When I finally acknowledged to myself that I was entering a new period of my life—a period of elderhood—I started preparing myself for this important transition. I anticipated finally being free to be the person I really was—a person without the constraints of my former workplace identity. I was looking forward to aging positively. What I hadn’t realized was that positive aging doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
I read I studied, I contemplated, and then I read some more. After a while, I realized that most of what other writers and thinkers shared about positive aging I had finally learned. I knew that having a positive view of aging was associated with greater happiness and even longevity. I also knew that certain habits such as exercise, a healthy diet, social activity, spirituality, and finding a sense of purpose were all important components of living a positive and meaningful life. This is what many books and studies on healthy aging are currently focusing on today. In other words, do this list of things – make it a life habit, and your later years will probably be satisfying. Yet it isn’t quite that simple because we don’t exist in a vacuum.
Diminishing Messages from a Youth-Oriented Culture
Even though I am learning how to enjoy my life to the fullest as an elder woman, I still have to battle occasional messages that get into my head. Those messages try to tell me that I am less valuable as a person because I am no longer youthful.
Marketers, our workplaces, and our communities influence cultural perceptions about aging; cultural perceptions influence how we see ourselves.
Messages from Marketers
Marketers warn us that unless we start using their expensive, ‘anti-aging’ products, we could end up (gasp) starting to show signs of aging. Just as bad, once you cross over into the 50+ world, phone solicitors start calling for offers on hearing aids, and other geriatric products and services. I almost feel like aging is being framed in a similar way to having developed a disease. And no one wants to ‘catch’ the disease of aging.
Ageist Attitudes in the Workplace
The workplace—that place that sometimes gets framed as our ‘workplace family’ can also be a hostile place for aging employees or older want-to-be employees. Ageism in the workplace is alive and well. After 50, it becomes much more difficult to land new jobs—especially for women. If an older worker isn’t ‘put out to pasture’ before they plan to leave, they still may end up feeling somewhat diminished by the time that last workday comes; everyone wishes you well, and you walk out the door for the last time.
Communities Where Older Adults Become Invisible
Our own communities can also do a bang-up job of communicating that older people are somehow different, less capable, diminished. Just as many other women who have shared their experiences with me, I have experienced plenty of patronizing comments such as “Are you sure you can carry that bag, Sweetie?” Or on other occasions, I’m simply ignored as though I was invisible.
Why Do We Allow Anyone to Treat Us as though We Were ‘Less Than’ Anyone Else?
The funny thing is, I’m the same person I’ve always been – just a more experienced, wiser person than I’ve ever been. Why should I or anyone else feel ‘less than’ as we age? In a youth-oriented society, we know where these messages are coming from. The question is, why are we allowing these messages to continue? Those of us who are over 50 control the majority of the household wealth and discretionary income in this country. We really do have the power to say enough is enough.
We Can Choose to Stand Up to Ageism
One way we can stand up to ageism – just like we have been doing by standing up to sexism – is to talk about it and call it out when we see it. We can speak up and speak out about the problem so that it is more widely acknowledged.
Another action step we can take is to use social media to recognize businesses and workplaces that treat all customers and employers with respect. We can also take advantage of online feedback to let businesses or organizations know how they can improve relationships with the 50+ population. However, when giving constructive feedback, it is generally more effective when respectful and specific.
If, as a powerful cohort, we identify organizations that have consistent and especially offensive ageist practices, we have the power to start our own letter writing and boycotting campaigns. To make this happen, we’ve simply got to talk about what’s going on.
We Can Choose to Let the World See How Truly Beautiful Our Lives Have Become
Finally, and probably the most powerful thing we can do is to let our wisdom and the beauty of our lives shine brightly in every corner of society. As we take care of ourselves, as we continue to grow, and as we continue to engage in the world around us in meaningful ways, we are making a strong statement: We are strong, we are role models, and we are continuing to make a difference in the world.