicine, they provide elderly with services such as effective workout programs to achieve healthy lifestyle.

It is said that a combination of a longer lifespan, greater affluence and scientific progress makes it possible that today’s 50-year-old really is “yesterday’s 30-year-old.” And that applies to everything from our health, the popular culture we consume, and the way we look. Our obsession with youth is not just about the way we look. It’s about the way we are rewarded for behaving. In Mayer’s book, she says that the ageless generation are never too old to find a new lover, start up a new business or have a baby. In fact, they are ready for anything except death.

Once upon a time, reaching your 60s meant saying goodbye to work. However, today, apart from this conventional perspective, old people find new fields that fit their interests and constantly challenge themselves after retirement. For example, New Senior Life, a social enterprise located in Seoul, Korea, aims at helping older people to live a new, energetic and worthy senior life. This company provides those over 50 with walking classes and programs for correcting their posture. In addition, at the invitation of outside institutions and special events, they hold senior fashion shows more than six times a year.

Furthermore, ardent love no longer belongs to only those in their 20s or 30s. The amortals are not afraid to fall in new love even when they are in their 50s and 60s or after. In other words, it means that they are delaying childrearing or forgoing it altogether and falling in love without restrictions. For instance, Madonna adopted children at 49 and 50 and Hugh Hefner prepared to marry a woman 60 years younger than he is. It affects the transformation of family life. Mayer explains that we will find celebrities endorsing these changes through their own adventures in family-building. “I feel just as hungry today as the day I left home,” remarked Madonna. Her appetite for adding members to her family extended beyond her 50th birthday.

In the consumption market, people reject the idea that age determines who and how they should be. Also, the sales industry has developed a marketing strategy which is not constrained by age. For example, there are the across-the-board popularity of shops such as Zara, Gap and H&M, which appeal to women of all ages.

This phenomenon, however, raises important questions. First, thanks to scientific advancements, we have become to live longer than ever before. If so, when do we reach middle age? The definition of ‘middle age’ has become extremely ambiguous. Also, is it okay that age-appropriate behavior is disappearing? Besides, as a society with an unequal distribution of wealth, underprivileged people who cannot enjoy the same rights of the amortals, may suffer from feelings of alienation. If this continues, there may be more and more conflicts among people. Mayer also warns that amortals may be assailed by depression or left unprepared when the gap between their ageless sense of self and the reality of aging catches up.

“Amortality has reached a tipping point and is spreading through all the generations. Amortals live among us. In their teens and 20s, they may seem preternaturally experienced. In later life, they often look young and dress younger. They have kids early or late or not at all. Their emotional lives are as chaotic as their financial planning. Amortality, after all, isn’t just about living longer, or even about living forever. It’s about living better: mentally, physically and experientially,” Catherine Mayer, author of Amortality: The Pleasures and Perils of Living Agelessly says. Today, growing older does not have to mean growing old and bored. The rest is up to you.

Kim Yu-young  tbfor700@dongguk.edu

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