/ 24 March 2023

Friday is a feeling | Why our society is so comfortable with the invisibility of our elders, especially in fashion.

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Grand old age: Models in the ‘Elder Series’, which has been taken up by the likes of Essence, CNN and the BBC. Photos: Slickcity Media

People my age are seriously going to struggle with ageing. In fact, I would argue we already are. And when I say “people my age” I’m referring to those born in the late 1970s and the 1980s — those of us who grew during the burgeoning of plastic surgery, liposuction and Botox. 

We watched as Michael Jackson and his siblings went from flat noses to pointy ones. The 1980s were as much a great time for Dolly Parton’s music as they were for her expansive bosom. My generation watched as people augmented reality and their features and this has led us to believe we could outrun getting old.

But it’s not just cosmetic interventions that are making us feel as if we’re winning the war on ageing. We’re juicing everything from spinach to turmeric, dipping our faces in ice water daily, using infrared spas and more of us are having children in our late 40s than in previous generations. 

Now, I don’t mean to sound like Debbie Downer, I’m really glad we’re defying age stereotypes and changing how people see “the middle ages”. But, unfortunately, that hasn’t changed how young people see us. We are middle-aged and nobody is fooled. 

Even the TikTok dancing videos are not convincing anyone of our supposed youth. And, trust me, we’ve tried everything. It was my generation that decided a 34-year-old could still qualify as a “youth”. 

But more and more my friends and I are finding ourselves being addressed with a qualifier before our names by the young ’uns: Bra Nhlanhla, Sis Lerato, Mam’ Rachel, Ta S’bu, Bhut’ Dichaba, etc. This has been both confusing and sobering for many of us, as we realise we are not young enough to dance in heels at the club all night anymore but not old enough to start wearing orthopaedic shoes either.

I’m told that while the rest of us ages, our voices remain mostly the same, which I think causes cognitive dissonance when it comes to ageing. I’ve written ad nauseam about how much I wouldn’t go back to being a 20-year-old — except if I could be me, now, with that body. 

Because getting older is a physical shock. And I mean that in the literal sense. A couple of months ago, I was turning over in bed, pulled a muscle and couldn’t move for 15 minutes while my brain tried to compute the amount of pain I was in. 

But the signs were there even before then — the lines on my face were taking half the day to disappear after a night of rough sleeping and my hangovers were taking three days to ease and not even Chicken Licken and Stoney could remedy the situation. 

Yet, the older I get, the more I realise I know nothing about life. Increasingly, I find myself wanting to have long conversations with older people because I realise how much maturing I still need to do. 

The one thing I always get into conversations with older people about is how they live with regret, if they do. Regret is a difficult emotion to digest because, the more you live, the more mistakes you make, and it gets harder and harder to not look at the rear-view mirror and see your past faux pas without feeling like a tit. 

When you’re 20-something, your best days are ahead of you, however, the older you get, the more you feel you’re running out of time to tick off your life goals. After the panic of realising you might not get to be the person you thought you’d be — married, a millionaire, famous, whatever that is for you — regret sets in.

From long years spent in relationships with people who didn’t appreciate you to toxic work choices that left your confidence in tatters, the longer you live, the more you wish you knew better so you could do better. 

So, I often ask older people if they feel regret and I have found those who lived on the sidelines, who didn’t enter the ring and get their asses kicked by life, are the ones who express the most regret. While the ones who wore the gloves and the mouth guard so they could go toe-to-toe with life didn’t have any major regrets, except making some irreversible fuck-ups. 

Some mistakes are the gift that keeps on giving. This is why I jumped at Elvis Kachi’s pitch on doing a feature on Nigerian creative Malik Afegbua. I had seen his work on social media and had no clue it was all done by artificial intelligence — I was simply amazed that there was a brave designer willing to use geriatrics to model a runaway show. 

Sadly, said designer still doesn’t exist, instead it was creative asking deep  questions about why our society is so comfortable with the invisibility of our elders, especially in fashion.

Speaking of fashion, Kimberley Schoeman has written a piece about the waning influence of the celebrity brand. After Kanye West went postal last year, and Adidas decided to bullet him, they found themselves with a $200 million loss after the divorce. 

Adidas is not having a fun time with their celeb collabos. Beyoncé’s Ivy Park is also bleeding money because it appears people are not influenced enough by the queen to buy her athleisure brand. 

I’ve publicly confirmed I’m a card-carrying member of the Beyhive but I do not own a single Ivy Park item. It turns out people like to see celebrities wear the stuff they sell us; it’s not enough to give us killer optics on social media. We actually want to see that you buy what you’re selling, because if you don’t, why should we?

If we don’t interact with those who are ahead in the journey, we don’t get the privilege of learning from their mistakes, so we don’t have to repeat them. We will struggle when we get older because we will assume we’ve reached our expiry date and that, like spoiled milk, nobody wants us because we’re not fresh anymore. 

But at the risk of overstating the point, we have to lead from the front and change the narrative. So, maybe this middle-age rebrand is not a bad thing after all. Is 50 the new 30, then?