By AA Patawaran
This obsession for youth is old.
We might have been obsessed with youth since the beginning of time, or at least on record since Herodotus wrote about the fountain of youth in the fifth century BC, but as a cultural phenomenon, it might have begun in earnest in 1966, when half of the American population, according to an Esquire report, was under 25, and they, these Baby Boomers, were beautiful—their teeth were nicer, whiter, smoother, more straight than those of their parents, thanks to advances in dentistry and orthodontics and more fluoride in their toothpaste. They were raised on fortified milk and a menu of vitamin and mineral supplements that made them taller, their bones stronger, their hair silkier, their skin glowing in the pink of health. Plus, though the possibility of World War III hung over them like a specter, they generally grew up at peacetime, born as they were just after World War II.
Thus, it was a good time to be young. It helped that it was also a period of economic boom following a decade of post-war reconstruction that fueled the rise of counterculture, people breaking free from social constraints, which brought about radical changes in clothing, music, philosophy, ideology… and brought in all things new, new, new! It was an explosion, a “youthquake,” as then editor of the American Vogue Diana Vreeland liked to call it. And everything was about the young, even the things that catered to the older generations. For instance, as Deborah Davis wrote in her book Party of the Century, which detailed the story of Truman Capote’s famous black and white ball at the Plaza in New York in 1966, “Oldsmobiles were renamed ‘Youngmobiles,’ not so much to attract younger buyers, who accounted for a very small share of the car-buying market, but to make their older customers feel young and with it.”
It’s been 51 years since, dressed as a typical “youthquaker” in an outrageous tunic-and-pants number, “more street urchin than socialite,” “more naked than dressed,” by a then relatively unknown Betsey Johnson, the 17-year-old Penelope Tree turned up at Capote’s iconic ball and turned heads, including those of Vogue gatekeepers Cecil Beaton and Richard Avedon, who decided right there and then that they had found in Tree the new-generation cover girl.
It has been a lifetime since 1966, but we still can’t get enough of youth, so now, whereas before the young tried to keep up with the old, we now keep up with the young, speaking their language, following their styles, trailing after them as they jump from one hot new social media platform to the next, from Facebook to Instagram, from Snapchat to IG Stories.
Nothing wrong with that, especially now. With modern medicine on our side, with health and fitness on our minds, with science and technology at a fast forward pace, we are in fact younger so much longer that retirement age needs to be adjusted from 60 to who knows?—maybe 85, though it’s quite a challenge to keep up as youth, maybe no longer wasted on the young, is now devoted to things that require great energy, enthusiasm, some strength, and a wellspring of wonder, not to mention authenticity—travel, adventure, food, art, sports, the far reaches of experience.
It might not seem fair to be old when to be young is happening, but 17 or 71, age is more and more becoming a state of mind. To feel 17 at 71 is quite a stretch, not even American model Carmen Della’Orifice, more active at modeling at 86 than she has ever been, wants that.
If all else fails, think: The old have at least one advantage over the young. No matter how old you are, you have been young once and you know what it is like to be young, while the young have yet to find out what it’s like to be old, even as, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, second by second, they are heading there.
You could say to the ageist: “What you are now, I once was. What I am now, you may never be,” but that only makes a statement if you look every inch at your prime at your age, no matter what number it is.