Be Age Proud

Ageism is probably the last ‘socially acceptable’ discrimination left in society. Jokes about older people and ageing are rife and are seldom challenged. Services and policies are often based on very stereotypical and segregationist ideas about older people. Even the positively motivated arrangements for older people can often betray a patronising air, based on stereotypical attitudes about presumed frailty and vulnerability.

Discrimination is fed by attitudes towards identity. If we are to do anything about tackling ageism we therefore need to start to challenge the perceived identity that society foists on older people. We need to be proud of who we are.

Ageism is no laughing matter. There is a significant and growing amount of research which demonstrates how negative attitudes about age can have a very detrimental impact on older people’s health and wellbeing. Perhaps the best well known example is the research conducted by Becca Levy[1] who demonstrated that people who hold negative attitudes about their own ageing process die on average 7.6yrs earlier than those with more positive attitudes! Many other research studies have validated these finding and gone further to demonstrate damage to older people’s wellbeing in a number of other areas, from cognitive functioning thought to their ability to perform normal activities of daily living.

For our own wellbeing we therefore need to become aware of and challenge the way in which we internalise ageist stereotypes. But where to start?

One of the principal ways that ageing is denigrated and characterised as something to be resisted and be ashamed of, is the simple act of telling people ‘how young you look’, or how ‘you don’t look your age’. Although delivered as a form of flattery, when you think about it, this kind of statement caries a very pernicious and stigmatising message about the most natural and universal processes – ageing. In essence it is saying that ageing is ‘not ok’ and certainly not attractive.

This kind of undermining is particularly damaging because as we get older, our perceived age becomes our defining characteristic. Our primary identity in society becomes our age ahead of other gender or racial characteristics. Now imagine transposing this form of ‘flattery’ to other groups – “Oh, how white you look!”, or “Oh, how able bodied you look!”, or “Oh, how straight you look!”. Totally unacceptable. But why do we accept it in relation to ageing?

Time for a change. 
It is time to be age proud. It is time to reject and challenge the comments and ideas that undermine our ageing identities. It is time to be proud of the age that we are. Trying to be younger than we are is trying to be not who we actually are. It buys into the idea that ‘youth’ is superior and more desirable than ‘age’.

Take Action
What should our rallying call be? Let’s be ourselves – let’s  #Be Age Proud

Join in the Twitter campaign using the hashtag  #BeAgeProud

Please send your comments, thoughts, challenges and ideas via @PositiveAgeing1 using the hashtag #BeAgeProud

[1] LEVY, B., SLADE, M., KUNKEL, S. & KASL, S. V. 2002. Longevity Increased by Positive Self-Perceptions of Aging. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83, 261-270.