A quote from Annie Lennox caught my attention this morning.
(Annie Lennox – Google Images)
Now until a few minutes ago I knew nothing about Annie Lennox. That's right- THE Annie Lennox. That admission alone, I imagine, will see me disappear from Christmas card lists far and wide. As so often happens to me where popular music is concerned, I'm not up with who's who, having misspent my youth apparently, on other interests. You'd be surprised just how many conversations hang on possession of a treasure trove of trivia about popular singers and songwriters. Then again, maybe you wouldn't be.
Well now I've admitted publically such an embarassing gap in background knowledge, may I jump to the quote?
“There’s this youth culture that is really, really powerful and really, really strong, but what it does is it really discards people once they reach a certain age. I actually think that people are so powerful and interesting – women, especially – when they reach my age. We’ve got so much to say, but popular culture is so reductive that we just talk about whether we’ve got wrinkles, or whether we’ve put on weight or lost weight, or whether we’ve changed our hair style. I just find that so shallow.” Annie Lennox.
This lady is on to something!
I want to applaud her. Yes! Yes! Yes! Well, apart from the 'especially women' jab. Don't write off us guys because were not female Annie: That would be unfair and not nice. Men are people too and interesting! But I am straying from the point.
Our background western culture is built on youth and trying to stay forever young. Gyms, fitness clubs, cosmetics sell the eternal youth myth but it goes much much deeper than that. Marketing at all levels is saturated with youth. It wallows in it and glorifies it. In the West we worship youth as a self evident value. We buy clothes and cut our hair (if we still have any) in ways we think will make us look younger. We laud our kids as our 'best friends' (Good grief! Your child doesn't need you as their best friend. They need you as their parent; an entirely different thing). We seek employees with youth and energy over those with age and experience (regardless of age discrimination laws which no one seems to take seriously anyway)
Youth worship is so deeply embedded in our values, I think, we often don't even know we do it. Take this paragraph about Annie herself from an 'Over 60s' web site:
“Annie Lennox turned 60 on Christmas Day, and to those of you who feel 60 but don’t look it, or look it and don’t feel it, Annie is a shining inspiration. Can it really be more than 30 years since her mega-hits with the Eurythmics tore through the charts of the 80. She really doesn’t look like a day has passed!”
Do I really need to point out the irony of an 'Over 60s' web site that appears to be sucked in by the 'youth is good', 'youth is everything' mantra? I mean why is it a good thing to be 60 yet not look it? What on Earth is wrong with being 40, 50, 60, 70 or 80 and looking your age? Is it shameful to look your age? If so, why? Why is it better to look 30 than to look 40, or to look 20 rather than 50? I guess there might be a point in misrepresenting your age if you are on the lookout for a sexual partner maybe, or if the whole idea of wisdom and maturity eluded you, and you lived your life completely superficially.
Youth is great. Youth is to be celebrated and enjoyed as long as it lasts. However youth is not the essence of life. Youth is not who we are. Youth is not the answer. It is more a symptom of not having been around long enough to know much about yourself. Enjoy it while you have it by all means, but to attribute the meaning and value of your life to it is beyond sad. You and I are much more than our youthful looks and boundless energy even when we are in the midst of it all. We are an important part of the story of life, and we continue to be an important part of that story as we leave youth and grow ever older.
Annie is quite right and quite insightful. Our western culture doesn't value people for who they are. It values them for their looks and their absence of blemishes and wrinkles. The irony is that the richness and beauty of life only becomes apparent to most of us until long after youth is gone, and few want to listen to us anymore. The wisdom that comes (sometimes) with age allows us to accept gracefully being ignored, dismissed and devalued because we are not as young as somebody thinks we should be before they will take us seriously.
I love life. I like myself. I am comfortable with who I am. I see beauty around me in the faces of grandchildren, of my wife, children, friends, and sometimes in passing interactions with people I don't know. I can see connections now that were invisible to me when I was young. It all makes a kind of sense. I count for something. I have value despite my wrinkles. I am part of something bigger than myself. I don't have to prove anything, and certainly not to anyone who looks at me at age 61 and looks away again, looking for something I left behind a long time ago.
A selfie. Maybe I should have used some face cream.
(Maybe Annie's doing a bit better than I am.)
A short biography of Annie Lennox from Wilipedia for those, like me, who weren't switched on or plugged in in the 70s and 80s:
Annie Lennox, OBE (born 25 December 1954), born Ann Lennox, is a Scottish singer-songwriter, political activist and philanthropist. After achieving moderate success in the late 1970s as part of the new wave band The Tourists, she and fellow musician Dave Stewart went on to achieve major international success in the 1980s as Eurythmics. Lennox is the most recognised female artist at the Brit Awards, winning a total of eight awards, including Best British Female Artist six times.