In the last thirty years, we have extended our lifespans, improved our overall health and opened up a new phase of life after age 50 that is often filled with vibrancy, possibility and health...yet our society continues to perpetuate the notion that we peak in our late 20s and it's downhill from there.
This is ageism—the last remaining socially-sanctioned prejudice, according to Ashton Applewhite, author of This Chair Rocks, a Manifesto Against Ageism. It's a cultural narrative that impacts almost every aspect of life after 50. If you have ever felt compelled to lie about your age or received a backhanded compliment like, “You look great for your age,” you have experienced it.
In the months following the release of This Chair Rocks, Applewhite was named Influencer of the Year by Next Avenue's Influencers in Aging list, featured in the New York Times and even appeared at the United Nations. She has become the voice of a new movement, and she's on a mission to highlight the narrative that reinforces aging as something to fear, deny or dread.
Applewhite admits it has taken years to recognize ageism and its impacts. “Any time we make an assumption about what any person is capable of, what they’re thinking about or doing on a basis of chronological age—that defines ageism,” she says. “Chronological age is a lousy indicator of pretty much anything abut a person, and all “isms” are based on stereotyping—especially because the longer we live, the more different from one another we become.”
The term ageism was coined by Pulitzer-Prize-winning physician and founder of the International Longevity Center, Robert Butler, in 1968—around the time the terms racism and sexism were born. “We experience ageism anytime someone assumes that we’re 'too old' for something—a task, a haircut, a relationship—instead of finding out who we are and what we’re capable of,” said Applewhite.
This Chair Rocks is a wonderful and fast read, full of powerful insights. It would make a fantastic book club pick. Applewhite humorously breaks down preconceived notions about what it means to get older and paves the way for a new kind of Boomer activism. In addition to the book, Applewhite has a blog called, Yo, Is This Ageist? and a booklet to promote grassroots discussion called Who Me, Ageist?
“No one is born prejudiced, but attitudes about age—as well as race and gender—start to form in early childhood,” she writes. “Over a lifetime they harden into a set of truths: 'just the way it is.' Unless we challenge ageist stereotypes—old people are incompetent. Wrinkles are ugly. It’s sad to be old—we feel shame and embarrassment instead of taking pride in the accomplishment of aging. That’s internalized ageism.”
How do you experience ageism in your daily life? What are you doing to combat your own internalized ageism? Let us know in the comments.
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