In Our Prime: The Invention of Middle Age

In Our Prime: The Invention of Middle Age - Patricia  Cohen The term “middle age” is an invention of our modern world and the definition changes according to the normal expected life span of adults. In generations when 60 year-olds were considered well-aged; middle age, by definition, would have been 30. Slowly the starting point for middle age progressed and the accepted norm ambiguously became when parents became “empty-nesters”. In the 21st century, the defining line becomes even more hazy and middle age seems to begin somewhere around fifty. Depending on the era in which one lived middle age could mean that you could begin aging gracefully and not have to worry much about maintaining a certain lifestyle or appearance, but as we move forward into the here and now, middle-age means doing everything humanly possible to remain youthful. Okay – truthfully, people have always coveted the fountain of youth and Ms. Cohen does an excellent job of pointing out the wide and varied manners in which people chased eternal youthfulness. She shares the experiments involving transplanting monkey glands onto men to increase virility (yes, it is not only the female chasing that elusive elixir), she explores the beginning of face lifts and other enhancement surgeries (blame Hollywood close-ups) and the current need to workout, pump iron and force our bodies to look as they were never intended to look in middle age.

Ms. Cohen takes the reader through trends in movies, television, and literature and, the biggest culprit of all – advertising. She discusses age discrimination including the common practice of not hiring middle-aged men; the experimental use of human growth hormone to keep us young and supple despite the fact that the treatment is still controversial and the current pressure placed on “middle-agers” to maintain (real or enhanced) sexual prowess with Viagra, Estrogen and Testosterone therapy.

The topic of middle age is vast and attitudes towards it are constantly changing. Ms. Cohen does an admirable job of explaining it in comprehensive, easily read and engaging manner.