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Runway Model Challenges Chinese Stereotypes of Aging

Age is a state of mind, says 80-year-old Wang Deshun

Wang Deshun, a Chinese model/actor/artist, has caused a stir across China and the United States recently for his cut abs, smooth skin and flowing hair. Why the fuss? Because Deshun — who appeared as a runway model at China’s Fashion Week last year — is 80.

Reactions to the octogenarian (who The New York Times referred to as “China’s hottest grandpa”) are positive and admiring. His physique is admirable, but sexualization of older adults does not do much to combat the real effects of ageism.

Wang’s ability to continue to work and perform publicly into his 80s, however, is changing the conversation about what it means to grow old — especially in his home country. In China, the retirement age is 50 for women and 60 for men, and all older adults are referred to in Mandarin as “grandpa or grandma,” regardless of whether they have children or grandchildren.

Certainly, the acknowledgement of sexuality and sexiness in much older adults challenges cultural notions of aging. But Wang’s zeal for work and spirit for adventure (and not just his fit physique) are remarkable arguments for continuing to challenge oneself throughout life.

“One way to tell if you’re old or not is to ask yourself, ‘Do you dare try something you’ve never done before?’” he said in The New York Times interview.

Wang, who told The Times he hoped to attempt a parachute jump soon, refuses to be labeled. He said: “Nature determines age, but you determine your state of mind.”

By Shayla Stern
Shayla leads the editorial team and content strategy as the Director of Editorial and Content for Next Avenue at Twin Cities PBS. She has spent a career in digital media journalism and digital strategy at organizations including washingtonpost.comEdmunds.comCars.com and Fast Horse, and worked as a consultant for several years. She also was a media professor at the University of Minnesota and DePaul University and  has a Ph.D. in Mass Communication. She can be reached at [email protected].@shayla_stern

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