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Ageist Old People

When I get on a tear about pervasive ageism, even after all these years I am shocked when, inevitably, old people themselves condone it, brush it off as trivial or, worst of all, commit it themselves.

When, last Friday, I ran across this headline - 10 Things You Do That Make You Look 10 Years Older - I assumed the writer to be a 20-something, kid commentator who hasn't yet outgrown the well-known stupid problem everyone suffers in youth.

After all, it's written in the adolescent Buzzfeed style of numbered “journalism” that has reduced vast swaths of the internet to terminal vacuity and the body of the story almost exclusively concerns perceived fashion faux pas that only someone young could get excited enough about to engage in the rank bigotry of this article.

The first item snottily advises against wearing elastic waist pants:

”If you need an elastic waist for comfort, it's probably time to face the music that you likely need to shed a few pounds. Elastic waists are what our grandmas wore. With few exceptions...elastic waist pants are for oldsters.”

Perhaps that's true. And the point is?

Skipping right along, number three sarcastically admonishes against wire-rimmed sunglasses:

”We hate to be the ones to break this news to you, but John Lennon is dead. When it comes to sunglasses, we say 'go big or go home.' Big sunglasses also do a wonderful job of covering any crow's feet.”

I have a lot of good reasons for having worn large sunglasses all my life and not one of them is crow's feet. And anyway, who cares?

At last, I twigged to the fact that the writer thinks all her mockery of old people is what humor is, and doesn't even know it's not funny.

The number four thing old people are advised not to do is wear readers on a rope:

”We may all need to wear reading glasses, but why advertise the fact that you also misplace yours so often that you need to tie them to your body? They are not fashionable. They scream 'old biddy.'"

“Old biddy.” I wish she'd say that to my face instead hiding behind the internet.

In the rest of the list, the stereotypes fly just as thick and heavy without any point I can find beyond ridiculing old people. I wanted to know who this writer is.

A quick consult with Google revealed that she, Ann Brenoff, is a freelancer who, born in 1950, pretty well qualifies as an old person now. Next year she can sign up for Medicare. Dare one ask if the story might be the result of a measure of self-hate broadcast outward? Just speculating.

The large number of negative media stories – and just casual negative language used against old people every day – have real consequences. At the simplest level, such stories as Ms. Brenoff's, in assuming repugnant stereotypes of elders are funny, rob old people of the dignity all people are entitled to.

At its worst, such repeated prejudice throws people out of work before they are ready to retire, leads to discrimination in healthcare and to a host of serious physical and emotional maladies.

It even causes old people themselves to deny not just the existence of ageism and age discrimination but to deny that they themselves are old, sometimes into their eighties and beyond.

Brenoff ends her story with this witticism:

”But nothing makes you appear 'old' the way it does when you say you don't know how to use your smartphone. The TV remote? Now, that's complicated.”

Perhaps that knee slapper is what leads Brenoff to write at the top of her Twitter page that she “should have been a standup comic.”

Fortunately for you and me and all old people, about 95 percent of the several hundred comments to her story at Huffington Post have, as she deserves, smacked her down.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Janet Thompson: Divinity in Denim


Ronni, allow me to use my well worn gardening shoes to drop kick this kind of ageist junk into space.

This woman should take a long hard look in the mirror, and realize she is one of us. A senior.

As a senior, she should use her so called writing skills to enhance and honor seniors like herself for everything we have done to advance the world.

Yes, come here and say that to our faces, faces of strength, determination and intelligence.

Elastic waist pants, string glasses, wire rimmed glasses.

Is that all she can come up with?


I read that article earlier and agree with you wholeheartedly. My self-assessment after reading it is that I wear almost all the "offending items," and I'm pretty sure they make me look about 71 years old--the exact age I am. I want to appear clean and neat, as if I made an effort. Beyond that, I don't care one whit. The not caring, in my opinion, is one of the very best things about aging.

You are right. Not funny.

I work in an office with a younger (65) year old woman. When anyone calls her and asks how she is doing, her standard reply is "Pretty good for an old woman"! I would never dream of saying that and I am 70!!!

Oh the arrogance of youth! I have stopped and started so many comments on this entry. I have no wish to continue the negativity. She is just plain wrong on many points. She'll see that eventually. :-)

I read this article as well. What disgusted me was the fact that she was no "spring chicken" yet took so much delight in her scorn and wit. The woman didn't have a clue how transparent she was. I wonder why she left early-bird" diners off her list?

I saw the article also - someone who still enjoys playing with her Barbie, her "ideal." Not to slam those who did, as a toy rather than a desired achievement.
Terrible place to have one's mind. I agree with Linda about "how do I look." And I like that feeling of
freedom, simply to be.

I'm so glad she got the smackdown she deserved. Nobody would think it appropriate to write an article called "10 Ways to Avoid Looking Asian", or "10 Ways to Avoid Looking Black." We'd be horrified! Yet it's okay to target age. Brenoff needs to grow up, in maturity to match her years.

Perhaps she thinks of herself as a comedian, she certainty is not a good writer who researches her topics.

I never thought about it before, but are we contributing to the stereotypes when we forward those cartoons about elders? You know, the ones that mock our forgetfulness, etc. I have been guilty of sending them on and laughing at myself. I always say, "If we don't laugh about aging and the resulting problems we might cry."

From now on I will delete most of them, although some are funny. Exaggeration is a form of humor, but sometimes it stings.

Thank you, Ronni. I also saw that HuffPost item and was disgusted. Unfortunately I did not post a response as they have changed their rules and require some FB link. Maybe there should be another 10-point article based on the first one: "10 Things You Do That Show You Have Finally Matured".

I am with Darlene...I get so offended when people send me the cartoons about elders and they are usually from friends who are elders themselves. I have never forwarded them and wonder how people my age can do that without at least a twinge..It is kind of a dark kind of humor. The ageism is just so pervasive in our society..I see and hear it every day when I visit my husband in the care center.
They are always addressing the residents as "Dear" "Sweetie", "Hon" - I have reported that as a quality and dignity issue... When I filled my car with gas the other day, I asked about the date - and the young girl informed me that it was 2014 in a rather loud voice...I threw my checkbook down and yelled back - you mean it's not 2010???? We live in an over 55 community and when anyone gets sick - they are shunned....(that would be a good research topic, Ronni!) like a broken leg is contagious....I think elders can be their own worst enemies.... okay I am done with my rant....Thanks for my wake up call, Ronni!!!

Most of Ms. Brenoffs ire seems to be directed at appearence.Having read those comments, I immediately rushed to the mirror to see how many of those fashion faux pa's I was guilty of. Hooray, except for the glasses on a string I fit the stereotype perfectly. As far as the "senior cartoons" are concerned I wouldn't worry about them too much as most of them are satirical rather than malicious.

I seldom disagree with my friend,Darlene, but this time I must!

Darlene, you and I are probably the oldest commenters here and we are also probably the ones who send the most outrageous cartoons to each other;cartoons that most of the time are kidding old people about their terrible eyesight,their hearing problems and all other afflictions associated with our old age.

We share many a good laugh together although we are miles apart..Who will gain if you delete these funny cartoons? Certainly not you or me.

I pay absolutely no attention to people like Brenoff when she writes about age..I prefer to read the wit and wisdom of our favorite Elder Advocate, Ronni Bennett....

Oh, right! I'm going to pay attention to criticism of senior fashion sense while the visual assault of droopy pants, sideways baseball caps, rumpled shirts, and three-day stubble continues unabated!
Doesn't Brenoff have an editor?

I think that Bruce Cooper suggests a key point - that many things that would otherwise be funny become anything but funny when presented with malice aforethought. My skin is quite thick and I can easily laugh at myself; but, when I feel that I am being disrespected, it is Katie-bar-the-door.

Darlene--Please don't change. I like you, fine, just the way you are!

At 71 (1943) I don't care what others think of me - I act and dress to my comfort level and be as neat and clean and stay as healthy as God lets me. I have become more reclusive through the years for there is not much free income to play around with but so long as Syd and I 50 years of marriage are together - its all ok.

And I suppose using pots and pans to cook instead of microwaving is old fashioned. Or cooking any meals at home, taking walks, having a meal with friends and family, sending Christmas cards, saying "Thank you" to those who give you gifts - just to name a few of a thousand missteps these young idiots have made. (We taught them so well - so it's now our fault.)

Nope, I am perfectly happy now in my 70s - thank you very much. Though my kids say and imply I shouldn't be so dependent on my "drain" on the Federal economy. (I guess now I should develop an old-fashioned guilt complex!)

i guess it is easy for those elders who never learned to stand up for themselves to accept the silly standard that being young in its self is better. we are DIFFERENT at each stage of life. there is the good and bad at each age. for one thing our short term memory isn't as good as it used to be for most of us. i don't think it is a bad thing to realize that this is normal and to be able to laugh at it in a respectful way. there is a difference in seeing humor in our humanity from making fun of it. we always need to be sensitive to that. the human condition is often funny, but laughing at someone with the intent of belittling them is not funny.

i do what i do because i like it that way, which, as we grow older, most of us have developed the good sense and wisdom to do. i wouldn't be caught dead wearing 3 inch stelletos because they make my legs look sexier! and if i look like an old hippy it's because i want to...i am an old hippie!

one of the glories of being old is we don't have to give a damn about fashion or what others think. what is more important is that we are comfortable and living a healthy lifestyle. that lady needs to grow up and accept herself. with all the agism in our society, it is sometimes hard to see beyond it. we who do see it for what it is need to continue to be outspoken and let everyone know that we are a force to be reckoned with and worth listening to...

Couldn't agree with you more, Ronni; all I can say about this writer is "What a Jerk!!!"

We wear what we wear because it's comfortable. I can't imagine wearing thong underwear just because it's the "going" thing. I don't wear a bra because they're not comfortable and I hate the wires in most bras today. I'm not trying to be sexy or to attract a man -- I have a man who likes me just the way I am...

As for buying or wearing the latest in sunglasses, I cannot afford several hundred dollars for the fashionable "look." And I would look silly in them anyway.

What a nitwit Brenoff is, why she has a job when others don't is a puzzle to me. I'm running up on 72 and still learning, changing, and enjoying, and in my elastic waist paint. She gets my Raspberry award for the week.

Oops, elastic waist pants! They probably have paint on them though.

I agree with Nancy Leitz. I pay no attention to writers like that woman. Being old is not the same thing as acting old. A person's attitude about every day life is more telling of his or her age (and maturity) than how he/she dresses.

I also try not to be offended by people who write the things that she does. I just conclude that they are to be pitied and will - when they reach my age - be someone about whom I would say "There goes mutton dressed like lamb."

Ronni what Diane said about people shunning residents who fall sick in a 55 plus living community?

That's akin to being left out in the schoolyard.

We read seniors need to get out, make friends, mingle. Move into senior home, you will love it, etc.

Friend gets sick, dump them?

I second Diane's suggestion for

By the way, today in Largo, Florida, a young woman was texting while driving on a busy highway.

She was so into her device, she stopped suddenly, causing a senior driver behind her to crash into her car.

Senior woman was seriously hurt and is in the hospital.

Age is not a number but your attitude. Perhaps Ms. Brenoff needs a change of attitude.

Celia, great idea! I wish there were a raspberry icon next to the thumbs up. Only having a "like" option is frustrating.

Well, I don't let stuff like that bother me either, but I really hate it that this sort of garbage just ads to the negative stereotypes of old people among the pre-old.

The column isn't funny but at bottom, it's tragic. It's written by a woman - like so many - who never have learned to love, much less like and respect themselves, regardless of age. This kind of mind set feeds right into the cosmetic, plastic surgery business which wastes millions if not billions of dollars a year. I don't mind cartoons like Maxine or her ilk because I don't mind laughing at myself. But that kind of sneering putdown isn't the least bit funny.

Ronni, I like the term "listsicle" for that kind of article:)

Part of this off-putting and hostile way of talking about elders' fashion fails and Luddite fumbling is because there never has been, in the history of the world, such a large group of people over 50.

I think we're all figuring this life stage out as we go. I'm Brenoff's age, and I like being a senior, wire rims and all, though I'm no Luddite. At almost 63, with enormous effort, I could possibly even pass for 62.5 in the right light, yet somehow I can still work an iPod.

Seriously, how great is it that we can stop worrying if we'll get into the "right" college, find happiness, or have the perfect resume? Because many of those ships have sailed, we're free to ... just live.

They're trying to make us feel bad, so we'll buy things. Sigh. I think we've seen that trick a few thousand times before.

Meanwhile, we're all going to go on, exploring life as long as we can.

I am still working and I have to compete with much younger people. There are "old guy" things that I try to avoid. Once that I am out of the work force, then I won't worry about image. I'd even wear elastic pants.

We have a tendency to lump everyone into age-specific demographic groups as if everyone in that group thinks and acts alike. A.C. Nielsen made a fortune doing this for T.V. ratings, hench shows like "My Mother the Car" and "Cop Rock". To think that a senior of 65 years thinks and acts and dresses the same as a senior of 75 or 85 is ignoring an entire generation of people. Bottom line, dress, think and act as you like as long as it doesn't hurt anybody.

i don't mind any more if someone thinks i'm old...i AM old and proud of it! i'll be 73 this spring. hopefully i'm wiser than i was when i was at 60 or 30 or 10. each age has good things. i like myself better and am less critical of myself than i was at a younger age.

i'm sorry for those who can't accept that they are indeed old and can only see it as a totally negative state to be in denial about. i don't pretend and deny the physical aches and pains or the short term memory lapses, but there are enough good things connected with being an elder that compenste and make this a good time to be alive.

The article did get a lot of negative press but really you see that sort of thing all the time. If you read articles on how to get a job if you are over 50 they are pretty much along the same lines. Nobody would write anything about "how not to appear black" which just goes to show that ageism is the last acceptable bias.

After I read Brenoff's article last week, I posted a rather pointed comment -- under the assumption that the author was just another rude young "journalist" who thinks manners and respect are old-fashioned concepts. I'm surprised to learn she's nearly my age. That eliminates youth and ignorance as excuses for her comments and leaves her with few if any others.

I posted this on Tumblr, which specializes in teenagers. I sometimes think I am the only person over 50 who posts there.

Great post -- couldn't agree more. (And how does anyone expect me to keep track of my glasses without the rope, forgodsake.)

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