YOUTH MOVEMENTS FIRST APPEARED AROUND THE YEAR 1900
They celebrated youthful, athletic physiques, which symbolized high performance and sex appeal. Old people were considered out of touch with the times. The aging body became a synonym for weakness and backwardness and was expected to adapt to the attitudes of a new age. “We never stop learning. But more important than school learning is the ceaseless cultivation of the will to be young — and this applies to even the oldest people…,” declared the epoch-defining Jugend magazine in 1903.
For older people, the cult of youth was a threat from which there was no escape — but it wasn't the only one. During the Great Depression, they also realized that their declining flexibility made them less valuable from an economic standpoint. Professor Susanne Wurm, a psychologist and gerontologist at Friedrich Alexander University in Erlangen-Nuremberg, believes the roots of today’s negative image of old age can be traced back to the social upheavals of the early 20th century.
“There was massive restructuring that transformed an agrarian society into an industrial one. The experience that old people had was no longer needed and thus declined dramatically in value,” she says. This already became apparent at the beginning of the Great Depression in 1929. “Employees over 50 were systematically laid off,” Wurm points out. Old people were now considered unathletic and unattractive underachievers who could not come to terms with the new era. As a result, people learned to avoid looking old at all costs and to let nobody realize that they might be elderly. In a youth-focused environment, people are well advised to maintain at least a youthful appearance as long as possible.