Defining Ourselves in an Ageist Culture

Defining Ourselves in an Ageist Culture

As I subscribe to the PBS Encore.org notifications, I received information about an opportunity to submit a response to The American Portrait experience questions: (1) Does age or life stage define you? And (2) How are you using this time in your life to create a better future? I found that defining myself as an older person in an ageist culture was complicated.

Age and Life Stage: Do They Define Us?

My initial response to the first question was that neither age nor stage defines me. But the more I thought about it, the more nuanced my response became.  I am an active, healthy, sixty-eight-year-old. My life defies stereotypes. I am also in what some call “the third chapter” in life. I feel like I have finally reached a point along my journey where everything I’ve lived has come together.

Yet, to some degree, both my age and life-stage defines me. I cannot run like I once did. I can jog or walk but not without knee discomfort. My vision isn’t what it once was. I look like an older person. In my mind, I might think I am a decade or two younger, but my body knows that I am slowing down and parts are starting to wear out. At my stage of life, my priorities have shifted and are more typical for people who are older. I am now more focused on serving a purpose and leaving a legacy.

At the same time, I’m aware that my life is embedded in a culture that is very ageist. Some people see my age rather than seeing the active, healthy me. Some in our culture may also tend to view people at my stage in life as a drag on resources and see me as a societal burden. Others sometimes define me by age and stage in life. I have to be careful not to internalize such limiting views that individuals in our culture may hold.

Creating a Better Future for Others

When I was in my early fifties, I made a major career change because I wanted to do something that was meaningful for me; I chose to help others find their voice through teaching speech communication. After I retired, I started focusing on ways I could help others feel more empowered.

I want people who are over fifty to feel more empowered than ever; that’s why I like sharing what I’ve learned about positive aging. I believe knowledge is a type of power we can share.

I also am discovering new ways I can encourage others to feel empowered by supporting social justice causes. I participated in my first march in January 2017; I participated in the Women’s March in Portland, Oregon because I believe women’s voices still need to be heard so that we can all live our best lives. Recently, I participated in a Black Lives protest as a way to support empowerment through social justice, reform, and equity.

Your Turn

How would you answer the Encore American Portrait questions?

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Cindy Eastman

    I would say no I don’t allow age to define me and certainly I’m using my time now to create a better future. However I do feel people’s prejudice and judgements about me based on my older age. I have no idea how to change that. Sure-if we got to know each other that would enlighten them but in our modern world of instant everything that’s not likely to happen.

    1. Paula Usrey

      I am glad you brought up a problem that needs to change. Ageism targets women especially hard. I believe we must use both strategic and intentional communication to address it. An example of intentional communication could include deliberately using our stance and posture to signal that we are not push-overs. An example of strategic communication could include coordinated communication as part of a movement to help promote change and empowerment. 150+ years ago, women suffragists used strategic communication to push for social and systemic change. It took decades, but the coordinated messaging finally paid off in 1920 when the 19th Amendment was ratified. I think we can learn something from the women who have come before us.

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