ELDER MUSIC: Wedding Bells
Music Festival Age Discrimination

Everyday Ageism

This year-long, presidential primary has given Americans (and the world) an education in what brazenly overt racism looks and sounds like.

Until this election campaign, it bubbled under the surface hiding behind euphemisms (that we all recognize but too often ignore) and on disreputable white nationalist websites.

Donald Trump changed that. It's all out in the open now. Anyone can call people rapists based only on the color of their skin and actual members of Congress acknowledge Trump's racism, then say they will vote for him anyway. Think of it: it is fine with them if a person they believe is a racist sits in the Oval Office.

After that intro, some will not see a connection when I tell you that today's post is about the ageism that is played out in hundreds of little ways every day, all day in our media apparently, since no one calls it out, with approval or, at least, without disapproval.

A lot of people do not believe in ageism. In fact, a lot of readers of this blog do not believe in ageism, yet it is the biggest impediment to fair treatment of elders that exists.

But when I write about it, invariably there are comments invoking the kiddy “sticks and stones” argument. Here is the simplest definition of ageism from the geriatrician, Robert N. Butler, who coined the term in 1969. It is, he wrote,

”...a systematic stereotyping of and discrimination against people because they are old.”

That definition can be further explained but that one line is the stone, cold bottom line. If you think it doesn't amount to much, isn't important, try re-reading it and replace the last word with "African-American" and see how you feel about it.

It can be said that ageism is a greater prejudice than all the other -isms because it eventually afflicts everyone – if you live long enough it will be directed to you.

Last week, while I allowed the cable news channels to bray in the background to keep up with so much political news, this commercial came up repeatedly throughout the day:

Does that opening statement bother you: "Delicate skin on your neck can show age? Gold Bond has used ageist language in skin cream commercials for years. Here is another from 2012:

"My dry hands used to give away my age but not any more," she says.

Let's not pick only on Gold Bond. Here's a typical Olay commercial:

"What's your age giveaway?" Right - because god knows you're a loser if you look a day older than 25.

For more years than I can remember now, everybody's favorite daytime talk show host, Ellen DeGeneres, has been the pitch woman for Cover Girl's (now part of Olay) ageist message: "Don't buy makeup that settles into lines," she warns in one commercial. "It ages you." Take a look:

The phrases are repeated day after day, week after week, year after year:

Can show your age
Give away my age
Age giveaway
It ages you

When these commercials are in rotation during a company's marketing campaign - usually two or three periods a year each - that is brazenly overt ageism.

Do you really believe people seeing and hearing messages this frequently about how awful it is to show your age - and hearing it thusly from youngest childhood – don't come to despise old people? Don't think everyone abhors people who look old and that it's okay to do so? It's worse than that because this is only one kind of commercial that sells fear of old age and contempt for old people to make a buck. It's repeated with many other products.

And no one ever complains. Or, if they do, not enough that these companies stop demonizing old age.

By the way, I am not picking on skin cream itself nor do I think it is wrong to suggest it might make your skin more beautiful - that's just commercial hyperbole used by advertisers for everything from fast food to fast cars.

The only reason skin cream is featured today is that first commercial above was repeated last week until I wanted to smash in the TV screen. The good creams help keep skin moisturized (no, they do not remove wrinkles) and there are a few manufacturers who sell their products without resorting to ageist words and images. Here's an Aveeno commercial with actor Jennifer Aniston:

See? How hard is that?

Ageism is a pernicious prejudice that nobody takes seriously. One of the discouraging conclusions from the Frameworks Institute report titled, Gauging Aging: Mapping the Gaps between Expert and Public Understandings of Aging in America, is this:

"Across the full breadth of our interviews with members of the public, the topic of discrimination against older people did not emerge as a topic.

"The reality that many older Americans find themselves consistently marginalized from participation and opportunities - in employment, civic life, recreational activities, housing, commerce and other arenas - is simply not part of the public's thinking about aging and older Americans."

Gee. Do you think maybe that's because the only thing the public ever hears about old age is to avoid it at all cost? Could that have something to do with the survey results?



They were all directed at women.

While both men and women do hit that barrier when suddenly they're "too old" to be hired, or paid attention to, or be respected as effective agents... women hit it harder, and earlier.

Wrinkle creams aren't aimed at men. It's women who aren't allowed to look a day over 25.

Let's be honest - there ARE a few things wrong with BEING old. You write about them here almost every day. Bodies start wearing out; sometimes brains do, too. It's a natural stage of life. But I will repeat after you, again and again: THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH LOOKING MY AGE.

I'm trying Ronni, I'm trying. I do believe it and I don't purchase or use products advertised by appealing to maintaining an illusion of youth. Any way, everybody knows the real problem of aging isn't developing wrinkles -- it's those damn chin hairs that, almost overnight, go from being barely visible to being half as long as my pinkie finger. What's up with that?

For the last couple of decades I've been selectively calling out ageist language, even to the point of sitting down with a hospital's human resources department head (" Yes, you need to include ageism in your trainings!"). There's always resistance, even from people who are regularly discriminated against themselves, but many can be persuaded depending on your approach.

I live in a sweet small town and recently a press release cover letter circulated to advertise a coming Tai Chi class for "… our seniors." You can google phrases such as this and will find plenty of backup should you wonder if a particular comment is ageist or not. What you do about it depends on the situation.

My point: don't take it. How will it change unless we speak out against it.

And where do those beauty spots go?

How and when does one come to grips with and accept the reality of an aging face and body when the world wants to make you believe that wrinkles are bad and ugly and slowness is annoying and unacceptable? This story hit home for me today. I think we all need to find peace and acceptance where we are at this moment and not be fettered by pressure from the media and advertisements to be something unrealistic and unnatural. Easier said than done for me. But I'm learning every day is a gift. Yes, the media and advertisements are not helpful, but ultimately, we are in control of our thoughts and beliefs. Thanks for your posts that remind me of this. And truly, the more time spent not focusing on myself, is more time spent focusing on others in and around my life.

This year I have experienced a milestone that I am grappling with, and which this article brought into a concrete framework. At the peak of my career, having invested considerable money and time to progress my skills through education to add to extensive experience and expertise, I find myself marginalized in the job market, and am feeling the gap in regards to being considered for opportunities. Underneath it all, I feel anxiety, as this equates to an isolation career-wise that I fortunately have not experienced until now. This age more than ever requires me to find and believe in my own self worth, and it is more important than ever that I find ways to be a representation of how to age in ways that expand what I have to contribute, but perhaps in new ways. This is somewhat depressing! When you say, (Diana Lynn), "don't take it," what exactly does that look like? For me it is to move into doing things that I want to do, moving from being concerned about others see me and allowing myself more self expression, continued learning and feeling my own dignity.

I make peace with my aging face every day, whenever I look in the mirror. I decided a decade ago to forgo covering my ever whitening hair. I have gradually lessened the makeup I routinely wore when I worked. We finally have to accept our age, or we go mad.

But if we decry age discrimination, do we refuse to accept senior discounts? How do I act when a younger person opens a door for me? (I accept any discount offered, any time and I often open the door for the person behind me, no matter their age.)

I think that the real problem is the general idea that we are throwaways after we hit our fifties. We are easy to lay off, and hard to hire, because of that attitude. Our opinions might not count in a general discussion, because of our age. Sometimes old women are overlooked in retail or other public places. To me, being unhappy about face cream is a waste of mental energy. I simply don't care.

I would be very upset if I could not not get waited on at the cosmetic counter, though.

And an area of worse difficulty is clothing for our aging bodies. It is hard to find things that fit. At least it is for me. With so many of us out there, you would think some smart retailer would see a need for snappy clothing for older men and women, and fill that need. That's a worse example of age discrimination. I can't just choose not to buy something based on agist ads; I can find very little to buy, and what I do buy doesn't fit very well!

I think the real problem with ads for beauty products is the constant insecurity they cause for all women.

Congress members continue to support T, despite acknowledging he has made racist comments. These same Congress members, as will others (including me in the past), will also ask why Muslim leaders do not speak out more strongly against Muslim terrorist attacks. I only understood the situation when T's supporters refused to withdraw their support of T - you stick up for your "own", right or wrong be damned. The ultimate club.


Cathy Johnson, your post made me laugh because I relate. I figure that every time my husband loses a hair from the top of his dear head, it somehow finds new life on my chin, upper lip, and lurching out of beauty marks. What IS up with that?
Ronni, you are eloquent as ever, maybe even more so. Glad to hear you're getting more/better sleep these days!

At a plant based food conference an older woman with her very old mother in a wheelchair pushed mother's chair next to me and I am ashamed to say I had some ageist thoughts. Her mother dozed through part of the morning talk which I wanted to do as well. They were both very clean and Mother had warm clothes on.

Later, in the buffet lunch line, I could see she was struggling to serve her mother and mother was trying to balance her plate on her lap. I offered to help and she said I could carry Mother's plate. Well, mother wanted to carry her OWN plate and refused to let go of it. So the elderly (like me) daughter let me carry her plate while pushing her mother's chair.

They had to go inside to eat as all the outside tables were taken by then. After the afternoon break people were standing in the aisle and I saw that she was unable to return to the front row with her mother's chair so I told the people who were oblivious to the problem that she needed to get by. At the end of the conference she thanked me for "my help". I was so glad that I woke up to the fact that this petite little woman was a super hero but still was invisible to everyone else at the conference.

Not exactly on the topic of wrinkle creams but ever so much more important so thanks for letting me get this off my mind, Ronni. And all of us who are older need to examine our own age prejudice - it's worth another column

Ageism in advertising is annoying, in the workplace it is tragic. Keep up the good fight Ronni!

Joan: Appreciate your thoughts and comments!

Perhaps it all started with the youth culture and that probably started in the Roaring Twenties when Hollywood glorified youth and beauty and every young girl wanted to look like Jean Harlow. Then it became magnified and the advertising industry saw a great opportunity to sell their beauty products. The "Youth Culture" was off and running.

Fast forward to the present. Age is the opposite of youth and advertising is magnifying the glories of youth at our expense. As long as there is money to be made it will not change.

So lets start a letter campaign extolling the beauty of age and the importance of inner beauty. To get the attention of Madison Avenue we must point out that we have more leisure time and money to spend. Fight fire with fire.

There are various ways to promote moisturizers. Personally I've always used them because dry, taut skin is uncomfortable. I've never given a thought to whether they make me appear younger. Besides, all the anti-aging products in the world can't stop time or turn back the clock. I am as old as I am.

Your description of how attendees ignored an old woman who was not like them has EVERYTHING to do with wrinkle creams: when people have heard, read, seen ageist communication in advertising and all other kinds media every day of their lives, they are empowered to ignore anyone who is old.

Yours is an example of one of the consequences of ordinary, everyday ageism. Ubiquitous wrinkle cream advertisements contribute to this kind of unfeeling behavior.

I want to add a positive note because I know our age comes into play sometimes while shopping by either being ignored or treated with indifference.

This past weekend I helped a neighbor purchase an item at Target that didn't display the price that was advertised on their website. We dealt directly with five young people...I would say in their early twenties, possibly younger, and all listened to us carefully, were helpful and patient (which was needed at one point) and pleasant. The entire process took at least half an hour but not once did I feel we were being "tolerated" because of our age. The problem was handled professionally and with good humor and ended with two satisfied customers.

My rejoinder to people who say, "You sure don't look your age!" is to look them in the eye and ask them, "Well, what is my age supposed to look like?" .... which usually stops them in their tracks!

Whatever happened to respect for their Elders and the knowledge and wisdom most of us have collected over our lifetimes? I grew up learning a deep respect for my Elders. Parents must not teach that any more. TV ads and greed for the money in our pockets has taken over! Sighhh

Yes, ageism is insidious. Yes, it runs through our culture in a broad strong sweep. I despair, too, of all the anti-aging ads. I, personally, am "pro-aging" since I still enjoy life. If you are not aging , you are dead.

I try to deal with overt ageism with humor .......telling the person or persons who inflict it, they, too, will be old someday IF they are lucky .

Like Lola, I sometimes have experiences that give me reason to hope. I acknowledge the occasion by telling the person's superior about it. Reinforcement is a way to increase the behaviour we want.

Change will come as the population ages. Maybe not soon enough for us, but it will come.

Darlene, I like your thinking!

Ronni, this so reminds me of the award-winning poet, scholar, and writer Donald Hall recounting a recent experience:

" . . . he was recently in Washington, D.C., to receive the National Medal of Arts. Before the ceremony, Hall and his companion, Linda, decided to visit the National Portrait Gallery. They stopped in front of a sculpture created by Henry Moore, the subject of a 1965 New Yorker profile written by Hall.

" 'I can't stand for long, so my friend Linda was pushing me in a wheelchair, and at one point the guard came over and told us that this sculpture was a Henry Moore," he recalls. "My friend Linda thought of mentioning to him that I knew Moore pretty well, but we didn't ... and we went onto other things.'

"After lunch, they ran into the same guard, who asked Linda if she had a nice lunch, and then leaned in closer to Hall's wheelchair.

" 'And he had an idiot grin and pointed a finger at me and said, "Did we have a nice din-din?" ' recalls Hall. 'It was amazing. ... He talked baby talk at me. ... I was taken aback, totally taken aback and amused that he should make such a mistake. I wouldn't talk baby talk like that to a baby. Here he was, talking baby talk to an 82-year-old.' "

@Anne: I don't think it's the same thing at all. Muslim leaders DO issue statements decrying the violence of extremists. All the time! Not because they're in any way, even slightly, responsible for what the terrorists do while wrapping themselves in the religion, but because the media keep demanding an endless supply of such statements -- and then not telling you they were made, because that's not the narrative you're supposed to believe.

Republicans, on the other hand -- yes, that's partly tribalism. There's the "My granddaddy always voted Republican so I will, too." But that's not enough to win. They have been benefiting from coded racism for decades. It's been the cornerstone of their basic electoral strategy -- which is how they got into this mess. They've patched together a bunch of appeals to the very worst side of human nature. They're stuttering and stammering now because Trump is not bothering with the codes. He's saying it out loud. That doesn't mean they'll reject the votes, though, because that, plus tribalism, is all they've got.

When I was applying for paying jobs, after retiring from teaching, my age definitely worked against me. No one wanted to hire an older woman. But, volunteer? Well, I have to turn down volunteer work. Everyone wants the "old lady" for that work! I find that annoying, and if beauty cream ads contribute to that, then they should be banned.

Two years ago I took a deep breath (after thinking about it for a long time ) and streaked my gray hair RED ! Well, we call it "burgundy" because that sounds sophisticated ! Just here and there ! Just a streak here and ,oh, there's a little more there and oh, it has been fun !! People smile and I smile right back ! It is a little expensive because I have it done at a salon....good idea to have a professional do the job ! Smiles all around !!!

@ Sylvia, 13 June 12.11pm
I went along with the media reporting that "... Muslim leaders not speaking up loudly enough.." - didn't know it was the media not reporting on it. Makes one understand how people are influenced by the media!! Thanks for pointing that out.

T's rise also makes me understand how Germans voted in Hitler.

Bush lead to Obama and that leads to T. - Newton's law of physics: every action has an equal and opposite reaction. GOP deserves T. Like nature, things reach their end-life and out of the ashes, new life emerges. Apologies for the mixed metaphors.


Frequently on my email page there are side sales ads on the horrors of wrinkled skin or age spots, usually with dramatic before and after pictures. These advertising bombardments are micro aggressions that reinforce the idea that normal aging is unattractive, unpleasant and should be avoided at all costs. Overweight people also are similarly disparaged.

I sometimes feel like a "minority" voice on this blog since I can't, in all honesty, say that I welcome or like old age. That said, so far anyway, it's ahead of the alternative. It is what it is. I guess that's acceptance on a certain level. One doesn't necessarily have to like something to accept it.

It's been years since I bought any way-too-pricey cosmetic products that "guaranteed" to make me look 25 again. BTW, I don't even remotely want to be 25--even 35 or 45--again. But I'd settle for 60 or 65. I miss the energetic, organized, relatively mentally sharp, physically able, employed person I was then. Can't say I'm overly enthusiastic about turning 80 in 6 months, but if I can hang on to my basic abilities for another few years, it will be what it is at the time.

Ageism is an interesting topic for me - I work in home care. I observe how often a doctor will dismiss symptoms with "you're just getting old".

I am going to say something that many of you may take offense to.
I'm talking REPRODUCTION here.
You know...SEX.
Although I barely remember it, I know it was something I liked.
Unfortunately, we are genetically engineered to want to have sex.
Human bodies are made to be attractive to other humans.
Unfortunately, no matter what our age we have an intrinsic need to attract the opposite sex even if biologically, we can no longer reproduce.
We all still think we can.
Old people represent a group of humans that can no longer reproduce. Hence, we are useless and undesirable in the eyes of society.
Anything we can do to disguise our age or to make ourselves more desirable, we will do.
I know it's sad to think about humans as being animals, but we are.
Ageists will always be with us because we are programmed to be so.

You go Bruce! Good on you for addressing the elephant in the room!

Thoughtful posting, Ronni - thank you!

Like Willa Trautmann, my first thought was that all of the ads presented were aimed at women. Sexism trumps ageism, I guess.

I disagree with Butler's definition of ageism as "”...a systematic stereotyping of and discrimination against people because they are old.” Most people have a hard time steering completely away from stereotyping (it has, in the past after all, afforded survival advantages); but, we most of us can stop ourselves from discriminating, if we think about it.

Darlene brings up a thought, too - that perhaps we are 50 years too late thinking about ageism. How did we treat our (non-related) elders "back when"? Do we remember sniggering to our peers about "older" people? If not, I hope it is because we were so enlightened rather than because our memory is defective.

I quit using makeup years ago because rather than "hiding wrinkles" it enhanced them. And why spend money on products that do the opposite of what I was trying to avoid? You would think a little eyeliner would help, but it doesn't. It just runs and makes wrinkles where I didn't have any before. So I gave it up, too.

Well, that brought another problem -- facial hair that was previously hidden by base makeup, is now showing up everywhere. If I shave it, I must keep doing it. If I don't shave it, I start to look like a puppy dog. Do I care anymore? No, not really, but I know others who whisper about products I don't want to use, but the condition seems to bother them.

I give up. I don't care what I look like, puppy or not. Like Bruce mentioned, I'm not on the market anymore nor will I ever be on the market again, so I skip the ads. Were I an actress, my attitude would probably be far different, but I have never made my living by being beautiful (it's a good thing, I'd be even more poverty-stricken than I am already!), so it's no deprival anyway.

Yep, at a basic level, Bruce nailed it! I wasn't into reproduction even in my youth so on that level I always was "useless to society"--except that the planet already has way too many humans, so maybe I made a useful choice after all.

I'll continue to look as put-together as I can for as long as I can, but that doesn't include vain attempts to look 20 years younger.

"I am going to say something that many of you may take offense to. THE MAIN BUSINESS OF HUMAN BEINGS (AS IS EVERY OTHER LIVING THING ON THIS PLANET) IS TO MAKE MORE HUMAN BEINGS."

"Old people represent a group of humans that can no longer reproduce. Hence, we are useless and undesirable in the eyes of society. Anything we can do to disguise our age or to make ourselves more desirable, we will do".

Okay, I'm going to be the dissenting voice here apparently. I'm not taking offense, I'm just not buying it :-)

My-husband-the-biologist has been talking this "biological imperative" and to some extent "biological reductionism" stuff since forever. And for just as long, I've been vehemently disagreeing. Reducing people to their reproductive capabilities is like reducing a complex novel or play to a one-liner (which we of course find hilarious, precisely because we're aware of all the rich detail, nuance, drama and character that gets left out when we do that).

Sure, the biological imperative thing is important to continuing life on this Earth. But it's not the ONLY thing that matters and for many people not even the main thing. And certainly our culture doesn't subscribe to that theory (if it ever did).

Are we seriously going to argue that society has viewed (just for starters) the Dalai Lama, Pope Francis, Mother Teresa, Muhammad Ali, Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, Maya Angelou...as without value because they couldn't reproduce anymore and were therefore useless?

None of these people is defined by being either young or old, never mind by their reproductive capacities. They're defined by the spirit of who they are and the values they espouse.

My guess is that ultimately the ageism thing isn't about what we look like or even about our physical capabilities, it's more about how much power we do or don't project. And at its root, personal power is an inner construct. Pretty much every living thing on earth instantly recognizes power when they meet it and also recognizes the lack of it. (Just try training a dog or riding a horse when you don't have an inner conviction that you are in charge. They will laugh at you).

In the fight against racism, sexism, homophobia, things change when people refuse to be defined by the prejudices and limits that society has chosen to lay upon them. They throw off the stereotypes and replace them with images of power and autonomy. It has virtually nothing to do with biology and everything to do with the human spirit. I don't see why it should be any different for ageism.

I think Ronni is totally on the mark in her understanding that ageism seeps into culture in often seemingly-innocuous ways. And that we need to be consciously aware of when and how that's happening and fight back when it does. Fighting back works. It takes longer than we would like, but eventually we get there

You make a lot of interesting points and it is good to see them. Just one thing: please don't assume that because a whole lot of commenters are not refuting and disagreeing that you are a lone dissenter.

Sometimes we respond, sometimes we don't. In this referenced case, a three or four out of dozens agree with the statement you quote. Doesn't mean everyone does.

Just didn't want you to feel lonely out there...heh.

Maybe we need to concentrate on and give priority to---how to achieve power and autonomy as Katie suggests while fighting everyday ageism ----
Having money helps too---

Hadn't thought of that Ronni. Thanks!

Thanks Ronnie -- carry on hammering away at this sickness of ageism and I (we -- hordes of us) will too. Ageism is not just offensive, it's dangerous, it's a mighty powerful threat to health and happiness.

I love this post, Ronni! I'm an almost-49 year old (you might say, 'youngster') and I let me hair go naturally grey a couple of years ago. I am forever hearing that people love my natural color, but all of them say they themselves would not go grey! Why??? Is it the fear of showing age? Possibly and probably. I think if we don't fight ageism with pro-aging as Fritzy said in a comment, where are we as a society?? Go-aging!!

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