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The Aging Equivalent of High Heels

Older adults have been handicapped for years by social assumptions of what we could -- or should -- be doing with our lives.


What's the aging equivalent of high heels?

My inquiry is inspired by having read this opening quote from a July 2019 Maureen Dowd op-ed in the New York Times: "After I interviewed Nancy Pelosi a few weeks ago, The HuffPost huffed that we were Dreaded Elites because we were eating chocolates and - horror of horrors - the speaker had on some good pumps."

Politics aside, what caught my imagination was the reference to decorative (rather than sensible) footwear worn by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. As if footwear were the issue. It wasn't. It was a metaphor for questioning wearing the appropriate gear for the appropriate fight.

For the record, I'm 68 and haven't worn high heels since I was in my mid-twenties. At that point in my emotional development, somewhere in my maturing brain arose the epiphany that I didn't have to kowtow to social norms of correct feminine attire and could instead substitute my own sensible desires to be comfortable and effective -- you know, no back pain, the ability to run on demand (especially on unevenly paved streets) -- and to disregard others' assessments of my worth as a human being.

It's like that with getting older, too.

That's why I ask again: What's the aging equivalent of high heels? Because, you know, older adults have been handicapped for years by social assumptions of what we could -- or should -- be doing with our lives.

While we don't have the same culture of foot-binding that debilitated Chinese women from the 10th to the early 20th centuries, post-midlife people of any gender have been forced into equally restrictive parameters of mobility: Be technologically savvy or get out of the way. Be young-looking or admit your ugliness. Be productive in middle-aged terms or accept others' charitable efforts to help you as members of a needy population.

Why should any group of people be hobbled by overwhelming social misperceptions that conclude a lack of ability and therefore worth? You'd think by now that our culture has produced enough examples of long-living adults who are perfectly capable of leading vital and viable lives.

But more to the point, shouldn't any human being, regardless of circumstance or potential, be cherished and respected just because that person is alive?

If the shoe fits...

Given the fact that an American child born today has a 50/50 chance of reaching 100 years old, shouldn't we be gearing up ourselves and future generations for more compassionate, dignified, and interdependent longer-distance journeys?

Just as I concluded about myself 40 years ago, I believe that what we older persons need now is to proudly sport our personal metaphorical footwear of choice: sandals, cleats, running shoes, thigh-high waders, combat boots -- whatever will help us more comfortably and efficiently get further down the road to social acceptance, appreciation, and especially cultural, political, and economic engagement.

We deserve that.

And longstanding fashions be damned.


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