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The Courage To Be Our Age

category_bug_ageism.gif People generally try to avoid admitting they are growing old. Some say, “I’m 65 years young.” Or, “You’re only as old as you feel.” Others, when asked, simply lie. “You don’t look that old,” is another lie, a social convention considered to be a compliment. And there is Satchel Paige’s famous question: “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?” So many ways to say we’re not as old as we are.

Some try to hide their age with medical procedures ranging from simple chemical peels to major surgery – a growth industry which leaped 30 percent from 2000 to 2004.

Experts tell us that by eating nutritionally and remaining active, we will stay young. They are wrong. These will not keep us young; they will keep us healthy and fit. We are all growing old and none of these tactics can change that.

So why do we try so hard to deny our age? Because we live in age-phobic culture that is discriminatory and disrespectful, littered with false beliefs about old age. No one wants to live in such a world, so we go along with the cultural imperative to maintain a facsimile of youth, actively complicit in our own second-class citizenry.

Ageism is as evil as every other ism and it will persist as long as we pretend to be younger than we are.

Among those pretenses are the phrases above. Language matters and we need to change it. From day one at Time Goes By, the word “old” has been used as a neutral or positive descriptor. Repetition breeds acceptance and if a lot of us use the word “old” that way, its pejorative nature will begin to slip away. And…

We can stop using other phrases like “senior moment.” We’ve been forgetting things since we were kids; it is a myth that old people have poor memories. And…

Unnecessary medical procedures are another pretense and it never fools anyone. We are all adept at recognizing cosmetic surgery nowadays and it’s rarely a pretty picture. And…

When the media publish stories that perpetuate ageism, we can let them know their prejudice is showing. It’s easy these days with email. And…

When you believe you’ve not been hired or have been fired because of you’re old, ask them outright: Is this because of my age? You’ve already lost the job, so it can’t hurt and it makes the bad guys uncomfortable. And...

There is a lot more we, older people, can do to bust the myths of aging, insist on as much respect as people of every other age are accorded and fight back against discrimination.

Our generation has a lot of experience at changing unjust social policies. Many of us marched for civil rights and women’s rights. We protested a war and brought down a president. Just this year, we defeated President Bush’s Social Security privatization plan. And we can do it again.

All it takes to change the culture of ageism is the courage to be ourselves and to stop pretending we are younger than we are. Do it for yourself. Do it for your children and for your grandchildren so they will live in a different kind of world when they get old.


Interesting construct using the trailing "And..." to flow from point to point.

A couple of quick thoughts that come to mind: [1] Our species has been seeking the "fountain of youth" for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. Why and how did that quest start? Genetic predisposition? [2] As we age we become more aware of the dark side of aging going on around us. Our parents, older friends, heros from the past - all growing old, getting frail, too many of them having serious physical and/or mental problems. I catch myself thinking that I don't want to be like that. Just let me live life to its fullest right up to the moment I die. Yes, I realize that is a different subject, but my point is this: some [many? most?] observe the aging generation ahead of them and deal with what they find unacceptable by denying, covering it up, pretending, having surgery, etc., rather than enjoying a swim in the reality pool with the few of us there.

Another great blog, Ronnie. And I so agree with the phrases that are used, all of them negative.
I was at a gathering of women last night and twice I heard the phrase "I'm having a senior moment" when they couldn't remember something.
I finally spoke up and said, "Sorry, but I don't think it has a thing to do with age. My theory is that we're all so active and busy, our brains are saturated and we're on "overload." This is what accounts for the lapse in memory."
As you said, we've been "forgetting" things since we were kids. And resorting to "a senior moment" isn't a strong enough reason for only adds to the negativity toward aging. Just my opinion.

The stigma of age in society stinks. Can "we" change it? I suppose to some degree, but to be really honest here, I see no chance of that coming to pass in my lifetime. My best protest days are in the past, and I find I just don't give a good damn about a lot of things that used to inflame my sensibilities. Not sure you would call it downtrodden, but certainly I have days when acceptance of things is easier than battle.

What my mama might call a "piss-poor" attitude.

Occasionlly, the once Righteous Pattie finds a reason to rail, but the occurances are fewer...except for the despoiling of my precious Texas desert southwest. Now THAT pisses me off royally.

I will take old, healthy and fit, over old, unhealthy and unfit. I have to age, but I don't necessarily have to decay.

We'll see how I feel when I reach my 60s, but right now, I'm enjoying my 50s a whole lot. I no longer suffer the, er . . . angst? of being younger, of worrying about what everyone thinks about me. I do my own thing, I have a pretty good idea of who I am now. No way would I want to go back to actually being my 20-year-old self again. I have enough resources to live well. I'm fortunate to be well-respected in my profession.

All of this is possible because of the hard work I did in my previous decades. The things I enjoy now, I could not have either accomplished or appreciated in my younger years.

"Now" is always the best time of my life. I love to wander through the memories of my past, but I don't want to go back there.

Excellent post. Interesting comment on the quest for the Fountain of Youth, which is just a fight against mortality...but we are all going to die one day. So we need to "square the curve" of disability and aging. (If age is on the x-axis and disability on the y-axis, there is a general downward curve; to square the curve, we need to work on aging healthier.) Finally, if ageism is ever to be diminished, we cannot don an attitude of acceptance. Cowpatty, I don't think we need to recyle our previous protest days, but tap into the wisdom gained from "a dense and rich network of associations developed through a lifetime of experiences," to quote from a Ronni's previous post.

I agree wholeheartedly with yours and Ronni's advice to "tap into the wisdom", and blogging (like TGB) is becoming a great social tool for that very thing.

It certainly is less dangerous than being target practice for the National Guard...

You present provocative thoughts, as usual. I think some age prejudice is the same as handicapped, unattractive, or anything else that is different in a culture that worships at the altar of beauty and youth. I have seen articles on some of the aging film stars who get bombarded with negative comments if they haven't got the plasticated look. You'd think that normal aging was a disease and only frozen faces were healthy. It doesn't all relate to an aging issue though. In cosmetic surgery, there are people in their 20s and 30s who have it for bags under the eyes, to eliminate the tired look or rearrange noses they didn't like. We, as a culture, have elective surgery for many reasons. It's foolishness to believe you can turn back the clock with it as nobody who has those total plastic jobs looks younger. they just lose their character, the beauty of the years and experiences that showed on their faces before they wiped off everything. But if someone has the area under the eye tightened or some other small things done, and it makes them happier with themselves, I don't have a problem with it. It's not like there is only one way to go through life. Personally I like the process of seeing what my face is going to do, seeing the lines and how it's changed, like being a teen again (in reverse). Which doesn't mean I don't do what I can to keep my skin as tight as possible without invasive measures (translation: microdermabrasions, fotofacials, good moisturizers and facial exercises). Maybe someday I will choose surgery but for now I am interested in seeing my face age and wouldn't like to miss the experience.

Amen, Sister!

I think much of today's disdain for the elderly started with "Never trust anyone over 30." And it was fueled by the throwaway culture spearheaded by the Boomers: Crumple up our elders' beliefs and throw them out like toilet paper. Crumple up aborted children and throw them on the trash heap. Hey, euthanasia's a great idea for all these inconvenient elderly cripples lying around! Keep as tight a fist as possible on that ole' Social Security, even though you must tear a pound of flesh from your children to feed the voracious appetites and foolish saving habits of the Boomers.

Amusing as it will be to hear the mighty yowl as Boomers start to lie in the bed they have made themselves....Alas for any less powerful generation that is caught under the truck treads of the "Me Generation."

I took my grandson to a movie matinee yesterday. I asked for a senior ticket and a child's ticket. The ticket seller didn't question me, but the concessions woman (probably 55-60, with gray hair) said sharply, "You don't look like a senior". Assuming she was implying that I was trying to get a lower fare than I deserved, I told her my age. She backed down nicely, and replied "You are certainly wearing it well".

You know what pisses me off as much as any of those thing? A late middle age or older old movie star or mogul sporting a mate young enough to be his or her grandchild. It's mostly been men who've robbed the cradle up to now, but I find it just as distasteful when it's the other way around. I suppose if an older person is really immature enough to find a soulmate who's much younger than the children of his or her first and second marriages and doesn't mind that the mate in question wouldn't be interested if not for the money, fame or power, cool beans. Mostly, though, it's just saying that if you can afford it, you get a young one. It speaks volumes about how little that person values life experience, including his or her own.

(lurker here, coming out of the shadows for a moment)

Completing my undergraduate degree rather late in life (and moving right along into the masters program), I found myself beginning to shy away from answering the "how old are you" question from other students who often had grandparents my age. It isn't that I mind telling my age - in fact with only some exceptions it is a good spot in life for me- but rather it is the comments that come after the answer that were so annoying, along with the sometimes shock in folks eyes.

It became easier when in a group to just laugh and say- I've had two (then three and soon four) AARP invites. The young who upon hearing a straight out answer would reply "you don't look that old", or something equally derogatory seeming to me- don't usually ask further with the AARP answer. But everyone else in the U.S. who has reached that age or more, knows exactly what that answer means.

Is that furthering ageism? I don't know... probably.

I don't deny my age, some of the complaints (and sorry, Ronnie, but I do forget more things at this point in my life- maybe saying I am having a warm meno-moment would be better or maybe it is that I have more to remember?), or any of the joys of this stage (of which there are many).. but I am darned tired of answering the age question straightforwardly and getting the rushed fake compliment or sympathy reply in return.

Good thought provoking post, as usual..

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