For years, the stereotypical image of a grandfather wasn't all that attractive. In fact, it often swerved between two extremes: the rail-thin visage of the man in Grant Wood's "American Gothic" and the iconoclastic overweight Archie Bunker body type. These days, men are paying closer attention than ever before to their health markers, their waistlines and their weight. We used to think this was primarily true only in America, but masculine vanity is on the rise elsewhere — even in China.
I love a story about someone who has shattered ageist stereotypes. At the 2015 China Fashion Week in Beijing, an 82-year-old star was born, and now he's being hailed as China's hottest grandpa. Wang Deshun was born in 1936 in the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang. At the age of 14, one year after the Communist Party came to power, he began working as a streetcar conductor. His real loves, however, were acting, dancing, singing and playing musical instruments.
After taking classes in the performing arts, he found work in movies, radio and theater. By the 1980s he had begun teaching runway modeling at a Beijing fashion school. At the time, China's fashion industry was in its infancy, and the majority of clothes were functional and monochromatic. Deshun entered into an agreement with a large department store to organize a runway show of its nicest clothes, which were limited to fur coats, and for men, woolen Sun Yat-sen suits, or "Mao suits."
Encouraged by his wife of 48 years, Deshun became more and more involved with the world of body art. In 1993, after he appeared on stage almost naked and covered with metallic paint as part of his "pantomime art" program, the Chinese authorities barred him from performing in public. Determined to continue, he performed privately.
Deshun's keen interest in performance art inspired him to begin working out seriously and sculpting his body. This is remarkable because old age begins relatively early in China — certainly by our standards. Compared to the legal retirement age in America, in China it is 50 for women workers, 55 for women civil servants and 60 for most men. Men and women as young as 50 could be addressed as "yeye" (grandpa) or "nainai" (grandma), even if they don't have children or grandchildren. Deshun has two children and a granddaughter, but his honorific "hottest grandpa" title has less to do with age than with his very toned physique.
When he appeared bare-chested on the runway at Hu Sheguang's Beijing fashion show last year, his fans gave him a new title: "laoxianrou," which means "old fresh meat." Deshun credits his tan smooth skin and buff pectorals to his athletic lifestyle. He swims more than half a mile each and every day, and from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. he can be found exercising in a gym near his home. He considers mornings to be his "learning time" and spends those hours reading or listening to the radio.
When interviewed by The New York Times, he offered this advice: "One way to tell if you're old or not is to ask yourself, 'Do you dare try something you've never done before?' Nature determines age, but you determine your state of mind."
A video on YouTube featuring Deshun titled "Be the fiercest — Deshun Wang" has been viewed more than 700,000 times. Even if walking down a catwalk is not the sort of thing that would be found on your bucket list, as far as I'm concerned, Wang Deshun has given us some very valuable advice.
Marilyn Murray Willison has had a varied career as a six-time nonfiction author, columnist, motivational speaker and journalist in both the U.K. and the U.S. She is the author of The Self-Empowered Woman blog and the award-winning memoir "One Woman, Four Decades, Eight Wishes." She can be reached at www.marilynwillison.com. To find out more about Marilyn and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.