Stop lying about your age and live longer


Have you ever heard of a Play-White? It was a term for a light-eckinned black person who “passed for white” during South Africa’s apartheid era.

My New Old Self has coined a term: Play-Young. Meaning old people who “pass for young”. I’m not talking Mutton Dressed As Lamb. I mean people who look and act younger than their years and get away with it.

Of course there are those envied people who seem to naturally age well. No problem with them. Older people like rooting for impressive fellow oldies. On the red carpet, on the sports field, or just around town. “More power to ya, dude!” we cheer. “You go, girl!”

Susan Sarandon with Bette Midler

Bette Midler and Susan Sarandon, looking good at 68

But being a Play-Young, that must be tough. You have to become adept at avoiding questions about your age. You must learn to steer conversations away from details that date you. Inevitably there will be questions about how a Play-Young manages to pull it off. Suspicions about plastic surgery may bring fears of being outed and ridiculed.

Play-Youngs are like Play-Whites in their denial of their real identity. And in their lack of solidarity with their people. It’s no wonder that Play-Youngs tend to be unpopular with their own generation. Not unlike Play-Whites condemned by fellow blacks in the old South Africa.

The heroes in the struggle against apartheid were those who took pride in their identity. Like Nelson Mandela at the trial that led to his 27 years in prison. He didn’t wear a suit and tie to impress the white judge, but trumpeted his African heritage with Xhosa beads on his bare chest and a kaross sewn from leopard skin.

Nelson Mandela in traditional Xhosa dress at his 1962 trial

That day, I felt myself to be the embodiment of African nationalism, the inheritor of Africa’s difficult but noble past and her uncertain future. The kaross was also a sign of contempt for the niceties of white justice. I well knew the authorities would feel threatened by my kaross as so many whites feel threatened by the true culture of Africa.

– Nelson Mandela, in his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom

That’s about as far from Play-White as you can get.

Play-Youngs could also be compared to gay people who “pass for straight” in the face of homophobia. Play-Youngs, instead of “coming out” and showing pride in their years, act coy and change the subject. Yet if they publicly and proudly owned up to how old they are, they’d be our role models in accepting and enjoying aging.

Unfortunately that doesn’t happen much, according to a classic gerontology text.

Most people will not reveal their age unless forced to, on grounds that it might incriminate them.

– Other Cultures, Elder Years, Holmes and Holmes, 1995

As if getting old is a crime!

Check this classic cartoon that went “viral” in the early days of the worldwide web – 90s-style, via fax. It served to feed the myth of internet anonymity and privacy.

On the internet nobody knows you're a dog Pete Steiner cartoon

By Pete Steiner, The New Yorker 5 July 1993

Today Google, Facebook et al would definitely know if you were dog. They would even know the trees and poles where you lift your leg. And you’d know they know because your screen would be full of ads for doggie treats and flea collars. (Unless you searched the net in In-dog-nito mode…)

A lot of people believe that on the internet nobody has to know you’ve hit 50. Fibbing about your age is among the Top Lies in Online Dating. Far from being frowned on, it is seen as an understandable response to our agist (and sexist) world, on and offline.

While I would never go and call myself an “advocate” of lying, I would say that we should reserve judgment. There’s a difference between a serial fabricator and a woman who is insecure that telling the truth will lead to age discrimination.

“Newsflash: Older Men Don’t Want Women Their Own Age”, Evan Mark Katz on his website, Understand Men – Find Love

I’m sure you’re nodding your head and agreeing that – in theory – it’s problematic to lie about your age as you age. But you may also be thinking, What’s in it for me to tell the truth and be upbeat about aging?

Here’s a pretty convincing answer: it could help you live longer. That was the finding of a study led by a top researcher into psychosocial influences on aging.

Positive age stereotypes may promote recovery from disability through several pathways: limiting cardiovascular response to stress, improving physical balance, enhancing self-efficacy, and increasing engagement in healthy behaviors. We hypothesized that older persons with positive age stereotypes would be more likely to recover from disability than those with negative age stereotypes.

“Association Between Positive Age Stereotypes and Recovery From Disability in Older Persons”, The Journal of the American Medical Association, 2012

Professor Levy has warned that negative stereotypes about ageing can have more harmful impact than other stereotypes. That’s because you start buying into age stereotypes early in life. So they are firmly entrenched by the time your aging self becomes a target.

Unlike race and gender stereotypes, which individuals encounter while developing group self-identities, individuals acquire age stereotypes several decades before becoming old. Thus, younger individuals are likely to automatically accept age stereotypes without questioning their validity. When individuals reach old age and the stereotypes become self-relevant, they have already internalized these stereotypes.

“Longevity Increased by Positive Self-Perceptions of Aging”, Professor Becca Levy et al, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2002

Surely this is a no-brainer. The secret of aging well is to be cool about your age and not  succumb to negative age stereotypes!

Sorry about the preachy tone, for I have to admit that I am yet to practice what I preach. I don’t lie about my age but you won’t hear me volunteer it.

Not that I don’t appreciate how empowering it would be for older people to be more open and unapologetic about their age. And I understand how important it is for young people to grow up without negative stereotypes about aging…

What was your question again? (Joke – and proof of how hard it can be to get an response to “How old are you?”)

Anyway, I take heart from young people, like this journalist, who are not bothered about aging.

For my newspaper articles I always have to get people’s ages, and I have yet to find the best way of doing it without making them uncomfortable. They never want to answer, or preface with a joke like “oh no, do I have to tell you?” Personally, I don’t care, and I don’t think I ever will. We all get older, it’s no secret!!! What does one gain by lying about one’s age? Life is a journey, and I don’t want to put any more value on the early part of that journey than the later part. I will stay beautiful in whatever way my body ages, wrinkles and all. But I certainly hope I can stay healthy and active — there is a woman who takes my Zumba class who must be at least 90 years old and I admire her like no one else.

– comment on “Why are Women Ashamed of their Age?” CollegeNET

I bet that woman in her Zumba class isn’t quite 90. But it shows that this strategy could be a winner.

I always lie up. Everyone tells me how great I look for 74.

comment on “To Lie Or Not To Lie? The Age Fib In Online Dating”, Better After 50



Leave a Reply