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

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - Viewpoints -

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 fortysome­thing woman to spend his fifties with — af­ter all, you’re only as young as the (in­sert ap­pro­pri­ate gen­der pro­noun) you feel.

‘Per­haps he is say­ing that youth af­fords us op­por­tu­nity, while age takes it away’

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

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