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