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
photo credit: marlambie via photopin cc
Basil Sands says
Paul you hit a chord with me. I did not really seem to hit my stride until my late thirties. Wrote my first novel at 38, and narrated it into audiobook at 39. Since then a new career has spawned that have given me a totally different outlook on the future. Now at 45 and doing narration nearly full time while I write my fifth novel and plan a for the next twenty years in these lines of work I truly sense that I was never ready as a young man to enter my life’s calling. Sadly, I abused myself in youth (construction worker, farmer, body-builder, working-to-hard-person) and my body is following hesitantly after my spirit with creaks, pops and groans but the fact is the spirit is there and it is strong.
Moses didn’t take on his life’s calling until he was 80. And a generation after that a man by the name of Caleb said, “So here I am today, eighty-five years old! I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out (as a spy at age 45); I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then.” And he proved it by leading his tribe to conquest and living another forty years after that.
I want to be counted among the Calebs of the world.
Tami Romani says
Fifty is so much more than a number.
It’s a verdict.
I had a great example in my mother, who continued to do new things well into her 80’s. I’m reinventing my career at 54 & so far, so good.
Thanks for this post, Paul! And Happy Birthday!!
Brent Abdulla says
You’re about as old as you make up your mind to be. I see 80+ year olds at the gym exercising, laughing and living. I see 20+ year olds obese, whining and dying. “As a man thinketh…so is he!”
Toni Orans says
Love this Paul. Some excellent points and observations – along with ‘ageism’ I’ve also assumed it’s to one’s advantage to not have one’s photo ‘getting around town’ that much and have chosen to use my logo more often than not when asked for a photo, though not necessarily because of my age. People have asked me about why I have made that choice and I always answer because I don’t want people to get a pre-conceived idea of my voice/s from what I look like – especially if they’re interested in what different character voices I can do.
I think there’s many assumptions people make about one from one’s age AND the actual physical look one has, which might even be something that could be associated with being American. Having lived in Europe (Amsterdam included) for a number of years, I don’t recall feeling that way. I think what you said about Holland really is true and people generally speaking are not so caught up w/ the physical in the same way as we are, here in the States.
So, dank je wel yet again for your insightful post… food for thought indeed! – and also, may I take this opportunity to wish you a most Happy and Magical Birthday, mijn vriend!
(and I hope you picked out something along the lines of purple, perhaps…?!) 🙂
Mahmoud Taji says
Kudos on showing some vulnerability. Some folks think this is a four letter word. Take care of yourself and remember. 50 is the new 30. Which would make me 18 🙂
Helen Lloyd says
I guess I am definitely a veteran …. having spent almost forty five years in the busines … and being a proud bus pass owner (your UK followers will understand the significance of this statement Paul).
The issue of age first arose for me when I was working in television and was told, at the age of thirty seven that then too old to appear on camera! I thankfully retired to behind a microphone. The ‘A’ question arose again when my colleagues and I were setting up ‘Choice Voices’ and wanted to put our photos on our website. We chose three fairly standard portraits – but were shocked when the feedback we received initially, from our proof reader and others, was that we looked like three pensioners subsidising our retirement by doing a few bits of VO! Definitely NOT the image we were looking for nor how we wanted to be defined by either our clients, our peers or anyone thinking of casting us! Hence the soft pastel avatar style photos we use, that have, I like to think, become our trademark!
Sadly – I think that ageism is alive and well across many industries – perhaps that is because comparatively inexperienced people are scared that people with experience and knowledge will challenge their authority.
I don’t think this is so at all. Older people working in the arts have always, in my experience, been more than willing to generously share their talent, skills, experience and knowledge with the younger generation. Fortunately for us there are always roles for older actors … and there are some wonderfully active veteran actors in all areas of the industry, including voice work.
I think I am lucky … my voice has not aged particularly, and is still supported thanks to a strong diaphragm and good breath control … though I do think my lung capacity is less than it was, I have to take a few more breaths these days – I have no intention of packing up my mic any day soon and fully intend to continue to work till I drop. OK headphones and specs are uncomfortable … problem solved … enlarge the font so I don’t have to wear the specs!
Seriously though, as age creeps up, there is a lot you can do to minimise its effects on the voice.
Maintain general fitness as much as possible; do breathing and vocal exercises daily … this helps with the muscle tone and strength of your diaphragm, ribs, mouth, cheeks, tongue and lips;
Look after your teeth … crowns or dentures can affect your sound, especially causing sibilance and strange vocal clicks;
Stay hydrated … a tired sounding voice is often due to dehydration:
Sing often – it makes you feel happy!
Read aloud every day – great for your eye / lip co-ordination;
And – think young! Sixty is the new forty after all!
Rosemary Benson says
As a singer, I have recently decided to eschew any jobs that would force me to perform songs by Beyonce and Miley Cyrus, for heaven’s sake, because, frankly, no one wants to see that. I’d rather save my voice for music I love, and narrating audiobooks. It’s a financial decision as well as a preservation of my vocal health. My current book project is a YA mystery, and it’s a blast. I feel like I could do this forever!
Joe Van Riper says
50? That’s actually quite young for someone with your apparent wisdom! Happy birthday!
I’m old enough to be your father, and I still hit the studio every day to sell cars, orient new employees, and ask people to listen carefully because our menu options have changed.
Too old to work? I certainly don’t sound young any longer… but I sure sound like I know what I’m talking about!
It’ll be time to retire when someone throws a shovel of dirt in my face.
matt forrest says
Ah, the good old days – when we did our editing by cutting tape with a razor blade and the world was listening to vinyl. Oh, sorry, I was reminiscing there. I know how you feel, Paul…when I turned 46 last month I told my wife I wasn’t sure how I felt about being in my “upper 40’s.” But it really doesn’t matter! I’m happy, I get to work outside cutting & splitting wood or working in the garden when I need to, and my boss isn’t half bad. Life is pretty good!
Paula Leinweber says
This is a message, actually including all comments (especially Helen’s) I really needed to hear today. Happy Birthday, Paul! Hope your day is a great one. Having just turned the corner on the big 6-0 last month, it’s a struggle for me getting over that round number. I am new to voiceovers, but am trying very hard to be successful at it. Like Joe said above, I intend to do it til they put me in the ground too. There is comfort in knowing I am not alone in the struggle. As my sis told me, it’s just a number, and yours now starts with a 6.
Kevin Scheuller says
It’s funny you should mention how your Oma didn’t color her hair, because mine did until she hit her 80s and then let it go gray. When she decided to do that, she had never looked better! Of course, you may think I’m a bit biased, but we had a favorite picture of her up on our wall, and we asked people how old they thought she was. Invariably, they’d guess between 10-20 years younger than she actually was. She was always young at heart, and could stay up until 2 a.m. if she was playing cards. She had a sharp mind up until the end.
Back in the 1980s, she had proudly told her doctor that she had quit smoking. He told her, “At your age, it doesn’t matter.” Of course, these days we know that was very bad medical advice, but she continued to smoke following that advice. Oma lived to the ripe, old age of 96 when she died in 1995. Her heart finally gave out, but what a heart she had! She really personified “joie de vivre” for the whole family.
Jack Elias says
“Fifty is so much more than a number.
It’s a verdict.”
How on-the-mark that statement is, unfortunately. I’m a bit past that mark, and have absolutely run into age discrimination in my various pursuits.
They say we all perceive ourselves to be about 19 in our heads. A 19 year old with 30+ years experience — regardless of that graying man staring back from the mirror.
Steven Lowell says
Sadly, this happens everywhere in the US, regardless of the job position, and those who run around starting Internet companies claiming to be all about “changing the world” do more to make the situation worse and shallow. Let me give examples from my end:
65% of website community manager are women under the age of 35. Numbers show websites get more followers with female twitter accounts, so businesses hire young attractive women, and to be 40 yrs old and work for a website…well…lets just say 40 yr olds don’t look new and shiny. It changes the type of website I can work with.
I had an agent at age 22,who stopped sending me out on teen auditions when I hit 28.
I do voice overs because I sound 22 still, but do not look it. I am 39.
The USA is sadly a very shallow nation that curses age, teaches kids that parents are dumb, and tells people to re-invent themselves every five years, as if the previous wisdom means nothing.
Everything seems to be a young-looking person’s game right now, and its like employment practices have all but died in terms of Ageism claims.
I know I still get proofed for looking young, which is great.
Career be damned…you will never find me mutilating my body to get work.
If that means I have to drop out one day, so what. The older I get, the less concerned I am about impressing people.
Arlene Tannis says
What does 50 sound like? Or 30, 42, or 60 for that matter? The beauty of voice acting is we can all sound younger, older, raise the pitch or soften the sound… To this day I don’t know how old I sound. Some say I sound like a tall slinky blond bombshell. Ok, I’ll take it! I wonder what they were listening to?
The reality, however is that it does matter to most people out there, how old you are, instead of the job you can do, what you understand or how you can be directed and taught. The unfortunate thing about getting older is that only those who are getting older realize how valuable older people are!
I know some very talented young people. Smart, socially savvy, sexy and at the top of their game. I also know even MORE older people with the same qualities. If I had to choose, I’d go with the older worker, not just because of their experience, but because of their seasoning…. the variety of those experiences that add the flavor to the project.
I don’t usually tell my age, but I don’t really hide it either. I’m hoping someone with my attitude on aging will be on the hiring end!
Ben Amos says
I don’t sound my age now, so I have a hard time believing that I’ll sound it THEN. (Whenever that is…) Just another reason to love this business.
Elaine Singer says
Ageism is definitely alive and well. I love it when I saw a VO request asking for a mature voice – age 25!
I recall a fellow I once worked with celebrating his 65th birthday. The day before he was Jim. But then he became, in hushed, pitying voice, “a man of his age”.
I participated in an online writing group a few years ago. One participant was a woman in her 80s. She sent us all a note one day saying not to worry if she wasn’t around for a couple of days because her son had given her a new smart phone and she wanted to take the time to learn all its features. Hope I still have the curiosity to learn new things when I reach that age.
As for me, when asked how old I am, the standard response is “old enough to know better”!
Juliette Gray says
In terms of style and fashion – sorry to say I disagree Paul. Hair color is the best thing ever invented and if its done faithfully can ad an edge to the way you look and is a personal statement whether you are grey or not. There is also a way to be fashionable with make up and a little tweak here or there from a needle without looking like a freak. If anything it’s maintenance – and the worse part is to appear frumpy which I see women can start doing as soon as they have a ring on their finger and a duck in the oven so to speak. On the matter of ageism itself – there is such a thing as a biological age and a chronological age. Some of this has to do with genes, some is whether you have taken care if yourself and had a not too young style. Once you get over about 50 there is a feeling that you are living on borrowed time somehow but really even in our youth there can be things that happen which would be totally removed from our trajectory. Having said all that we are all doing something we love that makes us feel relevant and gives us a reason to get up every day. We bring things to the table that enables us to bring gravitas and humor to our jobs. The people we are working for dont seem to get you don’t have to be 30 to sound 30 but if the writing is immature and shallow there is no reason to read for those jobs at any age. Yes the number can be scary but I venture to say that we are all much more comfortable in our own skin than we were 20 years ago. I know you have a group of people here who will keep on keeping on until there is no way that they can do that physically any longer – and no matter what age we are we are not going to book or be suitable for every job anyway.
Paul Garner says
Wonderful article, Paul, and Happy Birthday! I decided to come back to voice over at the age of 50 and have had a wonderful time the past 5 years! I have so much to do in the next how ever many years I’m given so I plan to take care of myself; especially my voice (thanks for the tips, Helen)!
Keep up the good work, Paul. I know you have so much more to give!
Rick Lance says
Nice topic , Paul! Seems you put a fun spin on the subject again. Basically, getting older gracefully can be a hair raising ( or graying) experience. You can freak out or roll with the flow. Become stupid or become wiser. Become jaded and difficult or mellow out savoring a lifetime of memories. I like to think I’ve got a balance going. Getting more mellow, more experienced , wiser and less keyed up about things I can’t control. But able to keep up with trends that suite me. Vocally, I know where I fit in as a talent and are more realistic than I used to be. There’s still a big market for us to support out there and I’m happy where I am. Congrats on making it to 50!
Roxanne Coyne says
This is a subject I don’t see discussed much in our industry, Paul. Thanks for tackling it–and Happy Birthday!
The worst ageism I’ve seen in Hollywood is in advertising and in writing. Agencies hire people right out of college with ‘fresh’ ideas. They don’t seem to care whether they have any experience, they just want youth. If you’re a 23 year old cinematographer with NO experience you’re still more likely to be hired than a 54 year old with a long track record and a string of huge awards….it’s a tough reality.
Same story for writers…if you’re 30 you’re considered ancient! I think we see how that reflects in a lot of the tv scripts that get produced. They’re being written by people with litle life experience while the older writers are cast off.
I do a lot of YA narration, too. I thought I was doing a pretty good job until someone wrote a review of one of my Audible titles and called me a “Middle Aged Jan Brady”. That hurt.
But maybe it’s true.
Anyway, I still get hired to narrate YA titles, so, I try to take those comments in stride.
I’m almost 50 myself and looking foward to joining you in an exciting new decade of opportunities. Just do NOT EVER call me an industry veteran or I’ll have to puke!
Sean Daeley says
I’m an avid reader of your blog and I wanted to wish you a belated happy birthday! I also wanted to tell you that you are absolutely right about the unhealthy obsession with youth and beauty of americans (and other cutlures), which is sad because these are fleeting, superficial qualitities by nature , and most people my age (27) and younger are complete idiots! (Straight from the idiot’s mouth!). That is not to say there aren’t the highly talented and intelligent among us, but we should never lose sight of what and who came before, the wisdom and compassion of parents, mentors, and others who allowed us to thrive. I am a young pup in this business compared to you and much of your readership, and I am constantly in awe of the sage advice you consistently bring to the table, and the willingness and eagerness you share it. You are truly a shaman of the tribe, and I hope you are voicing and blogging well into your 100’s! After all, what’s the point in calling it “middle age” if you live any less? ;). Happy Birthday!
Rebecca Michaels Haugh aka LoveThatRebecca says
Paul – at any age YOU ROCK! I can’t add to all the lovely comments already written. Thanks for great insights and for tackling this grey area!!!!!!! Love you!
Dave Courvoisier says
Pertinent thoughts, Paul, but I wasn’t going to worry about it until I hit 70 (still 10 years away). You think 50 is a verdict? ‘Wait till you hit 60…it can be a Florida sinkhole of negativity IF YOU LET IT. I just let it go!
Such an interesting article – I really enjoyed reading about your own experiences within the voice over industry! Thanks so much for sharing 🙂
Conchita Congo says
My hair says it all!