Why do we lie about our age?


SO, Jay-Z lied about his age – why does he care and why do we love that he cares?

This was a piece for which Chrissie Russell, freelance journalist with the Irish Independent interviewed me. She was interested in the revelation that Jay-Z lied about his age and more importantly – why anyone cares! 

Read on the full text of our conversation



 Q: I am wondering why age is such an issue and why we are so keen to fight it?

Bottom line: age is important to us because we are told that it’s important – and we are inclined to believe what we are told, particularly if we are told it over and over again, several times a day. As I am typing this I am vaguely aware that there have been three adverts on TV for anti aging products since I opened the laptop. (Time to turn the volume down again, as is now my habit during ad breaks…)

These ads, notice them the next time. Words like “filler”, “botox”, “radiance” “glow”  “collegan” “serum” are bandied about liberally on TV, radio and on billboards. They have gradually become a normalised part of our language. (And then there are madey uppy words such as those we hear in l’Oreal adverts: luminize, nutrilift, laser renew youth code, pro gen gene science bla bla – it’s worth really paying attention there if you want a good laugh – you could list them in your article, they’re hilarious).

Recently adverts have become more frequent and more daring, telling us that we may not “need” botox “yet“, until then we can use “bla bla youth serum”. The assumption we are being primed to make here is that we WILL NEED botox and surgery, but PERHAPS not yet. This is advertising at its most insipid. And our collective self esteem is suffering hugely as a result.

We are learning, because we are being told, that to look older than the teenagers (and they are teenagers) that they see in these ads is a very bad thing. So we lie about our age, and work really hard (and in vain(!!)) to look younger than we are.

Older women in particular are not represented well in the media, in film or TV journalism. We just don’t see them as much as their male couterparts. Older men are considered handsome. Older women are considered haggard, wrinkled, not “aging well”, or if they’re lucky, they will be described as “well preserved”, “good for their age” and so on. Women over 46 feel unheard, unnoticed, unattractive, devalued. We don’t think about older people having sexual needs or valuable skills. Men struggle with aging too of course, but, as yet, they have more “permission” to age than women.

I’m sure l’Oreal and their competitors will find a way to change all that. They have aready started of course, and in adverts directed at men we hear words like “strong”, “active”, “expert”, “energetic” and other more manly sounding trigger words to catch the male ear and chip away at the aging male self esteem.

Because everything in our culture values youth and youthfulness. Youth is the home of all things sexy, active and interesting. So we are being sold lies – that we can make it last, stay young, and that if we do, we’ll be happier. It’s a multibillion dollar industry. Last year 12,000 American teenagers received botox injections! Are they happier? I’d guess not.

That is the unassailable power of advertising and its effective installation of fear.

On a professional level I can tell you that aging comes up in therapy frequently, how can it not when we are all being bombarded with messages to fear what is inevitable?

Recently I saw a twelve year old girl who was concerned about her “expression lines”. She explained to me that she is trying to smile less often so as to prevent them. Because they are “unsightly”. Do these words sound familiar to you?

She wasn’t the first young girl to say similar to me, regurgitating words learned from the TV. Does that appall you? It does me.

Q: Is it a phenomenon specific to today’s society or have we always been squeamish about getting older?

As a society we are older now than we ever have been. Children born this week have a reasonable chance of living to be 100 years old (l’Oreal et al will make a fortune out of them). Approximately one in three people are over 50 in our society. The gap between young and old is wider than ever. That’s a new phenomenon. With that has come more age related disease, dementia, Alzheimers etc. These are things we have grown to fear rather than accept. And fear breeds contempt as the saying goes.  Studies are consistently showing that we fear being dependent on younger relatives now, we fear losing our memory, our physical abilities. These were not major concerns as recently as a century ago, we just weren’t living long enough, and there wasn’t such an emphasis on the perceived value of youth.

How we seem to deal with fear in our Western society is try to control the feared object rather than find a way to make peace with it, or even embrace it. Some other societies are dealing with the issue in a much healthier way. In China and Japan for example age is valued for the wisdom and expertise it brings. Although I fear for the longevity of their value system as they too flock to cosmetic surgeons to Westernise their features in an effort to blend in with our ailing image obsessed society.

So that’s probably why Jay-Z cares. Why do we love that he cares? It confirms that we are normal and that he is normal. We love to identify with very people we have put on pedestals!

(The published newspaper article is here)

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