By Michael Kimmel
Since I decided to offer a workshop here in San Diego on the above topic, I have been talking about it on social media. Surprisingly, I’ve gotten tons of questions about why I’m doing it. I’ve narrowed the questions down to the five best ones:
Is a fear of aging a common problem among the clients you see? Does it begin to appear after a certain age or in particular age groups?
I see a fear of aging in clients of all ages, from their 20s to their 80s. I know young people who go to Botox parties here in San Diego, middle-aged people who desperately hire a trainer to prevent that “middle-age spread” and LGBTQ community elders who feel “invisible,” telling me, “I’m too old for anyone to be interested in.”
Do gay/bi men have distinct fears around aging that the wider population don’t have?
Only recently have gay and bisexual men been targets of million-dollar grooming/cosmetics advertising campaigns. Straight women have been brainwashed to fear aging for decades. Now, like them, we’re being told you’re only attractive if you look younger than your biological age; if you don’t look “hot,” no one will want to have sex with you. You’d better hide your wrinkles, gray hair and expanding waistlines with expensive cosmetics, anti-aging creams, hair color, diets, personal trainers, plastic surgery, etc.
Until recently, men were given a reprieve from this consumer-culture warfare. No more, my brothers. No more. The sales of men’s cosmetics/grooming products are soaring. And why? Because the advertising world is playing/preying on our worst fears.
Is there any consistency in what gay men tell you about their fear of aging?
The most powerful (and destructive) story is the demonization of aging: we are only desirable when we’re young and pretty. When our skin begins to sag, show sun damage and wrinkles, we need to panic and do something to hide these signs of physical aging.
Males in this culture used to be considered handsome, even with gray at the temples, a few wrinkles and a “dad bod.” Our wisdom and life experience were valued. With the boom of youth culture/social media, young is where you want to be and if you’re not young, you’d better do your best to appear as if you are.
How do you go about helping clients tackle this fear of aging?
I encourage clients to step back from personal panic to look at the big picture. We live in a consumer culture. I used to work in the fashion industry in Paris, London and New York City: it’s clear to me that huge, international companies will do anything they can to sell their products. Advertising sells more products based on fear than anything else. So, these global personal care companies spend billions of dollars a year to scare us into buying things, so we’ll look younger. The key word here is “look.” We can’t actually be younger, but we can allow ourselves to buy into this fake fear that tells us: “Buy this and you’ll feel younger, happier, more confident … and you’ll get laid more often too”.
Do we need to more greatly promote and explore the benefits of aging? What are the benefits, as you see them?
Imagine that you live in a world where all advertising is immediately eliminated. Forever. Without those voices surrounding you, your fear of aging is likely to fade. Fast.
You can’t eliminate advertising, but you can begin to filter it out of your world. Without the fear of aging, you can begin to cultivate an appreciation for people of any age. Every age has its joys and sorrows. As we age, can we do more to appreciate the joys and minimize the sorrows?
Yes! That’s what I call “The Art of Aging.”
If you live in/near San Diego, you might like to attend “The Art of Aging Well: A Workshop for Gay Men” on Saturday, Sept. 14, from 1:30 to 3 p.m. at The Studio Door in Hillcrest.
Come join us as we explore these questions with a safe, supportive group of men. The workshop is limited to 25 men and the admission fee is $25. To register, please go to: bit.ly/2KvDCwM.
— Michael Kimmel is a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in helping LGBT clients achieve their goals and deal with anxiety, depression, grief, sexually addictive behavior, coming out, relationship challenges and homophobia. Contact him at 619-955-3311 or visit lifebeyondtherapy.com.
Graphic by www.CanStockPhoto.com.