I am so tired of being called sweetie or honey just because I have gray hair. Yes, I know “hon” is a name of endearment here in Baltimore. If you know me, most people will not describe me as sweet. Do you notice their voice takes on a different tone? I notice. What we are dealing with here is ageism. It is the last “ ism” that people can get away with now.
Ageism is all over the place. Consider these examples.
- Jokes from comedians and talk show hosts about old age and memory loss;
- Elderspeak by health care people.
- Younger adults mock us for being “slow” and we olders get impatient with people our own age using walkers or rollators.
- Commercial advertisements depict us as being out of date, and lacking knowledge about modern culture and new technologies;
- Age discrimination in the workplace when people need to work longer because the days of “retirement with a pension” are over.
Ageism, first coined by Robert Bulter, is a form of discrimination and prejudice, particularly experienced by older people. Most older people are mentally and physically active regardless of age with a great deal to contribute. However, our societal norms marginalize us, treat us with disrespect, make us feel unwelcome and otherwise generalize as if we are all the same. In reality, as we grow older we are more different than alike.
Except for changes in our physical appearance and experiencing more physical problems, being “old” feels no different from how we feel now or when we were young. I remember my 89-year-old grandmother saying, “When I look in the mirror, I see an old woman with wrinkles and white hair, but I feel like I am 20.” My mother said the same thing when she was in her nineties. So an old person is a young person who has just lived longer.
We are supposed to be flattered when someone tells us we don’t look our age. Our whole society is in denial about the aging process. I am so tired of articles about “successful aging” which detail how to look younger by eating a certain way or how to dress after 60 or what kind of moisturizer will stop the wrinkles. If there are articles about aging, they highlight the outliers that run marathons or bungee jump at age 94 or the same state of being older.
So what is the answer? Forget about 60 being the new 40 or 70 being the new 50. Seventy -two is 72. Get over it. As Marci Alboher, VP Marketing & Communication for Encore.org says,
“65 is basically the new 65, We need to put new value on the human talent that exists within the aging population. Owning your age is a very important piece for ending age discrimination.”
The anti-ageism movement is just becoming. Ashton Applewhite is one of the pioneers on a crusade to do away ageism as we know it. A successfull writer for years, her recent book This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageismexplains the roots of ageism in history and in our own age denial. It is a must read. Her blog Yo, Is this Ageist? answers questions posed by readers and her blog pushes back against ageism.
It is important we become aware of situations where ageism rears its head. A simple example at Charlestown is designers thinking a loveseat low to the ground is okay rather than a chair with arms. Good design is universal. Ashton covers that when she writes,
When labels are hard to read or handrails missing or containers hard to open, we fault ourselves for not being more limber or dexterous or better prepared. Watching an older person struggling to heave herself out of a low chair, we assume her leg muscles are weak or her balance is shot, instead of considering the inadequacies of seating so deep or low to the ground.
As I transition from being President of the Residents’ Council to an ordinary resident, I think anti-ageism will be my new soapbox. Ashton has come up with a better term than seniors to describe us. She uses older or olders as a noun. The video below does a good job explaining why she prefers it.