â€œIt is our choices, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.â€
â€“Â J.K Rowling
It was one of those moments you feel like slapping your forehead and wondering why you hadnâ€™t thought of it like that before. I was attending a meeting on â€œaging with gustoâ€ hosted by the Vital Aging NetworkÂ when the ah-ha instance hit. The speaker said we buy products called â€œanti-agingâ€ all the time. But what if the label said, â€œanti-woman?â€ Would that be okay?
Her point, of course, is that we are culturally conditioned to believe growing old isnâ€™t a good thing. Itâ€™s so pervasive, in fact, that we give little thought to the negative images, words, and attitudes surrounding us on a daily basis. And the assault starts early.
A gentleman in attendance said he was watching his granddaughtersâ€”aged six and eightâ€”walking hunched over and using sticks as canes. When he asked them what they were doing they said they were pretending they were old.
â€œIâ€™m old,â€ he said. â€œDo you see me that way?â€
â€œNo, Grandpa, you are not old.â€
â€œBut I am, and I donâ€™t walk that way. Why are you doing that?â€
â€œWe saw it on SpongeBob SquarePants!â€
After he shared his story an audible ripple of displeasure moved through the audience. A cartoon teaching kids that old equals feeble? Not good! But then a hand rose.
â€œI feel that we shouldnâ€™t become over-sensitive,â€ said a woman. â€œIâ€™d rather children use their imaginations. What harm is there in how they choose to depict old people? Itâ€™s just play!â€
Another woman put her hand up. â€œI think becoming sensitive is a fine line. I hate it when a waitress or some young person calls me â€˜sweetie.â€™ It feels demeaning. Why does she feel she can speak to me that way? â€
A man spoke out. â€œI used to be called Bob. Now Iâ€™m â€˜sir.â€™ It bothers me because somehow I stopped being a regular guy and turned into an old guy.â€
I thought about the various comments on my drive home. The one question that kept coming back to me was, what age will you be when you feel you are old?
No matter how I turned it inside out, upside-down, or backward, I couldnâ€™t come up with an answer. Yes, there are thousands of messages sent through the media saying aging is akin to deterioration, disease, and dementia. That ideology certainly sells a lot of products. Do you remember when Linda Evans said, â€œForty isnâ€™t fatal?â€ It wasnâ€™t that long ago women were pushed to believe forty was fatal.
I come from a lineage of feisty women who lived vibrantly until the end. Using them as role models, how am I to gauge what feeling old means? As my tablemate at the meeting said, â€œLiving to be 105 is very different than existing until you are 105.â€ (Thatâ€™s how old her great-grandmother was upon passing away.) She is so right! I donâ€™t merely want to survive; I want to grow old with sass!
Realizing we have choices in how we choose to age, and in what we believe about aging? The best part of my day.
Can you think of an age-ism that bothers you? Please share!
Tracy Milam says
When I first met my inlaws, who were a good 20 years older than parents and older than most of my grandparents, I was stunned…in their mid seventies they were not old. The story told in my family was that the decline began in the 50’s and by 70 it was damn near over. I have felt so blessed to be exposed to the other side of 70 early on. I will embrace their example! Thanks for sharing!
Isn’t it fascinating, Tracy? I clearly remember my dad, who was then in his late 70’s saying he needed to drive the “old people’ to medical appointments and so on. Truly, attitude matters! Thank you for sharing that with us!