Woodspring reminds us of the tyranny of the omnipresent stereotypes of what successful (i.e. glamourous) ageing looks like. This book is a timely reminder that the perspectives of older people should no longer be ignored.
The author makes us understand that it is both the universal and the particular that determine how we behold beauty.
Woodspring’s book gives a lively tour of our disparate responses to the common urge to remain forever young, in a generation that lives longer then any before.
In some ways, it may appear that Dr Woodspring has lived an unconventional life… in other ways, not so much so.
Curiosity, questioning, wondering, and being unafraid of surprising outcomes have been the driving forces in her life whether those attributes were applied to work, parenting, being a partner, sister, friend, or colleague. Along the way, she has lived in a hippie hot spring retreat commune, been a traveling storyteller, had a ‘never-worn’ vintage shoe business, managed a prison project, and was the clinical director at a social service agency for run-away and homeless young people, among other various and sundry pursuits. Each change, each turn of the wheel of life, she has put her all into whatever she was up to. At forty, Dr Woodspring returned to university to pursue a MA in clinical psychology and at sixty, she went back again to complete a PhD in critical gerontology (ageing studies). Dr Woodspring has since been a Research Fellow at University of the West of England and she is now a Visiting Fellow. She has written and spoken widely about the postwar generation – baby boomers and ageing.
At a certain birthday, at particular point in one’s life, we do not enter a different country called age. Instead, our life rolls or, sometimes, bumps along as a whole long trajectory. We bring our young and middle-aged selves along with us as we acquire more experiences and memories. When I was a kid, I remember adults asking me, at various birthdays, ‘what does it feel like to be thus and such age?’ I was confused by the question and it continues to be a confounding query. What does it feel like to be sixty or, soon, seventy. Age is just not a number; it is, indeed, an accumulation of life experience, years, personal and shared memories, and much more. That said, we are still us, in the skin of who we are. That me-ness is a collection of our different personas/ages that we embody and continue to pop up, depending on the circumstances.
Age brings new questions as we recognize we have lived more life than the number of years we have left to live. Some of us slow down, others less so. All of us look different than we did when we were six or twenty-six or forty-six or sixty. It is the look of age, the feel of it from the inside, that I seek to capture and express in my research and writing. I am not here to champion ‘successful aging’ or moan about our declining years. The core of my work is an inquiry to increase our understanding of age through the perspective of a whole life lived, rather than not cut up into segments – young, middle-age, old.
Appearance is a central means of expression of our identity to the world. Seeing, recognizing beauty in those around us, is not age dependent: it is human. Choices about our appearance, the expression of our identity, continues throughout our lives, whether it be a comb-over covering that bald spot or a spot of lipstick. And beauty… there is not a tick of the clock or a flip of the calendar page that signals the end of beauty. Beauty in old age can be in the eyes of the beholder but it goes beyond that. As the baby boomers age, many members of that generation are not willing to disappear into invisibility. They are seeing beauty in older people around them and articulating a definition of age and beauty.