I was at a networking event this past Friday. Following her opening remarks, the organizer and producer introduced an extraordinarily attractive woman who was the Operating Officer for the venue where the event was being held.
After her introductory remarks she made reference to herself as being “old”, I can’t even remember the basis for the reference. Of course, people laughed. I did not, and I don’t think I heard much of what she said after that for at least 2- 3 minutes.
Firstly, as stated, she was extraordinarily attractive. Secondly, why the reference to her age was necessary in her remarks I still can’t imagine.
After the entirety of the speaker remarks, I introduced myself to the woman and addressed her remarks eventually leading me to her “old” reference and a discussion on age, aging, ageism.
She listened intently as I shared thoughts on aging and, outside of her specific beauty which I made a specific point to acknowledge, the beauty of aging and what goes along with it: experience, perspective, wisdom.
I explained that she had internalized ideas about aging from our “ageist” society, messages she heard from the time she was young.
I explained that we are always using the word “old”. It’s reinforced in our vocabulary from the time we are young. It’s cute when we ask someone who’s three, “how old are you?” and they struggle to hold up the appropriate number of fingers. From nine years old, youngsters are excited to reach the double digits. From twelve it’s thrilling to be thirteen years old and amongst the teenage set. At nineteen years old we become twenty years old and are on our way into adulthood. Then it really starts. From my youth thirty has been referred to as “over the hill”.
Forties and fifties seem more civil as we are considered mature adults. But then, Bam!!!! Sixty years old,
Seventy years old, etc. etc. etc. You get the idea. I shared that when I question a person about their age, I’ve changed my query to: What age are you? (She told me she was 49 years of age) My thinking is that if we change how we question people about their age it may help shift our perspective on aging both from a society and individual standpoint. Other queries about age to consider are: “What year are you in?” or, “What’s your stated age? as is posed in other cultures.
I told her I had the honor of recently hearing Dr. Bill Thomas speak; his remarks included thoughts on aging and ageism. He said we are perfect for the age that we are, we have the perfect face for the age that we are the person we are meant to be at whatever age we are and that we should all consider that we are “Aging Magnificently”. The group of therapists in a rehabilitation department of a nursing home were so inspired by how he spoke about age, some of whom have expressed the most ageist and cynical attitudes about their own age, from turning thirty to forty, that at the conclusion they decided to print AGE MAGNIFICENTLY in large letters to post in the rehabilitation gym.
As we were speaking another of the presenters was standing nearby. She began listening intently.
I told the woman that she was “Aging Magnificently”. She immediately embraced it; I could see her posture and entire demeanor change. The same held true for the woman standing nearby who began listening.
They began smiling, telling each other they were “aging magnificently.” The 2nd woman told me she intended to tell that to her family when she went home that evening; she is 56.
As we neared the end of the conversation, the event organizer joined us. I shared our conversation about the need to think of ourselves, and others, as “aging magnificently” but at the conclusion of the conversation she put on her glasses and made a reference to the fact that because she was “getting up there” (another ageist reference”) because she needed glasses. I encouraged her to think about it differently; that she was merely looking at things through a different lens. They both had not thought of it that way.
As with many other areas, our perspective can shift with a change in the words we use.
What words do you use, or references do you make, when you talk about your age? The age of others?
What effect do you think it has on your thinking about yourself? About your thinking about age in general? About older people when you see them?
How do you think we can change our society’s views about age? Do you think our views about age and how we view older people impacts the care older people receive?
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