Forever Young

Text: Patrícia Barnabé

After centuries of valuing antiquity and wisdom, why have we become so obsessed with youth?

In the 1960s we discovered that youth could be a powerful energy for change. Until the mid-twentieth century, children and adolescents were dressed as adults and therefore forced to behave as such. A source of labour for the needy, a status for the wealthy, they existed as a continuation of their parents, they had no social identity of their own, autonomous and they became adults while still very young, in comparison with our time. It was the student revolts, the sexual revolution of the swinging sixties and the hippie movement, the freedoms inherited from the bohemian roaring twenties and from the beat generation, which still echoes today, that gave young people a voice, a space for expression and freedom. The realisation was reached with the baby boom generation that it was the young people who took the world forward, a demographic and cultural force, possessing a certain romanticism in a pure state and the energy to make it succeed. Half of America’s population in the 1960s was young, the “spoiled” post-war generation, children of parents who survived the Great Depression, now with more time and more money to invent. As always, fashion has kept up with their times: the girls shortened their skirts like the previous generation had scandalized with their bikinis and the boys let their hair grow. Everything then seemed possible.

Why has this image of youth become an absolute idea of energy and beauty? Firstly, because we no longer value knowledge, especially now that it is available without restrictions, focusing instead on novelty, entertainment, disruption and fun fed by the internet. As Madalena Lobo tells us, at the head of the Psychology Workshop, to talk about youth is to talk about ageing: “What’s the motivation to listen to what the guy with the white beard is telling us? To value him as a privileged source of wisdom that can make a difference in the survival of the individual and his tribe no longer makes sense…”. The world has accelerated in an unimaginable way, “leaving even the most agile without breath. The divorce between the landscape that changes faster and faster and the eyes that process it in slower and slower ways, makes it not very inclusive for those who keep adding on years.”

At the same time that age becomes almost of secondary importance — it is more dictated by lifestyle and way of being in life than with biological age. And the 30s are now proclaimed as the new 20s and so on, the dominant aesthetic concepts, fed by fashion and advertising, stubbornly resist change. We now see all races and measures, but age still remains outside of the box. Aesthetics, as far as human beings are concerned, is commanded by the laws of attraction which, in turn, are commanded by biological imperatives. Attractive is the human being who guarantees that the good genes of the species will be the dominant ones in the next generation — the young people in fertile age” and it is clear that, historically, prejudice is more attached to women, who feel the weight of the “expiry period”. Men always have the charm. Therefore, the women are almost always the youngest elements in relationships. Will the last taboo of seduction to fall be age?

As we want to continue to be desired and loved, we stretch time to postpone the inevitable in an inglorious struggle: “From hydrating creams full of components of scientific miracles that give us the skin of a 20-year old, to democratized plastic surgery; from diets as healthy as spirulina, which will send mortality into reverse, to the dozens of drugs with which we sustain the chronic themes of the progressive biological maladjustment; from scientific studies that become bad titles of popular newspapers and tell us that if we do crossword puzzles we are going to have a head as fresh as our grandchildren’s. (…) The scientific advances in health are extraordinary, but it is their unbridled interpretation and conveyed to a subliminal cultural expectation that — exactly and adequately — creates a focus on older people, that transmits a message of ‘shame on you’! This elderly thing is your fault!” Because we were all children, but many of us are not yet old. Our brain “does one thing that is inherently healthy: it assumes that we are not on the same continuum, but that they are different categories, I belong to this one, which relieves me of the other. Full stop. Happy and content, because I’ll always be young and I’ll never be part of the natural composting mechanism.”

Photo: Ricardo Santos for AORPS’s campaign

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