Ageism — Is It Real?

Ageism seems to be the hot topic in my world these days. Partly that’s due to me seeking out like-minded people about longevity, positive aging, and the like. Partly, I think it’s some serendipity.

I’m seeing ageism discussions on Clubhouse, at MEA (Modern Elder Academy), in magazines, and occasionally on Facebook. Come to think of it, the people who are experiencing age discrimination in my personal life are also talking about ageism.

In a recent call I attended, one woman talked about racism, sexism, ageism. That got me thinking about what other “isms” impact our lives. Aside from political-isms there’s heterosexism (homophobia), ableism, and classism. Oh, there are actually lots more; I found a website that listed “all” isms, but I don’t want to get distracted with those.

What struck me by the end of the call was that the various conversations I’ve had in the past week alone highlighted what I think is a huge difference between racism, sexism, and ageism is that for the most part, the party of ageism may be the biggest contributor to the problem.

Let me explain.

I understand that people of color can feel prejudice against others of their color, including against themselves. But, from my white perspective, most of the prejudice against a race is launched from the outside.

Sexism can have a similar experience in that women or men can feel prejudice against their gender, and against themselves, adopting the general sexism attitudes. And again, most of the sexism comes from the outside.

It occurred to me that ageism has an even bigger problem. Yes, the “outside world” sees older people with limitations, and may even have a long list of limitations they see older people with. But, older people have those same biases. Sadly, when older people adopt or accept the social stereotypes of age limitations, they limit themselves in how they can live their lives — or change their lives.

I ran a weekly Clubhouse Club called Positive Aging. People who attended evidently are attracted to the idea of positive aging or they wouldn’t have beet there. You can imagine my surprise when people who spoke up did so with resistance to ideas like living longer, with comments that they can’t do that because their parents died at 85 so they will too, or that they don’t understand the desire to live longer. Comment after comment can be heard from people with ageism beliefs. Here’s a list of some ideas I’ve heard:

– I have to retire so that young people have job opportunities
– entering that marathon isn’t possible because I’m too old
– while I love my long hair, older women shouldn’t wear their hair long
– my neighbor married an older woman
– as you age, your hair should be colored lighter, if you are going to color your hair
– seniors can’t dress like that, people will think you are trying to be younger than you are
– I was laid off and nobody will hire me so I’m not even going to try to find a new job
– I can’t start a new business at my age

When you hear yourself saying “I can’t”, or “that’s not possible”, you are limiting yourself. You are limiting your health and vitality, your self-image, and any number of possibilities.

“Should” statements are also limiting or confining, and don’t lead to a positive aging experience. In fact, none of these attitudes or mindsets lead to a positive experience for anyone at any time!


Initially, ageism didn’t seem as damaging or detrimental an “ism” as racism and sexism — not to downplay the damage those “isms” do to people and society at large. But upon further consideration, I’m realizing it’s damaging because it’s a less obvious prejudice. It’s “natural” and part of society. It’s more internalized. This prejudice is less obvious so more insidious to the recipient of ageism. I see this prejudice as one that eats us from the inside, not just the outside — it’s something we do to ourselves as much if not more than others do to us, maybe in part because the people who commit ageism all hope to live a long time!

If you want the world to take you seriously as an older person, you have to start with yourself. Heck, that has to happen at any age! You need to embrace the qualities you have and the possibilities available to you. When you limit yourself, you teach others to see you as less capable and valuable. Stay relevant! Stay vibrant. Keep your freedom to be a contributing person in the world as long as you are able, and that probably is for the rest of your living years.

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