How a "Face Aging" project helps people imagine, and relate, to themselves as older

Worth the read:  A great article by Cherie Winner of Penn State News, "Mending the Gap" - about the work of FaceAge, the creation of director Andy Belser.  Some excerpts:

Belser, professor of theatre and the 2017-18 Penn State Laureate, designed the project to bring together people of different generations in a way that would take them deeper than a typical social exchange.

“In our culture, young people don’t tend to approach old people and older people don’t tend to approach younger people,” he says. “FaceAge is intentionally trying to help communities of people take the time to see one another differently.”


During the filming of FaceAge, the moment when the partners touched seemed to mark a turning point in their conversation, says director and producer Andy Belser. One young man, touching the deeply-creased face of his 87-year-old partner, expressed surprise at how the skin felt. "Even the scars are soft," he said.   Image: FaceAge Creative Team


Facing assumptions

....Much of inter-generational work involves dealing with preconceptions. It’s easy to make assumptions about people and groups we don’t know well, and in most cases the groups will remain different in key respects: men and women, black and white, native-born and foreign-born. In the case of generations, though, younger people will become elders themselves one day; their beliefs about aging necessarily involve assumptions about how their own lives will change as they age.

Confronting those assumptions was the impetus behind FaceAge, says Belser. The idea for the project came to him while visiting the Face Aging Institute at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, where he worked before coming to Penn State in 2013. The Institute develops software to map and predict the changes in people’s faces as they age, primarily for use in criminal forensics. “I saw it, and was just so moved by this question of, how do our faces change, and how do we change, as we age?”

In FaceAge, Belser put the participants in situations where they almost had to consider the prospect of their own aging. In one setting, they were filmed through a two-way mirror as they responded to their own reflection and to computer-generated images of how they are likely to look when older. That provoked feelings some of the younger participants seemed reluctant to face. Belser thinks their reluctance stems, in part, from an oddity of human psychology. “A researcher at Princeton found that when we imagine ourselves as ten years older, we imagine a stranger,” he says. “We don’t imagine ourselves. People of these students’ ages, they think 50 is ‘the frontier.’ So they don’t plan for it. And they certainly don’t have a way to consider how aging will unfold slowly and maybe even beautifully.”

.....One of the film’s most profound revelations—to its young participants as well as to viewers—is that all the elders in it share one thing: they are contented and at ease with their lives. They’re happy.

It’s called the aging paradox, says Belser. While popular culture tells us we’re happiest in our 20s and early 30s and pleasure in life goes steadily downhill after that, research shows that most people get happier as they get older. Despite the loss of loved ones, their physical ailments and limitations, and inevitable regrets, those 65 and over are happier than young adults and more generous in their views of others.

Which puts a whole new slant on intergenerational programs, says Belser. “We should get younger people and older people together, so the younger people can begin to understand that growing older isn’t just a process of loss,” he says. “It’s a process of gaining joy, happiness, wisdom.”

 Read full article here.