I have been watching videos for LeadingAge’s #FREEFROMAGEISM. Sharing our stories of aging and ageism. The process of the old being replaced by the new, the time of transition and change. The complexities of aging in appearance and allowing it to happen. The process of allowing ourselves to no longer be “young.” As part of this #FREEFROMAGEISM, we have been encouraged to share our thoughts, experiences.
We see our obsession and discomfort with aging all around us, in the products we buy and their corresponding marketing campaigns, in the movies and TV shows we watch, in interviews and YouTube channels. I don’t think we are always afraid to grow old, but we are afraid to age. We are afraid of losing our youth. We want both the wisdom only time can provide and our young years (well, maybe not the years but the physicality of those years.) We can’t have both, nor should we want to. It is frequently said, “Growing old is the only option. The alternative is death.” We highlight the great freedom that comes with getting older, not caring with others think of us as much, not feeling the need to impress someone, yet, we envy those still in their teens and twenties. We have that light spirit of growing older, but we don’t want to look older, revealing the shallow parts of our world.
This shallowness informs our agist mentality that we call carry with us, got to battle with, and hopefully overcome. Agism happens across the lifespan. We are always too old or too young. Others judge us and our ability based on how many years since our birth, and not the life within those years. They see items in a medical chart and determine our ability. It happens all the time and people get away with it every day. We rarely acknowledge that this is a form of discrimination, be it for a job, a grad school application, or a volunteer position. Instead of seeking answers, labels are given based on our age and the perceived ability and life within that age. It knows no limits and reaches every person on this earth.
I have always (or so they say) looked younger than I am. Up until about a year or two ago, people still placed me in high school. I would roll my eyes then think, “I will thank them one day.” Am I feeding ageism with these thoughts? As my group of peers turned 30 this year, we are fed messages of, “Your youth is over, prepare for the decline.” and “You have not yet accomplished x, y, and z? You are almost 30!” While the group responds saying things such as, “Oh gosh I am 30!!!!” and “Time has run out! I am too old to do a, b, and c,” I found myself out of place with these responses. I realized I had no fear of turning 30, no fear of growing old, no fear of looking older. But, was I still putting agist pressures on myself? The few strands of grey on my head I have had since I was 5 years old, they don’t bother me. When I look in the mirror I still see the person I was 15 years ago. I don’t feel any older, but I do wish for those years of “youth” to come back, to change the way I did things, saw things, experienced life. These thoughts are part regret, part wishing I could live it again to see something new. What is stopping me from seeing something new these next 15 years? Is this thought from the external world, because it is not internal? For me, I never felt pressured to do anything from marriage, career or education. Any sense of urgency came from knowing my vocation and wanting to start the work God set before me. Yet, I still hear and see the messages (we all do) and I am not immune to the noise. In those thoughts, that I will one day thank all who still think I am much younger than I am, am I caving to those agist messages.
For those wanting to study and work in aging and dementia, we are discriminated against in an agist fashion and that too is a form of ageism. We are discouraged going into geriatrics and the many branches that come from working with that population, fear is instilled in perspective aging and dementia professionals, and individuals are cut from programs based on the population they want to serve. It is harming our ability to care for others, especially our elders who will soon outnumber those under the age of 18. Who will care for you when you grow old and need extra support and care if we do not change this perception soon? Who will be left to research cures for Alzheimer’s or other illnesses and trials facing us as we age, if we do not shift our perspectives soon?
What are your experiences of ageism, agist thoughts and comments?