Did the Past Generations Look Older In their Youth? Decoding the Age-old Debate

Have you ever sifted through your parents’ or grandparents’ photo albums, only to pause, taken aback by how mature they looked in their youth? 

Corsets, bonnets, top hats, and stern expressions often adorn these faded portraits, leaving you to ponder: “Did people in the past look older when they were younger?”

Others have the same question. A recent viral Twitter post ignited a heated discussion around the peculiar phenomenon of ‘Retrospective Aging.’ 

This term, introduced by renowned educator Michael Stevens, addresses this very question in his intriguing Vsauce YouTube video, “Did people used to look older?”

Piecing Together the Puzzle of Retrospective Aging

Michael Stevens delves into the heart of this query, acknowledging that many perceive previous generations as having matured faster than current ones. 

He dubs this phenomenon ‘Retrospective Aging.’ “It’s not uncommon to think that there’s something more grown up about the way people used to be, to look back and think that people seemed to look older at a younger age than they do now,” he states in his enlightening video.

In fact, researchers at Yale and USC affirm that humans today age more slowly compared to their ancestors ¹. “Humans today really are aging more slowly than their historic counterparts,” Michael adds.

But, how has this shift occurred? What factors contribute to this generational perception divide?

The Winds of Change: Influences on Retrospective Aging

Modernity brought many lifestyle changes: improved nutrition, decreased smoking habits, advances in healthcare, and revolutionary skincare products. 

As a result, the answer to the question “Did people in the past look older when they were younger?” is a resounding “NO.”

Factors such as fashion, hairstyles, skincare routines, and societal norms significantly influence our perceptions of age. 

Michael elucidates that “Retrospective aging seems to also be about perspective.” Hence, the seeming age discrepancy between generations is an illusion fostered by evolving societal norms and aesthetic practices.

Reflecting on the Past: Viewer Reactions

Michael’s enlightening video, clocking in at over 12 million views, provoked an avalanche of commentary. Here are some thought-provoking reactions from viewers:

One user expressed gratitude, saying, “Does this guy realize how much this generation needs people like him?”

Others provided additional sociological context, with one remarking, “I had an intro sociology class text about how the concept of children and teenagers didn’t really exist until the early 1950s. That’s why young people always dress like little adults. There were stricter societal dress codes for young people.”

Indeed, the fascinating concept of Retrospective Aging is stirring a sense of realization among viewers. “There was a really cute TikTok trend a while ago where moms dressed like their daughters, showing the before and after. It really demonstrated the illusion of fashion associated with past decades and older people, because everyone was blown away by how young they looked.”

Concluding Thoughts: The Picture That Gets You

Reflecting on the shift from black-and-white to color and the dawn of color television, Michael highlights how our perceptions and experiences mold our realities. 

He leaves viewers with a thought-provoking statement, “Images are uncanny things a person in an image is frozen in time but yet can seem to grow old our own image can depend on what we are called and they’re the closest thing we have to what our mind does when we’re away. Do you get the picture? Or does the picture get you?”

So, does the picture get you, too?

The Video

Martha A. Lavallie
Martha A. Lavallie
Author & Editor | + posts

Martha is a journalist with close to a decade of experience in uncovering and reporting on the most compelling stories of our time. Passionate about staying ahead of the curve, she specializes in shedding light on trending topics and captivating global narratives. Her insightful articles have garnered acclaim, making her a trusted voice in today's dynamic media landscape.