Let’s say you’re 60 — but as far away from behaving like a codger as you were at 40.
Let’s say you see people your age in advertisements — maybe they’re holding hands in clawfoot bathtubs, hoping that the sex-performance drug kicks in, or they’re waiting sadly on the sidelines tending to their arthritis while their grandkids play.
Let’s say those images don’t look anything like you, the label “retiree” doesn’t fit you — and you could pass for 45 most days of the week if the sun’s not too bright.
You’re too young to be old, and you’re not alone.
“We’re servicing an emerging group of people,” says Stewart, 58. “This is the first time in human history that we have this group of people who are in their 50s and halfway through their lives.”
If you’re a college-educated 50-year-old woman, he says, you can expect to live to be 94. If you’re a guy, it’s 89.
And you can expect to be healthy most of that time, which completely changes your outlook.
“If you’re 55 and figure you’ll be dead in 10 years, you’ll stay stuck,” says Stewart, a photographer who launched Ageist two years ago.
If you figure you’ve got 40 more years to live, you’ll behave differently.
You’ll see more possibilities — maybe a new career, a new degree or even a new spouse.
That’s why the fastest growing group of people seeking divorces are those 55 and older, and the fastest growing group on Match.com is 50 and older, Stewart says.
That’s also why a story in the July 6 issue of The Economist declared it’s time to come up with new labels for Americans 65 and up.
It’s the “dawn of the pre-tiree,” the story says. “What do you call someone who is over 65 but not yet elderly? This stage of life, between work and decrepitude, lacks a name.”
Words matter, because they help change perceptions.
Everybody over 65 doesn’t belong in one “65 and older” category, and the word “retirement” — which means “withdrawing to a place of seclusion” — is incorrect.
“The idea of retirement doesn’t make sense,” Stewart adds. “If you’re doing things you love, why would you stop doing them? The quickest way to die is to retire. People need purpose and a sense of mission.”
Our language hasn’t caught up to our longevity, says Stewart, who lives in Los Angeles.
A basic Google search launched his mission: A search for “old people” turns up images of people who look old and sick. A search for “people who are 50 and up” turns up many of the same images.
“Where are the people who look like me?” he asked himself. “There’s this black hole of media visibility from age 35 to Betty White.
“I’m 58 … so the world’s either looking at me as completely invisible or they’re basing the images on notions that are 25 or 30 years old.”
Stewart started photographing beautiful, powerful, youthful people in their 50s and up.
One of them, Tara Shannon — a model, life coach, writer and former resident of West Palm Beach — so inspired Stewart that he made her the women’s content director for Ageist.
You can find her stories, Stewart’s photographs and more at Agei.st — that’s all you need to type, but pay attention to the period.
When you get to the site, it says: “Welcome to AGEIST, a dispatch of the newly emergent age. We are a collective of researchers, thinkers and creatives dedicated to promoting a better understanding of later life styles. Through an ongoing research program, we gather insight, trends and lifestyles from our network of respondents. We are dedicated to creating a positive impact by helping brands, organizations and individuals better understand, connect with and serve an emergent generation.”
Stewart met Shannon 30 years ago, when she was a top model, and he was taking photographs for fashion magazines.
He photographed her again several months ago, and she was as stunning as she was in her supermodel heyday, when she posed for Helmut Newton, Irving Penn and Richard Avedon.
“She posted one of my images of her on her Facebook page,” Stewart writes on Ageist. “In it, Tara stands on a little yellow table, wearing a Wonder Woman training bra over a bathing suit she bought at Target, looking off to the side — fierce, confident, strong. Her own tagline went up on the photo: ‘My age is my superpower’ and her age, 61. Facebook went wild, her feed lit up.”
Stressing the power of experience is part of the Ageist mission.
“I do value my age,” Shannon says. “My youth was just the vehicle that brought me to here.”
She doesn’t want to be younger, she told Stewart.
“I’ve come to see aging as a spiritual ATM, where I can cash out all the experiences I’ve had. It dispenses a multitude of riches, like the mastery of my talents and intuitive insights.”
Age also dispenses tangible riches — the buying power of people 55 and up is greater than that of younger people.
The Economist story notes this: “In western Europe the over-60s will account for 59 percent of consumption growth in cities between now and 2030, says McKinsey, a consultancy.”
The same is true in America. Baby Boomers have the most disposable income, with an annual spending power of $2.3 trillion compared to millennials’ $600 million.
To help brands capitalize on this cash flow, Ageist does research with people in this “newly emergent age.”
A 30-year-old art director might revert to age stereotypes and not realize that the Ageist generation buys more BMWs than he or she does, for example. That art director also might not know 60-somethings can be as cool as Shannon.
“It’s hard to time travel,” Stewart says. “I can talk to someone who’s 80, but I don’t fully get it until I’m 80.”
What he gets now is that “cool is cool is cool” — what one age considers cool, another one will, too.
One-third of the subscribers to the Ageist newsletter are under 30, a fact that stunned Stewart at first.
Then, he asked those subscribers why, and he realized Ageist was helping them visualize a lifelong vitality and spirit they, too, wanted to pursue.
“They told me, ‘We read it because you make being older cool.’”