literature

Youthful Old Gals and Men

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I’m not going to talk about older characters who look youthful through the use of magic, illusions, or through any otherworldly methods, because that‘s pretty much an explanation already and should only be complained about if it doesn‘t work in the given universe; I’m talking about older characters of the real-life universe looking exceptionally young, or a universe where magic, illusions, chakra or anything don’t exist.

Yes, humans probably can’t fend off the wrinkles forever, and yes, there hair will probably eventually thin and gray over time, but the question is, at what point would it turn inappropriate or unbelievable for a character to continue not having those types of features?  Or if you want a character to just look a little younger—not necessarily from in their late teens to mid thirties—how much younger would it be possible?

The first thing to think about is, how young does young look, and how old does old look?  What makes a person in their twenties look like they are in they‘re twenties?  How much difference would there be if that person aged one or more decades?  What new features would show up in each decade?

There isn’t such a scale that can determine precisely when deep wrinkles or dark spots, thinning or balding of the hair or goiters appears in every person no matter what because every person is different; therefore there could be a number of variations depending on a person’s overall health, stress, diet, how much exercise or not, whether they get ill often or not, genetics, and other variations that I can’t think of right now.  If you compare two people of the same gender, one who frequently visits their doctor, exercises, eats healthy, takes in vitamins and the whole nine yards of being a health guru, and you take another person who visit’s a doctor whenever they are sick, exercises maybe once a month, eats only moderately healthy, no vitamins and smokes cigarettes and drinks beer everyday, of course the latter will look older than the first, and maybe the first looks younger than their age, but again, what’s the roundabout scale of what each age looks like?

All I know is that when you compare people’s photos of when they were in their twenties to when they are, for example, in their 80’s, their noses and ears are bigger, they have laugh lines and other deep wrinkles, dark spots might appear, goiters might appear, veins might be more apparent in their hands, their hair lightens to gray or white, and some people’s hair might thin out or they might lose hair.  Dentistry is a whole other factor that depends on how well they take care of their teeth, and not all people in their eighties will have dentures.  I don’t know, and I’m sure other professionals of various degrees such as medical, therapeutic, or even cosmetology, wouldn’t know precisely when these features become absolutely apparent, but all of them would agree that by the time people hit forty or fifty, some changes, depending on the person, will appear.  Aging will happen, but it depends on at the rate these aging signs happen.

For a real-life example, my ex-step-grandmother is 67, and yet, if I didn’t know her and had to guess, I would say she looked to be at the very least one and a half decades younger.  Why?  She emigrated from the Philippines, so has a diet consisting of rice, seafood, very little red meat, pork, garlic, other salty foods like certain cheeses, and vinegar.  She also works as a home-nurse so knows her way around her health as well as other people’s, doesn’t drink or smoke cigarettes, and runs every morning.  Because she’s Filipino, her genetics might make her naturally immune to certain types of diseases that would affect her immune system.  I wouldn’t also be surprised if she uses lotion to keep her kin smooth, and maybe a cream to keep the dark spots away, which could also be a factor of her youth.  

My grandmother, 65, looks at least one decade younger, but for different reasons.  She has forehead wrinkles and laugh lines—appropriate since she loves laughing—but her skin is overall smooth, which she only rubs a bit of cheap lotion on it.  However, born in America where her weakness for fried chicken, chocolate, Snyder’s ranch pretzel bites and other non-healthy foods, has made her overweight by maybe a hundred pounds.  Her hair’s gotten thinner, and her hands have visible dark spots and veins also.  Does height have anything to do with aging, because she’s been 4’11” since she was a high school student, and, to be honest, shorter people just hit’s a button in my brain that says “younger“.

By the way, this is all without the magic of make-up.  Lotion that is supposed to heal your skin does not count as make-up which masks what you really look like.

Another factor that can alter a character’s age is their clothing.  I’m currently twenty one and apparently, I dress like I’m barely in high school—T-shirts, jeans, sneakers and a baggy sweatshirt are all I need.  And even when I “dress up” in a nicer shirt with an actual neckline and a hem that doesn’t go past my hip-line, people still seem to think I’m a high school student.  I never even put on make-up (I actually think it’s a waste of time and would probably do more damage to my skin).  That’s right.  I don’t even bother hiding my pimples and blackheads, and I don‘t put on any lotion.  It’s not often you read a girl say that, right?  Although, I’m starting to like nail polish as long as I have enough patience with my water marbling.

Anyway, getting back on the topic, how much younger would be appropriate given the actual age?  I think it depends on the age and the reader.  In my opinion, when reading a story, twenties can easily pass off as a young teen, but thirties would be pushing it, however I think that a mid-sixties person could look to be about mid thirties if they were in top health all of their life, and a 115 year old person could look to be about seventy, but that might be because that 115 year old had the features of my great-grandmother, who had died when she was seventy.  I think, whether consciously or unconsciously, determining age depends on who the person compares people to the chosen person.  If the person has the aging features of a person I know, I’ll most likely say that the person is around the age of the person I‘m comparing him or her to.

Aside from whether it’s believable or not, this phrase could also be rephrased to say something like, “You just want your character to be more attractive,” even if the difference between the age and the looks are believable.  Considering that most writers write about young people to begin with, I think that argument has something more to do with the combination of genetic traits, like blue eyes and big noses, in play rather than age; however I do see its point nonetheless.  What is the definition of “hot”, “sexy”, and “swagger?”

First, swagger, is explicitly used for male appeal, similar to being hot or sexy, but somehow different.  So far, the only person or place I’ve seen it used is that my brother says it way too often, and on his Old Spice deodorant.  Swagger, in part, probably is a variation of Mick Jagger, the lead singer of The Rolling Stones, who has been called the icon of maleness, practically being the definition of a guy.  The other part of swagger could the acronym SWAG, which could stand for a number of different things, but the one that always pops in my mind was invented in the 1960’s, standing for “Secretly We Are Gay.”  Since gays are often mistakenly stereotyped into liking fashion, this acronym could be part of the etymology of swagger, which correlates with the definition I thought it would mean.  Of course, there’s also the word “swag” which predates the acronym by a long while, which generally means goods that were stolen, or free goods, which wouldn’t make “swagger” sound as cool now, does it?

Both hot and sexy could refer to sex.  So what classifies as “sexy”?  Is it a man showing off their abs, a woman with a low neckline, exposing her cleavage or the area between her breasts, a man or woman showing off a great amount of legs, a girl showing the midriff?  Hell, maybe just a guy and girl in their underwear.  Basically, it’s showing a great amount of skin, but because this is mainly fashion talk, they have to cover their gendered unmentionables—a guy’s penis and butt, and a woman’s breasts, vagina and butt.  If I were to age the man and woman to their eighties, would they still be considered hot or sexy in the same outfit?  Most likely not.  Why?  Because the younger a person is without being a minor, the more sexy they are, given they have the right combination of genetic traits and if they are thin, but this doesn’t affect females and males the same way.

You’ve heard of models and actresses being malnourished, and even if it’s considered a bad example to the young people, they aren’t losing any money per photo or role of film being shot—in fact they get more publicity due to being anorexic, and then if they get physically and mentally better, there’s only a sentence in the next article mentioning it.  Magazines publicize the good and the bad, but the bad is more drama, which will catch the reader’s attention more, thus the negative sells more.  So why do older people want to look younger, even if they are beautiful the way they are?  Why won’t actresses brave up and have their picture taken without any make-up at all?  It’s because youth and having flawless features are the current definition of beauty in the USA.  This is so strong that it even affects other countries around the world.

Through the internet and television, Asian people want surgery to remove the extra skin around their eyes so they’re more open.  Young Indian girls want a procedure to bleach their skin, hoping that it will be a lighter shade.  African-American and Hispanic females with their voluptuous curves are self-conscious because there isn’t much they can do to change their body shape.  There’s even a surgical procedure that can make a person taller.  Let’s not even mention various forms of liposuction, plastic surgery and botox which could induce serious side-effects like damaging nerves, or cause various places to swell and harden.

Fashion has had painful processes for centuries, like Chinese lotus feet, where women broke their feet and folded them so they could look smaller.  Kayan Lahwi women wear coils of metal rings to force the collarbones and ribs to bend down to make the neck look longer.  Africans invented gages for their ears and even for their lips, stretching them to the point where some have torn away at one end or the other.  Various tribes pierce many parts of their bodies along with thick intricate tattoos.  My point is, I don’t mind fashion being painful, and if other people want to look beautiful, let them harm themselves, but why make it only one type of beauty?  And why young people!

If you’ve read The Lolita Effect: The Media Sexualization of Young Girls and What We Can Do About It, by Gigi Durham, it will give you a lot of the answers, but here are the basics:

Lolita is a Spanish name for girls which means “sorrow”, but was popularized by a famous Russian author named Vladimir Nabokov, who wrote the classic Lolita, about a man who married a woman and was sexually attracted to his very young step-daughter—basically a book in the mind of a pedophile.  Lolita was the step-daughter’s secret nickname he had given her when they were “intimate”, and the thing about the book that is most interesting is that because this is in the pedophile’s point of view, we can’t tell if the step-daughter is purposefully taunting him with her body, or if he’s exaggerating it as an excuse.  As most young sexualized girls grow up, they do end up more irresponsibly sexually active as they grow up, so maybe in her older years, she did end up precocious or maybe a lot of the story was one big bag of exaggeration, excuses and lies.  It’s almost basically up to the reader to interpret.

The idea of the Lolita Effect, focusing more on young girls but can also affect boys, is that fashion, beauty, slang terms like “hot” and “sexy” are only available to the young with certain genetic types, and holds this image to the rest of the world and society.  There is a reason why that Halloween costume “Annie Rexia” was banned from every market, which is noble, but why are there still Bratz costumes that look like what hookers would wear on a street corner available for five and six year olds?  Bratz are the modern Barbies—too skinny, no variation of healthy body shapes, etc. except that Barbie doesn’t often where skimpy outfits because she was invented in 1959, a far more conservative era that has, for the most part, stuck, as far as I can remember.  Anyway, throughout the decades, clothes became more revealing, and models steadily got thinner and younger to what it is today.

Why are older actors playing younger characters, like in Disney shows?  Obviously because they can for one, and two, that way, Disney doesn’t have to pay for more actors, but Disney isn’t the only one who does this.  Some singers are paid to fake their age so they would be more appealing to younger people.  Do you really want your 13 year old daughter to love a 16-but-is-really-24-to-28 pop singer?  

Another aspect this book illustrates can be found in several different medias.  One is that males dominate, and whenever a female wants to be sexy, she gets harmed.  Do you remember the first Jaws movie?  A couple of drunken teens decide to go skinny-dipping in the ocean, but the guy is so drunk he passes out on shore, and the nude girl gets eaten.  Other horror movies like Nightmare on Elm Street with Freddie, Scream, Friday the 13th with Jason, have this kind of violence towards women, particularly when they’re half nude or performing sexual acts when not under the guy.  For example, in Dark Ride, a group of college students break into a shut down haunted house sort of ride and two find a spot away from the others to satisfy themselves.  The guy has his eyes closed, and the girl is giving him a blowjob.  Who would be the easier target?  I would place my vote on the guy, because he’s being pleasured, distracted, and he has his eyes closed, but no.  While giving the blowjob, the sexy hitchhiker gets decapitated.  Horror movies have basically been linking that violence is sexy, but only the females should get killed, especially when they are initiating the act.

In girls magazines, like Cosmopolitan, Seventeen, etc. they have so many ads for make-up, but the only thing guys seem to have to worry about is deodorant and cologne.  Not to mention the articles about how to get the guy, to keep him, how to talk dirty, and yet, what are in men’s magazines?  More ads for deodorant and cologne , maybe some dandruff shampoo.  How to stay fit.  If there is anything relating to the female sex, it would probably be something like “Things that Guys Wished Girls Would Know.”  It won’t say anything about what guys have to do to earn the attention of the opposite sex.  Then when girls dress sexily, and initiate the act, she risks being called a whore, or a slut.  Guys who initiate get called players, which in the guy world, isn’t a bad thing.

Magazines also dictate what is “normal”.  Fashion and beauty is one thing, but girl’s magazines also seem to dictate what a relationship should be like (after setting such a fine example of a contradicting mess).  Seventeen does support LGBTQ; however their main focus is heterosexual, which is why there are very few articles relating to LGBTQ.  What they do have refers to coming out, friends coming out, and basically just show support.  They don’t give dating advice for lesbians or gays.  When they were posting LGBTQ success stories—lesbians posting their first dates, kisses, coming out, sex, etc.—the picture right next to that page was a picture of a heterosexual couple.  How weird is that?

Basically, why should teen girls worry about how to please a guy, and why aren’t guy’s magazines more into how to please women (in nonsexual areas)?  I don’t agree with what’s “hot”, “sexy”, “swagger”, or “beautiful” in the media’s terms.

Getting back on age and youth, my main point is, if a character is too old to be the current definition of “sexy”, then yes, there could be something to that complaint, but if the character simply looks younger, but still holds attractiveness, then that’s something that shouldn’t be a point.  If a severely obese person doesn’t have spider veins, their face isn’t round, etc. then it’s OK for you to point it out, but if the person has all of these and someone still finds them attractive, then that’s OK.  I think the only real merit this complaint has, is if it’s all the character is about.

A person sees a youthful old gal/guy, admires their youthfulness, falls in love, dates, and gets married, etc. ad infinitum until the story is over.  There’s no plot.  If their youthfulness is an obstacle, or has a story behind it, I think it would be fine.

One morning, on my way to pet sit, a woman stopped my bike and kept asking me if I was going to school.  At first, I thought she meant if I was going to college, so I told her yes, I was going to school, but I was on my way to my job. She thought I was lying.  Then, when I figured out she meant high school, I told her I graduated, and she still didn’t believe me.  I had to take out my ID to show her, and we laughed about it, but it still freaked me out.

There can be events that refer to the person’s youthfulness, but, if there is a bigger, novel-sized, plot, it has to move on.
If you haven't, please read my Mary-Sue: Who is She? Series first.

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GreyRoseKitII's avatar
I made a character called Rin (my first OC that I made when I was 7) I changed a lot about them but I kept the fact that they aged at half the speed of everyone else and stopped aging at 20 because of a deal with a demigod. Now I'm bending over backwards to explain why on earth Rin ages so slowly. I'm thinking it's a bit because of genetics but I have a hard time finding a good explanation