I wrote this post, then I received an email from AARP with a link saying, “Let’s Stop Fighting Age and Start Fighting Ageism #DisruptAging” (http://www.aarp.org) . Wow! It’s nice to know I’m on the leading edge but AARP put a much finer point on it. I invite you to read my take on ageism and visit their site as well.
Somewhere around age twelve or thirteen, the saying, “don’t trust anyone over 30” entered my consciousness as my world, with The Beatles sound track playing in the background, erupted into a free speech, civil rights driven, bra burning disdain for the older, established members of the population. While I only watched from afar as the counterculture unfolded on the nightly news, still it’s no wonder I’m a bit of a cynic about the attitude toward aging today. Baby boomers created this youth culture. It is up to us to change the attitude.
It was on my twenty-fifth birthday when a much younger nephew quipped, “Wow! You’re a quarter of a century old!” While that gave me reason to stop and think about my aging, when thirty did finally appear on my calendar, I sailed through without giving it a thought. I was riding high at the time, successful, respected. Then forty arrived with a neighbor giving me a pot of dead flowers and an “over-the-hill” card. Even so, I still wasn’t feeling as if I was over-the-hill, washed up or any of the other negatives attached to aging.
Nearly another quarter of a century has passed. Now, I do notice _ ageism exists and is sometimes directed toward me. Even the medical profession tells me how I’m in really good health and shape “for your age.” In our youth driven culture my silver hair receives lots of strange looks. There was the bank manager who told me I needed to be quiet while she asked the questions. She couldn’t believe I didn’t have my account number with me. As she treated me like a naughty child, she stared at the top of my head instead of my eyes. Did she think my gray hair equated someone who should be carrying a checkbook instead of a debit card? Did she really think I could be treated without courtesy and respect?
Wondering if ageism really is entrenched in our society, I began researching and reading. Psychologist Becca Levy, PhD, assistant professor of public health at Yale University did a study, which caught my attention. In her study of people over 50, she found those with more positive self-perceptions of aging lived 7.5 years longer than those with negative self-perceptions. Her conclusions point out that negative stereotyping of aging members of our population shorten lives!
We don’t tolerate racism or sexism in our society but we tolerate ageism. Everyone, at least everyone who is lucky, will be aged someday. It seems like only yesterday that Chet Huntley or David Brinkley announced in my parents’ living room the idea of “don’t trust anyone over 30.” Yet, here I am fifty plus years later, way over thirty and experiencing this gnawing feeling of being discriminated against because of my age. Because of the sheer number of baby boomers, ageism may become the civil rights issue of the coming years.
In that vein and for the record, let me say I am tired of being told I look good for my age. I’m tired of being told I look good for someone with gray hair. I’m tired of being told my addition of pink or blue hair chalk is not age appropriate. Ditto for my leggings, crazy socks, reptile print top and animal print flats. I’m tired of being told I’m aging gracefully. I’m tired of being told I am tech savvy for my age. I’m tired of being told my being tech savvy makes me like “the young people.” I’m tired of being asked if I’m sure of what I recall about a situation. I’m tired of being called “honey”, “dear”, “sweetheart” and “darling”. I don’t know what happened to my real name or even “ma’am” but since I turned 60 and stopped coloring my hair, it seems to have vanished into endearments from complete strangers at the stores, banks and wherever.
As AARP says, “Enough.” Yes, I am tech savvy just like the majority of people over 50. I’m also creative, physically active, mentally and emotionally engaged and my memory still works quite well, thank you very much. Despite my introduction into the “don’t trust anyone over 30” mantra of the 1960s, I also have a very positive view of aging. I feel like I am at the height of my abilities. After a shaky start to retirement, I’ve found my niche. I’m having the best time of my life, feeling more empowered, more confident, more inspired and wiser than I’ve ever felt. I have choices beyond what our culture traditionally dishes out to aging people. The last thing I need are naysayers raining on my parade.
Now, what can we do to change the overall view of aging? We can change it by adopting a positive view of our aging experience. We can educate by not tolerating negative stereotyping _ ageism. After gathering my identification and walking out on the bank manager, I later told her supervisor, my treatment was inappropriate and won’t be tolerated. Fortunately for my bank it was an aberration so I’m still a customer.
Similarly, I told the last thirty something store manager who called me “dear” that the only man with my permission to use endearments instead of my name is my husband. The manager’s bug-eyed, surprised stare and apology tells me he won’t be calling any woman, young or old, “dear” in the near future.
I’ve spoken to plenty of people my age or older with similar experiences who refuse to say anything about ageism. Along with complaining to me, I’ve heard all the excuses for why they don’t complain where it matters, from they don’t want to make a fuss to it won’t do any good to complain. If we are to end ageism, making a fuss is one of the things it will take to do so. Speaking out is what it will take just like it did in the 1960s. We have the numbers to do some good, to change the stereotypes. Educating people is key to achieving a change and the educating starts with us. #DisruptAging