Better than the Alternative


As people across Canada and the US celebrate their nation’s respective “birthdays” this week, my family celebrated a more personal one this weekend, my mom’s. We invited friends and family over to our parents’ backyard for a traditional barbecue full of sunshine, grilled meat, and cold drinks. At one point I asked my mom if she was feeling blue about getting older (as most women do) and her response was priceless; “I’ve got good friends, a great husband, and beautiful kids. My life is pretty good, and getting older is much better than the alternative. So I’m happy.”

“Getting older is much better than the alternative‚Ķ”

The alternative she speaks of is death of course, and this got me thinking. How many of us truly appreciate aging? My guess is very few. Aging and getting older are treated like the black plague in Western society. We fear it, we try to avoid it, and we become very sad when the first few signs of it appear.

Consider this:

  • The global anti-aging market is expected to reach $291.9 billion by 2015, a growth fuelled as the affluent baby-boomer generation all reach their mid-fifties and sixties
  • The anti-aging market is completely resilient to economic cycles because of consumers’ unchanging desire to be young and healthy
  • North Americans spend $115.5 billion annually on anti-aging skin care products
  • Botox was injected into Americans 5.6 million times in 2011, the average treatment costing between a few hundred to one thousand dollars
  • Since 2000, the amount of people getting botox treatments rose 584%

I will admit I am no saint when it comes to this. I’m in my mid-twenties and I’m already fussing about some wrinkle lines appearing on my forehead. I bought expensive cream this fall and started rubbing it into my head every night trying to force the wrinkles away. Did the wrinkles go away? No. Do I still apply the cream? Yes. While I do not think there is anything wrong with taking care of your body and health, I think us North Americans may have gone a wee bit overboard on the anti-aging front.

I think the money we spend on avoiding age points to a deeper issue in our society. We are so preoccupied with maintaining youthful appearances that we’ve forgotten what a blessing growing old really is. In some cultures, elderly members of communities wear their wrinkles as a badge of honour because it is truly an accomplishment to have lived past forty-five. In communities where infant mortality rates are high, clean water is a novelty, and health care systems are under-developed, growing old is a feat, a rarity, and something to be cherished. If you never get older, it is because you are dead. Moving forward, we should all try to think of birthdays a bit more like my mom does. Birthdays are a blessing, it means we are here, we are alive, and we’ve lived through yet another year.


Imagine what we could do if that $115.5 billion a year we spend on avoiding age was put towards helping others grow old?