Actor Phyllis Somerville

Sue Ontiveros: Sometimes 60 is not the new 40

SHARE Sue Ontiveros: Sometimes 60 is not the new 40
SHARE Sue Ontiveros: Sometimes 60 is not the new 40

Last week I had yet another birthday, which may be why I noticed friend after friend was posting on social media the news that 60 is the new 40.

Mind you, no one I know who is actually younger than 40 posted this story. Just those who, let’s just say, once knew 40 and moved on – and on.


It seems population researchers from Stony Brook University and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis have been studying age measurements. They’ve determined that long-held beliefs about what constitutes old don’t hold up these days. We’re living longer, for one thing. That longevity means that instead of 60 being old, it’s now more like middle age, according to an article in the scientific journal PLOS ONE. What once was considered middle age –45 to 65 – should be pushed back and expanded, the researchers say.

All those things the “experts” recommend – eating better, exercising more, quitting smoking – coupled with other factors, such as lifestyle and where you are socioeconomically, have helped us age slower. (Life expectancy in Chicago differs wildly, depending on the L stop one lives near, according to a recent study looking at the gaps in health care.)

No surprise, really, but what shape your body and mind are in says more about whether you fit the definition of old.

And, just like that, many of us Baby Boomers can say we’re young – OK, younger – again.

So I was really disappointed that the popular CBS drama “The Good Wife” hasn’t gotten that message.

“GW” generally portrays women as more than stereotypes, but its portrayal of an older woman in trouble the other night was so wrong.

With all that was going on in this episode, others might have missed it. Not me, since this birthday has me quite in tune with the 60s, er, the new 40s. My radar on age portrayal is in overdrive.

Anyway, in this episode the main legal case involved a grandmother and the downside of minimum sentencing. They set up this whole old granny scenario, then mentioned her age: 62. Yes, that 62. You know, the age researchers are saying is more like 42. What?!

The “GW” writers decided that a 62-year-old woman should be portrayed as out-of-touch and confused. She’s being grilled by a court official whose evaluation could result in her being behind bars a long time, and she comes across like a doddering fool.

Knowing the 60s-now-40s as I do, I thought the actress playing the role, Phyllis Somerville – though talented and attractive – might be beyond her 60s. And I was right. To portray a 62-year-old grandmother, they selected a 72-year-old woman, and then they had her act as if she was barely capable of walking and talking at the same time.

Hollywood regularly has older male actors portraying younger characters. Are they acting confused and dotty? Quite the opposite. A New York Times story I read this weekend waxed on about how the action heroes filling this summer’s movies are way older male actors. These aging saviors of the free world are portrayed as gruff, confident and in command, beating up bad guys left and right.

So no wonder the “GW” episode left me cranky and feeling the need to put one of my favorite shows on blast. Maybe next time someone writes a 62-year-old female character, they’ll make her as gutsy and as in charge as these older male action stars.

But please, put her in comfortable shoes.


Twitter: @sueontiveros

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