Aging often comes with changes: reduced mobility, gray hair, retirement and, for some, poor health. For both men and women, these changes can impact self-esteem and enhance feelings of loss. But society’s view of aging is shifting—a factor that could have the whole world redefining what it means to look and feel great as an older adult.
Learn how to build confidence as you age in our expert podcast that:
- Features Dr. Vivian Diller, a clinical psychologist and former model who is also the author of “Face It: What Women Really Feel As Their Looks Change”
- Describes the differences between men and women when it comes to aging and self-esteem
- Offers tips for keeping your head held high and setting an example for younger generations
MySilverAge: Thank you for joining us today. The following podcast is brought to you by MySilverAge, a website for seniors developed by be.group, one of California’s largest nonprofit providers of senior living communities.
Aging often comes with changes: reduced mobility, gray hair, retirement and, for some, poor health. For both men and women, these changes can impact self-esteem and enhance feelings of loss. But society’s view of aging is shifting. With baby boomers now moving beyond 65 and life expectancies increasing, the aging conversation is less about “nearing the end” and more about entering a new stage of life—a fulfilling time that could last 30 years or more.
MySilverAge recently spoke with Dr. Vivian Diller to discuss society’s changing attitudes toward aging and what seniors can do to build their self-confidence. Dr. Diller is a clinical psychologist in New York City and author of “Face It: What Women Really Feel As Their Looks Change.”
MySilverAge: How does age impact self-esteem and self-confidence?
Diller: A woman who begins to experience perimenopausal symptoms, and that can happen as early as 30 or 40, then hits menopause at age 50 and into her 60s. She’s struck with this feeling that probably goes way back in our history—What is my role? What is my function? They feel frightened, they worry about disappearing, they have this low-level anxiety that probably is hardwired. Mix that with our culture that tells us that youth is valued over anything else and I think what most people feel when they’re hitting 65 is anxiety, fear and loss.
For men, their role for as long as we can remember was about protecting the clan, being powerful. They hit 65 and may see a waning of their potency, and that’s why we see so many ads for Viagra and Cialis. They’re reacting with the kind of anxiety that probably goes deep to the root of their identity as men. And they too feel a kind of fearfulness about what their role will be. How well will they function in a culture that values the strong man?
What is resonating is some very basic fundamental sense of who we are as powerful human beings. And that’s why it’s worth taking a moment and thinking, ‘Wait a minute, what is this really about? Do I need to fix my face? Do I need to compete with my 20-year-old son? Or do I have to think about how to shift my sense of myself in a society where I’m actually going to live quite a bit longer?’
MySilverAge: So how much do other people’s stereotypes play into our self-confidence? So if, say, young people assume, “You’re a senior, you won’t be able to drive” or “You’re a senior so you can’t possibly have a sharp mind”—what does that do to how we think about ourselves?
Diller: Sadly, I think stereotypes actually play a large role, in our sense of our aging experience. They have to do with your culture. So what we see is that aging in different cultures is experienced differently and, as a result, the people who are aging experience themselves differently. This is also true in the stereotypes within one’s family. I think that’s a really important thing to keep in mind, that when a family respects the grandparent, when the grandparents themselves remain vital and active, that creates a kind of image of what it means to get older. So I say, especially women, to try not to panic when you enter your 60s and 70s because you’re going to have an enormous influence on the next generation. If your daughter, I have a daughter who’s 25, if she sees me embrace my 60th birthday with optimism, I know I’m going to have an enormous influence on how she experiences aging.
MySilverAge: What can people do to feel good about themselves as they age?
Diller: To feel good about yourself as you age does require redefining what it means to be 60, 70, 80, 90 in today’s culture. Some interesting information is coming out about people in their 60s and 70s that I think helps us redefine what it means to be a senior. So for example, we’re learning that with more knowledge about ourselves, as we get older, we make better choices. We don’t think of that, we tend to think of people getting foolish or losing their memory but there’s a lot of evidence that says that people as they age are actually making better choices because they know themselves better.
Another thing is we understand better the values that are really going to matter. So for example, people who have held grudges about family or friends, they lighten up. What I’ve noticed is that people in their 60s and 70s, they extend themselves to family in a way they hadn’t, and it makes for a sense of hope and optimism about reconnecting to people they might not have before. We deepen our friendships. We actually take time with friends in a way we haven’t. So these are ways to think about redefining this age as an opportunity, rather than something to be afraid of.
MySilverAge: Despite all our fears about getting older, society may actually be embracing aging, as evidenced by marketing and the cosmetics market. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Diller: I have had an opportunity to consult for a number of different companies because they want to know from me where their company can go to reach the baby boomer population. The fact that I’m being asked to do that is very hopeful because they really do care. For example, clothing companies, cosmetic companies, skin care, health companies—they want to reach that large population that everyone knows has quite a bit of purchasing power. There’s an enormous amount of money in the hands of baby boomers and if we can join together and voice what we need, I think we’re going to find that that there is a greater response to us. There are cosmetics that are being specifically designed to appeal to women whose skin is different, whose hair is different. They’re not trying to market clothes so that they look like no woman in their 60s would walk into their store—they’re changing even the design of the store. So I think we’re seeing a shift, maybe a slow change, an iceberg moves slowly, but it’s changing. And I think the next generation is going to benefit from the fact that there are so many of us in our 60s who will influence the market.
MySilverAge: With all that in mind, what should one’s attitude toward aging be?
Diller: I think one of the most important messages I leave people with is when you look at yourself in the mirror, have it reflect back to you what you think and feel about yourself that goes well beyond the surface. It may sound like an aphorism—it’s what’s inside that counts. But I think if we take care of our outside, and we respect what’s inside, and then we display that for the world to see—when you walk down the street you stand with your back straight, your shoulders back, your head held high—I think that will probably have more influence than anything we see out there because, one senior to another, we’ll look at each other and at the rest of the world with that kind of confidence that I think will change the way our culture looks at aging.
MySilverAge: For more information on topics related to successful aging, visit MySilverAge.com