Aging with Famous Aging Actresses

The other day, I saw an interview with Jane Fonda.  God bless her, she has decided to embrace aging as fully as she embraced living the French life with her French husband in early ’60’s France, the anti-war movement in the early ’70’s, her workout videos in the early ’80’s, being wife to Ted Turner in the ’90’s.

This is good.  Very good.  In our ageist society, we need actresses like Jane Fonda to speak about really enjoying getting old.  True, unlike the rest of us, she is able to pay for plastic surgery that permits her to look very good in her ’70’s.  Nevertheless, I don’t mind having her as a poster “girl” for aging.  Maybe it is her girl next door persona, the all American girl who, like so many, went through all the ups and downs along with our society during the tumultuous second half of the 20th century.  But probably it has more to do with her spunky attitude towards aging.  She is not coming across as apologetic, embarrassed or as someone who regrets no longer being young.  No.  She enthusiastically embraces this next stage in her life.  As we all should.

Yes, we have Helen Mirren who is very gracefully aging and playing roles that reflect women around her age group.  But she is British.  We have Charlotte Rampling who has just come out with a movie, 45 years, about an aging couple confronting certain situations that they permitted themselves to ignore for most of their marriage.  Charlotte Rampling was considered very sexy in her younger days.  That sexy person has permitted herself to age gracefully.  But again, she is British.  Then we have the beautiful Julie Christie, who played in a wonderful film dealing with Alzheimer’s.  But again, British.

Yes, it seems that the British actresses are much more accepting of their aging process than the American actresses.  There are probably many reasons for this, but the least is not because Hollywood has always worshiped the younger, beautiful actress over the older, more experienced actress.  This, of course, forces older actresses to do what they can to look younger and to seek younger roles that might be meatier rather than potentially being cast as a grandmother in a supporting role to the protagonist.  Ironically, these British actresses are finding roles that permit viewers to experience the process of aging, the transitions that occur and the means by which to deal with them.

More importantly, but probably influenced by Hollywood’s attitude towards aging, is the undercurrent of bias towards the aging process that exists in our society.  Since World War II, the media, which really has a major influence in how people think and what they gravitate towards, has spent millions of dollars extolling the benefits of youth over age.

I certainly hope that Jane Fonda, through embracing her age and proudly proclaiming it, will have as much influence on our outlook of aging as she has had in other areas.


copyright Yvonne Behrens 2015





A MELANGE OF MISCELLANY Ten Timeless Observations from a Timeless Woman

In the past year, I’ve written a number of articles for Mimi Magazine, which has morphed beautifully into Timeless Woman. Writing those articles has made me aware of the vast quantities of knowledge that we have, now that we’re celebrating the better half of our lives.

These are a few of my observations, thoughts, ponderings and rants.

1. We can choose now to unlock our doors. I’ve learned that opening my own doors, becoming receptive to the events, happenings, challenges and even the threats ‘out there’, has given me a vast spectrum of experiences to embrace or to reject, as I chose. But no matter what my choice, I’m now able to allow myself the experiences of these choices.

2. We have the time now to be aware, observe, even embrace life’s serendipities.

I now seem to be able to make the time to allow serendipity into my day, should it knock. And to make the time to be in the moment with that serendipitous event for as long as it wants me there. Now, I see serendipity as the beginning of infinite possibilities.

3. We’re closer to finding that elusive ‘balance’ in our lives than ever before. Change your life to reflect scheduling as unnecessary, to prioritize yourself and your family as number 1 in importance, to find time to sit quietly alone in a dark room, to live in the moment rather than worrying about the next crisis.

4. We need to stop judging ourselves for our past.  I no longer judge myself or accept others judgments of me. I celebrate at 65 with a hindsight that allows me to accept myself as the mother I was at 40.

5. We cannot tolerate and we must stop ageism. If we realize now that jokes about people from other heritages are racist and discriminatory; if we realize now that jokes about other religions are intolerant and discriminatory, if we realize now that jokes about the opposite gender are sexist and discriminatory, then why don’t we realize that jokes about older women are ageist and discriminatory?

6. We seem to be finally understanding that our beauty comes from inside us. I like to think that whatever colour I choose for my hair will look great, because I now have the ability to see what really counts in the way I look. Colour does not make a bad hair day. Frame of mind does.

7. We can now accept, live with and be proud of our bodies. We are comprised of so very much more than our bodies, and I believe it’s essential that we embrace that thought as we move ahead. My beauty neither starts nor stops with the shape or condition of my body. My beauty is in my soul and in my mind and in my heart. And I will still believe that I’m beautiful on my 90th birthday.

8. We can choose to nourish our sensual, sexual sides. I’m not so naïve to think that both male and female sexual dysfunction isn’t a very real thing with some very real repercussions. When the day comes for me to consider this personally, then I’ll probably be less outraged about the concept of chemically engineering my libido than I am right now. Frankly, I’ll probably be beating down the door to my own doctor’s office when this happens and dragging my partner behind me too.

9. Just because we’re older, it doesn’t mean we’re ‘seniors’. We all know people who are old at 30 just as we all know people who are young at 90. It’s a state of mind, isn’t it? We need to stop our perceptions in their tracks. We need to stop painting with a broad brush. We need to see each person as the individual she really is.

10. We have no other support equal to the support of our sisters. We’re there for each other. That’s what women do. I think this is a uniquely woman thing. And I think I am so lucky to be a woman, to experience this support. In our lives, other people come and go, life events occur and evolve; even the men in our lives can change. But these women are constant. Never changing. Always there for us.


© Marcia Barhydt 2008












More on Self-Esteem and SGS 2012 Conference

[editors note:  I have had some major computer problems these past three weeks.  Have had to upgrade and thus also lost things…..ah!]

Springtime — and between the gardens and the fruit trees and the honey bees and this website and house things and ….and….and, oh yes, for a very impatient person, all the waiting and in a world where immediate is the name of the game, too much time has gone by since my last entry wherein I promised to let you, the reader, know how the conference and our workshop went at the  2012 Southern Gerontological Society Conference in Nashville, TN.  As it had been in Richmond, two years ago, there were some very excellent presentations.  Not as many participants, however, which was a bit of a disappointment.

Denise Scruggs, and I gave a workshop entitled: “Promoting Self-Esteem Among Older Adults”  It went well.  We generated quite a bit of discussion and very positive input.   We are planning to take the project to the next level: More research to wrap the topic up and then workshops to introduce into facilities and/or individuals.

With regard to the topic of self-esteem, because it is subjective, it is difficult to measure.  There was a measuring instrument created by Dr. Morris H. Rosenberg in 1965 that psychologists continue to use to this day as the most effective measuring instrument.  Yes, there is a core schema or self-concept that is mostly maintained throughout life and that core self-concept can basically be one of high or low self-esteem.  But throughout life, one’s self-esteem can be affected by circumstances.  Thus, the topic is not cut and dry.

On the topic of self-esteem among the elderly, a fascinating presentation, “Predictors of Prison Adjustment Among Older Women” was given by Lori Farney, MA, who did a study on women in prison.  Her conclusion among several shared: prison life erodes inmates self-esteem causing depression and a sense of hopelessness.   She told a story of a woman who had been incarcerated for over 17 years when she had met her.  She was in prison for having killed her abusive spouse.  She was up for parole.  Her son came and she had several other individuals speaking on her behalf.  Her son spoke about how his mother had done what she had done to protect herself and her children.  There seemed to be a positive response.  But then this woman, age 65, received a letter denying her parole and stating that her case would be reviewed in three years.  What hope is left for this woman?  Hope is very much a characteristic of individuals with healthy self-esteems.

As Ms. Farney shares:

Older women also have to deal with ageism which many describe as “inescapable” behind bars.  they cannot cover their grey or thinning hair. they may lose their teeth and be unable to have them replaced.  One woman who had a problem with facial hair had taken to shaving since waxes and tweezers were unavailable. And as one woman said, “Getting an age appropriate bra is impossible.”

Ms. Farney continues:

Since older women have more emotional and physical health problems, they may be viewed with suspicion or apathy. Older women are often extremely afraid of getting sick in prison and needing prison healthcare which they often view as unsympathetic and inept. Their greatest fear is often dying in prison. Many women in prison have suffered sexual abuse before incarceration. Strip searches and the constant threat of being seen in a state of undress are particularly deleterious to these women.

Stark realities that we may not be exposed to as often in our society were we are “free” to color our hair or “work” on ourselves to avoid “looking” our age.  But Ms. Farney’s exposure and her sharing certainly were sober reminders that self-esteem can be adversely affected in certain environments, particularly in the aging process, when we become more vulnerable. 

There were many sessions which I was not able to attend but which I would have liked to attend or seen.  I was interested in all of the ones that I would associate with the loss of self-esteem.  For example, there were several poster sessions that focused on how life changes might affect one’s outlook:  “Mental Health Effects of Farm work for Farmers and Farm Couples over Age 50” and “An Examination of Body image and Disordered Eating among Older Males” and “The Effect of Transition into Spousal Bereavement on Mental Health of Middle and Older Adults ” and “Age Differences in Coping Strategies Among Women in Later Adulthood.”  All in their ways touched on the question of self-esteem.  A pilot program on “Media Images of Aging: The New Ageism and Self-Esteem” is exploring whether media, in its attempt to draw in the aging boomer market, may be adversely affecting a normally aging person’s sense of self by their “youthful” aging advertising.

Sessions at the conference were diverse.  So many topics to choose from.  So little time!  However, the common theme was the aging person in our society and all those areas that might impact their experience of aging, whether it might be the aging of children with intellectual challenges born in the ’50’s and ’60’s or focusing on how to create age friendly cities and what different cities are doing around the country.

One area of major concern is the fact that younger people are not gravitating towards gerontology as a career.  (for the next article).

© Yvonne Behrens  2012


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Self-esteem in the Elderly

Self-Esteem for sale

Self-Esteem for sale (Photo credit: fran6co)

My colleague, Denise Scruggs, and I will be giving a workshop on promoting self-esteem in older adults at the Southern Gerontological Society Conference in Nashville, TN.

One might ask, “Why?”  Boomers, the next aging population, are known to have higher self-esteem than their parents or grand-parents apparently had, aren’t they?

But according to a recent study, those facing the big six-0 will also be facing a decline in the value they place upon themselves.  That’s the broad conclusion of a new study showing changes over the human lifespan based on interviews with a total of 3,617 Americans over a 16-year period from 1986 to 2002  (Orth, Trzesniewski, Robins).

Because we boomers, as a group, have had the tendency to be in denial with regard to our aging, that decline could be dramatic. Stop with the hair coloring, stop with the face lifts, stop with marrying someone younger than you, stop all those super athletic recreational activities, stop one’s role in the work place and what is left?

The above mentioned study found that the factors that had the largest influence on one’s sense of self include:

*Income and health.  In our money oriented society, it follows that we would associate money with power.  It also follows that if our independence becomes eroded by health issues, this would affect our sense of self in a negative way.

*Education plays a major role in maintaining self-esteem. Participants with higher education outranked those with less education throughout their lives.

*  The study confirmed that women had lower self-esteem than men through most of their lives, but the two genders were about equal by the time participants reached their 80s.  I suppose that men in their ’80’s have probably lost pretty much everything by which they defined themselves earlier in their lives.  One might reflect on the statement that it is at this time that men and women “were about equal” in their self-esteem.

*The self-esteem of whites and blacks differed only a little at age 25. However, black participants declined more sharply than white participants from about age 60. A further study to look into the factors that cause this discrepancy would be warranted

Beyond these global attributions to the loss of self-esteem, there are also factors of daily living.  The loss of loved ones, in particular spouses, can have an impact on one’s self-esteem.  In fact, findings from a study conducted by Julie Ann McMullin and John Cairney (2004) showed that single people have lower self-esteem than married people demonstrating that receiving feedback from a significant other helps promote a positive self-image.  When that person, with whom you could confront major challenges, bounce ideas off of, share life’s moments with, or was your biggest fan is no longer there and you do not receive regular feedback of your existence, that can erode self-esteem.

What about finding yourself not being able to keep up with the rapidly changing world you used to be a part of?  How would that make you feel?  Pretty worthless, no?

Or, and this is probably the saddest of all, being an old person that people are not interested in because, well, let’s face it, ageism is alive and well in our society.

So this is why Denise and I plan to present tools to our colleagues by which they can help promote positive self-esteem to those confronting that change of life: aging.

I will let you know how it went.

© Yvonne Behrens  2012

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How Old Do You Think You Are?


Do we see ourselves as younger?


The other day, I went to a beekeeping meeting, which was actually a picnic.  When we arrived, I was carrying a box with our addition to the potluck picnic and several other items (we are non-meat eaters so I bring our own veggie burgers and presently, my husband is on a special diet to help in his fight against cancer.  The diet includes NO sugars and NO dairy. So I bring the substitutes or variation sauces).

Back to the picnic:  There I was carrying a box and this young lady approached me and asked if she could help me carry the box.  I replied, “No thank you.  I am fine.”  She then insisted that she take the box from me.  I was wondering why she was making such a big deal about this when I realized that she was looking at me as a senior citizen (something I certainly was not feeling) and she was probably taught that you help older individuals with their packages.  Now I do have white hair and this may be what she focused on (Ah, yes, sweet as her offer was, it was probably influenced by an aspect of ageism – everyone who has white hair must be old!)

On the other hand, a study conducted in the U.K. showed that most people see themselves to be at least 10 years younger than their actual age.

This is true of the healthy aging individual,  and healthy I am. However, as soon as one starts to have debilitating physical problems or mental problems, one feels a lot older (ironically at that juncture, still probably not their age, but a whole lot older than their age.)

So, most probably, the young lady saw me for what I was (or maybe older) and I, fitting the profile of the British study, was proceeding as though I was ten years young