Sunday 15 September 2019

Sophie Donaldson: Maybe it's time we all stopped acting our age

The 69-year-old Dutchman who says he wants to be seen as 49 raises issues about the times we live in, writes Sophie Donaldson

CLEAR LOGIC: Dutchman Emile Ratelband wants to shed 20 years. Photo: Roland Heitink/Getty
CLEAR LOGIC: Dutchman Emile Ratelband wants to shed 20 years. Photo: Roland Heitink/Getty
Sophie Donaldson

Sophie Donaldson

There was a time not so long ago when the person you were born as was the person you remained until you died.

The parameters by which we measure ourselves, both physical and psychological, were thought to be unchangeable. Now, so many aspects that make up the individual are up for debate; the gender, name, and physicality, as well as nationality, sexuality and spiritually, that we are handed at birth are no longer finite.

So, what about our age?

One Dutchman is seeking the answer through the Netherlands legal system. Emile Ratelband, currently 69, is seeking to knock 20 years off his age because he identifies as a 49-year-old. He has likened his situation to that of a transgender person and cites social and romantic opportunities, like a burgeoning Tinder profile, as reasons behind his desired change in age.

Mr Ratelband has been described as a ''motivational speaker'' and media personality in his native Netherlands and while it's likely that his plight is mostly a stunt designed to garner attention, it does raise pertinent questions for the times we live in.

If sexuality is fluid and gender a man-made construct, as many people now attest, then perhaps the concept of age should also be examined through this brave new lens. If these other aspects of our identity, once thought to be sacrosanct, have the ability to be in flux then surely so can our age. After all, we are constantly reassuring each other that age is not just a number, but a mind-set, and this is the exactly the notion that makes Emile Ratelband's argument so compelling.

There is no postulation more powerful than the concept of time, and by virtue of that, age. Unlike religion, whether you believe in time or not chances are you abide by it.

We are constantly told what is age appropriate, to act our age, that there are age limits. Despite the gains that come with age, more often than not it is depicted as a negative force to contend with; our obsession with anti-ageing products and procedures is testament to that.

Some people physically alter themselves to extreme degrees, giving themselves new buttocks, stomachs, hair, breasts and even faces, all in the name of appearing younger - so perhaps changing our age isn't such a radical idea.

If you are not Emile Ratelband then you may be asking the question, who on earth would want to be younger?

The 20s are often seen as an angst-ridden waste of a decade in which you have no money or sense of self, spent making disastrous romantic decisions while existing on a diet of processed noodles and room temperature cider. The 30s are usually sleep-deprived, thanks to the child-bearing years, while the 40s are another sort of quiet exhaustion, thanks to child rearing. Why would you want to relive all of that?

Retirement, around the age of 60, is what we are told to aim for. By that time, we hope to own our own home, have a sizeable amount of cash in the bank, have the ability to travel for extended periods and generally potter about the place. It is from these golden years that Ratelband is hoping to relieve himself.

If his comments are anything to go by, he wishes to return to the workforce and get back on the hamster wheel that is modern dating - he's even pledged to give up his pension should his age be lowered.

Ratelband says: "If I am 69 I will be notified of my limitations. If I'm 49, then I can buy a new house, I can drive another car. I can take up more work."

Perhaps what he is trying to say is that youth affords us opportunity, while age takes it away. Ageism is certainly alive and well in society, with our elderly community so often neglected when it comes to housing, education, travel and employment.

In Western culture we clearly value a youthful body more than a wise, aged mind - although this doesn't appear to rankle Ratelband all that much, who claims that his doctor has told him that he has the body of a 45-year-old.

If his application is rejected by his local authority he has vowed to take the state to court.

Perhaps an easier route would be to simply pretend he is 49. He could change his age on his Tinder profile and find a nice forty-something woman to spend his fifties with - after all, you're only as young as the (insert appropriate gender pronoun) you feel.

Sunday Independent

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