The language of ageism is both subtle and in-your-face. The latter ones are, for obvious reasons, easier to catch… though not necessarily easier to get rid of.
After all, ageism is rooted in our collective fear of aging. And for as long as we are afraid of something that happens to all of us, humans will continue to speak and behave in ways that project that fear.
But there’s a whole huge generation of people rising up to the ageist language and beginning to crack the lid. The more vocal of the Baby Boomers (the oldest of this generation turn 78 in 2022) aren’t swallowing the dismissive language.
They’re speaking up and pushing the conversation — which is all the better for everyone else especially those of us at their heels in the next generation.
It starts with us checking ourselves.
As with most everything else, self-awareness is key. The subtle language of ageism will persist if our day-to-day speak is laced with insensitive words and phrases that sneak by as socially acceptable.
- So, what do “old” people want to be called? Those over-55 weigh in. “Some of the most popular terms for the older generation are seniors, (but not senior citizens), retirees, older people, and older adults. […] Unless you’re referring to a frail 99-year-old, please, oh please, do not use elderly!”
- Sometimes, in an effort to move us toward the right direction, things can get confusing and “over-the-top”. When is it truly helping reframe aging and when is it simply playing for the crowd to be politically correct? Is language like “seniors” and “elderly” disrespectful?
- All too often, we can be our own worst enemy. We already live in an ageist culture, which guarantees that we will at some point (if you haven’t yet) encounter ageism, age discrimination, and age stereotypes. The last thing we need is for ourselves to add to the pile by engaging in ageist SELF-stereotypes and using language that demeans ourselves. How would we live if we forgot we were over 50?
Yes, this is a big issue. It’s societal, it’ll take years to fix. But we’ve got to start somewhere. And with the world’s population projected to swing older in a few years, our collective voices may finally reach the critical mass we need to turn this Titanic.
Mull It Over
“Despite popular belief, age isn’t just a number. It is one of the many things that describe us and make us the beautiful individuals that we are. When someone singles out that one characteristic and ascribes value, attributes, expectations, or abilities based on that, we lose sight of a person’s real potential and value.” — Jordan Evans, Anti-Ageism Advocate
This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism
by Ashton Applewhite
In our youth-obsessed culture, we’re bombarded by media images and messages about the despairs and declines of our later years. Wrinkles are embarrassing. Gray hair should be colored and bald heads covered with implants. Older minds and bodies are too frail to keep up with the pace of the modern working world and older people should just step aside for the new generation.
Author, activist, and TED speaker, Ashton Applewhite once held these beliefs too until she realized where this prejudice comes from and the damage it does. In this lively, funny, and deeply-researched book, she examines how ageist stereotypes cripple the way our brains and bodies function, describes what an all-age-friendly world would look like, and offers a rousing call to action.