Ageism is Getting Old

“We’ve made so many advances in other areas – civil rights, gay rights – but ageism is still an area that’s taboo and not talked about and dealt with.”

~ Madonna Ciccone

I remember the anticipation I had as I was approaching the BIG 5-0.  After all, everything I had heard about turning fifty was exciting — life begins at 50 — that sort of thing. But for me, turning fifty was not all that it was hyped up to be. Instead of feeling happy, free, and optimistic, I felt old, useless, dried up. I mourned the loss of my child-bearing years (even though I didn’t want children at 50), I could sense the finality of life. I felt that I had wasted my time by not pursuing the dreams that I once had. All around me were messages and attitudes that matched my own negative view — growing old is awful. My life seemed pointless.

It wasn’t until I reached my 60th birthday that I came into my own. My feelings of disappointment, regret and sorrow diminished, and I began to feel excited about what lay ahead. I found stories of many vital, strong, happy women now in their 50s, 60s, 70s and beyond. They are living their lives to the fullest — forging new paths and smashing ageist stereotypes. It dawned on me that I could become one of them.

Today, I feel invincible. I am strong, vibrant and alive. My confidence is growing every day. I know who I am, and I know my strengths and weaknesses. While I still experience occasional bouts of self-doubt (who doesn’t?), I love the woman I am today, and I know my worth.

But some days it is not easy. 

Granted, we are living longer. And some of us do require varying degrees of assistance to manage our lives. But most of us baby boomers are robust and healthy — living happily and productively.

Many of us are delaying retirement, working well past traditional retirement timelines. We are starting new businesses, expanding our skills, exploring new interests, and seeking out adventure. We are tech-savvy, having mastered Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. We communicate using text messaging, What’s App, Zoom and Google Duo. Baby Boomers are becoming influencers on YouTube, Vimeo, creating podcasts, writing blogs, and venturing out on TikTok! We are unstoppable.

Even so, there are still many stereotypes around ageing. 

To be sure, our view of mid-life is slowly changing. Many Baby Boomers are speaking out and showing the world that growing older does not mean the end of a dynamic, healthy, and exciting life.

“Some people are old when they’re 18 and some people young when they’re 90. You cannot define people by whatever society determines as their age. Time is a concept that human beings created.”

~ Yoko Ono, The Guardian, February 2012

Ageism is considered to be the most common form of prejudice. Like sexism and racism, ageism is a social construct that affects everyone. Negative messages about ageing are often internalized by people as they enter their mid-life. This can lead to a higher risk of isolation and depression. Age discrimination can affect younger people by negatively influencing their impressions about older people and impeding their likelihood of healthy ageing. Ageism against younger people can make it difficult for them to find employment or receive better wages.

The funny thing about ageism is this: every one of us is ageing. We can’t stop it. Don’t we owe it to our future selves to celebrate and enjoy the privilege of growing old?

Ashton Applewhite, a writer, speaker and activist dedicated to ending ageism, puts it plainly. She says, “Ageing is not a problem or disease. Ageing is living.“

Applewhite is widely recognized as an expert on ageism. She is a Ted Presenter and regularly speaks to audiences across North America, including the United Nations.

As she points out in her Ted Talk, ageism is levelled against both olders and youngers, and we all contribute to it.  Throughout her presentation, she reminds us that we have the power to end ageism. Her point is that we cannot change negative views about ageing if we are not aware of our own biases. 

With humour and wisdom, she relays the message that some of our worries and fears about ageing, such as having to live in a care home or developing dementia, are over-exaggerated. Studies have shown that the rate of older people living in nursing homes is low, and dementia rates are falling.  She says that other fears such as living alone, living in poverty, limited access to healthcare, are legitimate but the cause of these issues is not ageing but ageism. 

Watch her Ted Talk, Let’s End Ageism. I highly recommend it — 11 minutes and 28 seconds of inspiration, wit and insight.

Applewhite’s book: This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, was published in 2019 by Celadon Books, and she posts on her blog of the same name. Read her full bio there. You can follow Ashton Applewhite on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

It is time to change our narrative around growing older.  Like the shift in thinking that is slowly happening around other prejudices, we can help accelerate a change in social norms by using our voices to call out ageism. We can start by dismantling the myths and challenging the stereotypes we all have about growing old. We can remind the world of the positive values of ageing — such as wisdom, experience, and maturity.

A good place to start is by examining our own biases about growing older. Ageism is deeply ingrained in our culture, and it starts to develop at a young age.

Are you ageist?

Do you think you don’t have an ageist bone in your body? Check out these examples of everyday ageism — anything sound familiar?

  • Hosting or attending birthday parties featuring black armbands and balloons, “over-the-hill” birthday cards, and joke gifts about ageing.
  • Making comments to yourself or others, such as: “You’re too old to wear that,” or “Inside, I feel 30 years younger.” “You look great for your age,” “You’re young at heart”. 
  • Making comments to, or about youngers such as: “You’re so young”, “You’re too young to be so tired”, or “When I was your age…”
  • Describing minor forgetfulness as a “senior moment.”
  • Directing comments about an older person to a younger companion or child of the older person.
  • Using patronizing language (sweetie, dear, honey, he’s so sweet, isn’t she cute).
  • Describing olders as grumpy, feeble, senile, crotchety.
  • Describing youngers as lazy, selfish, or lacking in knowledge.
  • Calling olders: geezer, gramps, old fart, dirty old man, little old lady, old bag, biddy, or old fogey.
  • Calling youngers: “wet behind the ears”, “young whippersnapper”, “kid.”
  • Lying about your age or staying “39” year after year.
  • Assuming that young people are technologically advanced and older people are Luddites.

By becoming aware of and changing these ageist comments and actions in our own lives, we will become better able to call them out in others.

Are you ready to join the crusade to end ageism, but are unsure where or how to start? Need inspiration? Read about these initiatives, communities, organizations, and individuals who are committed to ending ageism.

The Old Woman’s Project: This San Diego project was inspired by the work of Barbara Macdonald,   an American social worker, lesbian feminist, and ageism activist. Founded by three women, the Old Woman’s Project’s mission is to bring awareness that old women have a stake in all social justice issues, not just those issues that affect the elderly population. Find out more about the actions they have organized in San Diego, including the Women’s Mobilization for Low-Cost Housing on International Women’s Day 2001.

Changing the Narrative: Find out how this organization is shifting Coloradans views on ageing. Read some of the inspiring posts on their blog. My favourite post is their anti-ageist birthday card gallery — it makes me want to get out my art supplies and create some Fabulous Boomer Sister cards!

Old School — Anti-Ageing Clearinghouse: Founded by Ashton Applewhite, Old School is a curated repository of free resources about ageism and ideas to help end it. Find videos, podcasts, blogs, papers, books, and more.

Seniors of Canada: Head on over to the Seniors of Canada online photo exhibit to view this engaging project piloted by a group of six graduate students from McMaster University. The team collected stories and photos from seniors in and around Hamilton, Ontario to represent a realistic look at ageing — Humans of New York style. The project was so successful that the group created a website to share the exhibit with a greater audience. They continue to recruit and collect stories and photos to represent seniors from across Canada. Visit their website for contact information. Follow them on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram. 

 Are you an age disruptor, or do you want to be one? Join AARP as they focus on changing perceptions of ageing and confronting ageism. Share your story about disrupting ageing and discover other age-defying people, just like you! Follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube and find out how to be an age disruptor!

The film below is part of the World Health Organization’s global campaign to fight ageism. Using poignant vignettes, the short movie illustrates the impact ageism has on people of all ages. Watch the film below. Let us know what you think.

Some tips to help you get started

  • Recognize ageism as a problem
  • Lobby for better laws to protect older people
  • Reject stereotypes
  • Stand up for others and for yourself
  • Learn more about positive ageing
  • Promote positive attitudes about ageing
  • Learn more about ageism and discrimination
  • Speak up and challenge ageism in all its forms
  • Reach out and meet people of all ages and experiences
  • Get involved with local groups that address ageism

But perhaps the most important first step to ending ageism is to abandon our fears, misconceptions and stereotypes and be true to ourselves and live our lives the way we want to. Remember — it’s never too late and you are not too old!

Now that you are inspired, what will you do to end ageism?

Share your thoughts in the comments!

2 Comments on “Ageism is Getting Old

  1. I agree that attitude has a lot to do with feeling good about ageing. You are right that staying healthy and doing the things that you love is the best way to live your second act! It is sad, though, that ageism is now considered the most common prejudice today. Stereotypes are damaging in so many ways — I am glad to know there are more efforts being made to stop age discrimination (just like it’s good to work towards ending all forms of prejudice). Thank you for your comment!

  2. I think it has a lot to do with attitude. If you have a poor attitude about aging then everything seems negative. I don’t get bogged down with all the ageism hype. Personally I plan to keep enjoying life, staying healthy and doing all the things I like to do while not worrying about getting older because there is nothing I can do to stop it. If someone makes a comment that I don’t agree with, I will call them on it. But I will also laugh at myself when I do something that makes me appear old. Because we all do those things and that’s part of life.