Aging in America is a Sh*t Show

If I’m honest, Desiree Rumbaugh and I probably should not have named our recent book, “Fearless After Fifty.”

Everyone told us so. Not one person said, “By all means celebrate aging in America.” Not one person said, “Celebrate maturity in a way that makes it sound like an adventure worth taking, with romance, love, spirit, courage, wisdom, strength and resilience.”

Not. One. Person. Not our agent. Not the publishers. Not my book editor. Not our friends. Even my dog was against this idea.

Listening, however, has never been my strength. I’m a born talker! Additionally, Desiree had been teaching the Wisdom Warriors to packed rooms so it gave us the courage to do this. In fact, it was our act of civil disobedience to say, “there is something great about growing older and taking life by the reins.”  

In truth, it was unwise. Aging in America is a shit show. One book from two insignificant women (face it, neither of us is Jane Fonda or Angelina Jolie), will not change that.

Publishers like what sells, and what sells is youth. For example, the current books on aging are written by young people. Cameron Diaz (at 39) wrote (or sort-of wrote) Longevity. Kourtney Kardashian, almost 30, has signed for a book tentatively titled, Aging Gracefully. But a true story from two real people in midlife is not seen as commercially viable.

As Joan Rivers said, “I hate old people.” And so, it seems does everyone else.

Is This Our Waterloo?

How did growing older with grace and courage and lots of fight left in the dog get to be so ugly? Frankly, I think it’s because younger people do not want to see themselves as getting older, and older people want to see themselves as young. We have created a culture in America that does not value this stage of life. In fact, we shun it.

I have seen or heard all of the following in just a few weeks:

  • A studio manager posted that he does not pay salaries according to experience or years of training, rather he pays based on “connection.” Under this formula, Richard Freeman couldn’t get a job today. This is not new. It is only interesting that this is the studio’s public policy. Many companies have forced retirement at 65, so honestly, the fact that yoga studios do not value age, experience, years of study and dedication is to be expected. I do not know a single yoga teacher in midlife who has not been asked to reduce her schedule or otherwise disappear to make way for younger talent. Not. One.

 

  • In a social media post on creating a class specifically for older students, many said this was “insulting and degrading.” Why? If older students want to be with older people, perhaps for community and connection, I think that’s okay. It shouldn’t be considered grounds for WWIII. After all, there’s yoga for men, and yoga for moms with babies, and yoga with goats. If we can have goat yoga, why not old goat yoga?

 

  • A well-known teacher recently told me she mentioned something about how the body changes when it ages, and a student said, “That is so offensive.” Really? What if we lived in a society that valued its elders? What if being older was seen as, amazing? Would it still be offensive?

What if?

Fearless After Fifty: How to Thrive with Grace, Grit and Yoga is about being alive with the challenges that come at any age. Why we named it what we did, was because we live in a society that devalues the aging experience. We hoped to change that. We can’t help it; we’re dreamers.

For Des and myself, these are in some ways, our best years. We are really much better at many things. We are happier, with the mellowness of having survived some stuff. We know how to stay healthy-ish. But most of all, we no longer live in fear. We have learned to love, and love strong.

Writing about how it is to grow older in a society that “hates old people” was perhaps one of the bravest things we’ve done. We believe in loving the all of it. We wanted to shine a light on the invisible midlife person. We wanted to show up, strong and resilient, so younger people can be inspired and have what we’re having.

We thought we’d show the world there is a lot to look forward to in midlife. It may be our Waterloo, but we’re not going down without a fight.

Michelle Marchildon is The Yogi Muse. She’s an award-winning writer and the co-author with Desiree Rumbaugh of Fearless After Fifty: How to Thrive with Grace, Grit and Yoga. You can find her writing on Yoga International, Mantra Yoga and Health Magazine, and Sports Illustrated. Find her at www.YogiMuse.com

11 Comments

  1. Ally Weaver on September 21, 2017 at 9:27 am

    I read and loved the book. It breathed new life into how I think as a 53 year old part of this community and yoga instructor with a lot to give. Thank you.

    • Michelle Marchildon on September 21, 2017 at 10:43 am

      Thank you! If you have a moment, please copy this into a review on Amazon or elsewhere. Reviews are critical to writers, especially writers about aging! Thank you again

  2. Aga on September 22, 2017 at 12:36 am

    Hello,
    Thank you for the book and the topic, yet my point of view is slightly different but that’s because I’m not American and I live in Europe. We’re not that obsessed with our bodies and ageing but maybe it will come, it’s only a matter of time…do not know. As a yoga student, I’ve always looked for experienced teachers and luckily in yoga experienced means older. And that’s the blessing 🙂 Desiree is one of my favourite teachers online and I love her attitude and wisdom. And she always emphasises that all she got came with age and I believe her. It’s not easy to get older but with yoga, you can really do it with a smile on your face. One of the things that I have learned from yoga is humbleness because even as a young woman I couldn’t do many yoga poses and somehow that feeling allowed me to accept all other impossible-to-do things e.g. being forever young. I have my own pace and my victory is to keep my palms on the floor in Uttanasana not fighting against wrinkles. Your book might be a limestone to the attitude towards ageing yet one needs to find a deeper connection within themselves and don’t stop at the skin level.

  3. Jonathan on September 24, 2017 at 9:53 pm

    Something young people by nature won’t understand? Jonathan 46

  4. Kim on September 26, 2017 at 8:32 am

    While I’ve not read the book, I am living it. I will turn 62 in a week.We have created a culture of insanity. Fact: everything ages and dies…deal with it and try to do it gracefully. Hysterically absurd, a 30 year old famous for nothing is writing about aging??? Spare me! There are things that have come with this aging that are wonderful and those that are not. Flip it around, there are things about being young that are great and things that are not. Everything has it’s pluses and minuses. Thank you for trying to speak the truth and turning the ridiculous opinion that accepting the aging process is somehow to be avoided, fought against, and denied. As to the ill-informed idea that an “over 50’s” yoga class is offensive….hate to break the news…people are tribal, we like to hang with our tribe, those who are like us and as we age there are real changes that take place regardless of what we eat, how much we meditate, how many inversions we can do (etc.) The music we listened to, the points in history we lived through, all of that kind of thing, are a part of our experience and we want to share those memories with those who share the same…it’s that tribal thing. We also might not be able to “flow” as fast as a 20 year old…so what? Being in a group that shares our experience, be it of music, movies, history or physical abilities/limitations is not offensive, it is human. Keep on talking.

    • Michelle Marchildon on September 27, 2017 at 7:35 am

      Read the book! Love, Michelle

  5. pamela hoadley on September 26, 2017 at 8:43 am

    I think society has changed a lot towards aging. As with many other issues, the baby boom generation has lead the way. I’m just glad to be at the tale end of baby boomers so I can reap the rewards of their work. For example, I’ve read Christians Northrup’s book “the secret pleasures of menopause..” That’s a much more difficult sell than your book.

  6. TJ Burleigh on September 26, 2017 at 9:40 am

    Thanks for this post, and for all your writing, including the book. I’ve read your stuff for years, and hold you as a light in a dark tunnel of a plethora of inadequate and stupidly repetitious shallow yoga writing. I am almost 46, been practicing for 25 years, teaching for 16, and am happy to say I’ve never been pushed aside for younger teachers. My experience is absolutely honored, both at my neighborhood studio where all of our teachers are experienced and “older”, and at UCSF where I do yoga therapy. I agree with you that Americans have really bastardized aging, and commend you for being brave in the face of it. I do see young students who don’t yet “get” or respect the process of learning yoga and are there for “cardio” (oops, won’t be coming back to my class!), but this happens in every modality. The medicine of yoga and India, Ayurveda, is primarily focused on aging well. And recognizing there is no perfect. I hope we as an American yoga culture can shift our attitudes, with the help of experienced teachers, and offerings like your book. Thank you.

    • Michelle Marchildon on September 27, 2017 at 7:35 am

      Thank you TJ.

  7. Diana Hoover on September 27, 2017 at 12:56 pm

    Congratulations on this new book . Looking forward to reading It . Is it available as a download ?
    Love Desiree . Took a class from her at yoga journal conference in 2008 San Francisco . I’ll be 70 in March . I must play devils advocate . The gym where I teach asked me to teach two days a week and I had to say no . The studio where I teach also wanted me to teach twice a week and I had to say no . I am loving semi-retirement teaching 3 days a week .

    • Michelle Marchildon on September 28, 2017 at 6:19 am

      Diana, I am so happy to hear from you. Yes, Fearless is on Kindle, Nook, etc. Enjoy. I also teach 3 days a week, but I write on the other days. Seems like a lot to me at this stage, but Desiree still teaches all over the world, every single week. Amazing.

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