When I first came to the United States in the early nineties, I noticed something weird.
An average American would not have thought about it twice, but as a European it really struck me.
People in this country seemed to have a problem with age and aging.
What was my first clue?
Compared to my native Netherlands, many “older” people in the States (women and men) were coloring their hair.
When my Dutch grandma went to a salon, she might have asked the stylist to add a touch of silver to her gray. That was as far as she would go. But on the West Coast where I was training at that time, pensioners had no problem going platinum blonde or pitch-black.
Many of them dressed in hip track suits and were wearing white sneakers. Mind you, I’d never seen my grandfather in anything else than a three-piece suit and Oxfords. My grandparents would never dare wear anything athletic in public. Sneakers were for the gym, not for the streets.
Being in California, I couldn’t help but notice all the “plastic people.” On TV I’d see actors and anchors who clearly had had work done to stay marketable. Commercials were populated by people in their twenties and thirties or by those who desperately tried to look like they were in their twenties and thirties.
Was there something wrong with the older generation, I wondered. Why couldn’t or why wouldn’t people look their age?
THE YOUTHFUL FOUNTAIN
We’re now living in a new millennium and it’s not just the aging population that wants to maintain their youthful, flawless looks.
The American Society of Plastic Surgeons estimated in 2009 that Botox was injected into Americans ages 13 to 19 nearly 12,000 times, including some teenagers who got multiple doses. According to the New York Times, doctors were injecting teenagers for a variety of perceived imperfections, from a too-gummy smile to a too-square jaw.
When teen girls were asked about why they chose to get the injections, they said they wanted to prevent wrinkles or “appear fresh” in front of the camera. (source)
Meanwhile, the anti-aging industry has gone global. The sale of lotions, potions, supplements and other products is expected to top $291 billion in a few years. (source) Most of these products need promotion, and in a way, voice-overs are benefiting from this trend.
As much as I’d like to believe that looks don’t matter, that talent is timeless and that age is a feeling and not a number, I must admit that turning fifty this week was a mixed blessing. It’s a blessing because personally and professionally, I’ve never been happier.
I don’t sweat the small things anymore. Things I used to take personally, I stopped caring about. I’m no longer intimidated by pompous people (of which there are many in my industry), and I don’t have to work for a jerk who does not respect me. Experience has taught me to ride the tide of dry spells and getting more work than I can handle.
The need for approval and recognition is fading fast. What’s left is a focus on building true connections and delivering consistent quality. Giving is now more important than taking, but I know my experience is worth something and I’m not afraid to charge accordingly.
On the other hand, I worry about staying current. Society and especially technology is changing at such a fast pace. Will I be able to keep up with it? Do I want to?
Part of me cringes when I’m being introduced as a “veteran voice actor.” It’s an honorary title, but to me it sounds painfully close to “old and almost irrelevant fart.” I don’t want to be that person talking about the good old days when we did our editing by cutting tape with a razor blade and the world was listening to vinyl.
I’m afraid that producers might think that “seasoned” means expensive and “experienced” equals inflexible. And what if they see that headshot with my graying head of hair? I think my voice still sounds young, but will clients continue to consider me for more youthful, energetic roles?
Even though I feel relatively fit, I don’t have the stamina of a twenty-year old and I cannot pull off all-nighters. My eyesight is deteriorating and I need to have my hearing tested. And let’s not mention the inevitable colonoscopy which I’ve been putting off for ages.
Fifty is so much more than a number.
It’s a verdict.
I had wanted to write about this for quite some time now, but I kept it to myself because I didn’t think it would fit the way my public persona is generally perceived. People tend to think I’m an optimistic, resourceful go-getter and not some sad sack with a good life who’s complaining about getting older.
Well, some things cannot be rinsed away with a bottle of “Just For Men.” I know it is perfectly possible to be stuck between the pros and cons of a certain situation. There is no light without darkness. But why bring it up in a blog? Isn’t that an exercise in narcissism?
One: There’s strength in honesty. Denial doesn’t solve anything. Acknowledging our fears is the beginning of overcoming them.
Two: There’s strength in sharing. I know I’m not alone in thinking about how my age might affect my career. Even people in their thirties and forties are dealing with it.
Three: I’d like to hear your perspective. Because voice actors are invisible, looks and age really shouldn’t matter. Peter Thomas (89) and June Foray (95) are still working. Yet, have you experienced ageism in our industry? Is being older an asset or an impediment?
While you ponder these important questions, this old man is going to put on a pair of white socks and sandals as he gets ready for his hair appointment.
Who knows… he might even ask the stylist to add some color!
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice