|Posing with thrift shop volunteer and good friend, Fiona|
This piece was sponsored and produced in collaboration with Escama Studio. Scroll all the way down for giveaway.
From a very young age, I’ve intentionally volunteered on behalf of and with “old people.”
My youth choirs would travel to the local nursing home around Christmas time to sing carols with the residents. In high school, I helped plan the annual “Senior Prom” at the retirement center, and took part in their fall festivals. In college, I headed up a Conversation Hour program meant to foster relationships between college students – who were often inexplicably wary of retirement-age folks – and residents at the state-of-the-art retirement community in Tallahassee, Florida. That program fizzled out after I left because it turned out most college students were only in it for the volunteer hours, and this didn’t sit well with me or the seniors who dedicated a few hours each week to trying to get to know the younger generation.
Understandably, it made them feel like charity cases instead of the interesting, intelligent people they were.
I put “old people” in quotation marks for a reason. While my reasons for being around people in their 70s, 80s, and 90s was due mostly to a fascination with the stories they could tell and, I think, ultimately a reverence for the lives they’d lived, I was still susceptible to cultural conditioning that told me that it was ok to treat older folks as one homogeneous group, or as a separate species to be dealt with sensitively. Now that I’ve worked alongside dozens of volunteers of retirement age, I realize that, sure, maybe I still do have a particular vocational calling to intergenerational relationship, but that’s just it: it’s intergenerational and it’s about relationship.
|Modeling the Escama Studio Socorro Pop Top Bag|
The age divide so permeates our culture that it even shows its ugly face in the fair trade marketplace.
Andy Krumholz, who heads up fair trade brand, Escama Studio, thinks about this topic a lot, as Escama seems to resonate well with a more mature age group. On this topic, he brings a lot of wisdom:
“Looking at fashion, in this era when brands are able to project their lifestyle in such a variety of targeted forms it’s ironic that one group is so underrepresented, namely people over the age of XX. It would be easy to point fingers at brands like American Apparel and Abercrombie & Fitch for perpetuating the cult of youth but we may be equally culpable. We are able to personalize the information that we receive, and we end up filtering out the things that are dissonant. Even if we are not intentionally filtering out certain types of images on Instagram, the end result is the same; there’s often a common thread or tonality, thematic brands, like-minded followers that network out to yet more people with similar tastes. Older people are one of the things that end up being filtered out. The blinders that we put up in the photo sharing world may be a mirror image of what we are doing in the physical world.
It’s ironic that in this particular age of turbulence, resistance and activism, that we would be paying so little attention to the generations of our mothers and grandmothers. Ironic on a couple of levels:
‘Whatever type of citizen we have been, we need to be a different kind of citizen’ – these are the words of Samantha Power, the former ambassador to the UN, speaking in regards to how we need to approach our lives in the age of Trump. If we are looking for role models to emulate in this new reality, who better to serve as guides than those who have protested and resisted in previous generations. Some of our mothers, grandmothers and other women of their generation, may have insights into how to best live in turbulent times. Protests and campaigns for equal rights in the late 60s and early 70s are worth revisiting. The participants in these protests live among us.
From the perspective of fashion, we should fess up to the fact that many themes in fashion today are exactly mimicked of this earlier era. Natural lighting, natural fibers, the studied boho casualness of Free People and Anthropologie, beards, fringe, macramé (and of course the dreaded hanging terrariums) have all been transported as if by time capsule from the late 60s and early 70s. A few brands have included older models in their campaigns but for the most part fashion brands are developing long term customers among millennials.
So where does that leave us? Should we make an effort to reach across the generational divide and make a greater effort to ‘understand older people’? Yes and no. The fact is that older people may not give a shit about what we are thinking or doing. If we were to tune in to what women on fashion blogs of older people , we might find a refrain repeated throughout which basically says: ‘The interesting thing is that now I feel truly liberated. I wear what I want and could care less what other people think’. ‘I’m more confident with my personal sense of style. I find that I can be much more daring than younger women because I’ve been through all of that.’
And therein lies the beauty of older people – they are you and me, they just happen to be older.“
While age can bring with it a new type of dependency as health and community degrades (this is just a part of life, not a cause for shaming), as Andy points out, older people don’t want or need us to cater to them. They’re busy living their lives, like we are. Until we realize that, we will be incapable of bridging the divide and establishing authentic friendship.
I count among my best friends women in their 70s and 80s – women like Fiona, featured here. When we were taking these photos, she pointed out that we’re almost 50 years apart and yet we share intimate details of our lives, rant about politics, and cry over sad news with an openness we don’t often grant to friends our own age. That’s because we get each other. Age is just a number.
So let’s stop letting age define us, getting in the way of creating diverse and fair communities. Let’s start seeking out spaces, communities, and companies that work to redefine what it means to matter. Age should never be a barrier to influence and respect.