Be AGE PROUD – a campaign for justice and health
“Young, gifted and black!” Perhaps an odd way to start a piece about health and justice for older people! The point is though, that this track from the 1960’s was one example of the many clarion calls emerging at the time for black African Americans to stand up and be proud of who they were. Pride in one’s being and identity is the cornerstone of standing up to discrimination by the rest of society. It is not just relevant to race – we have gay Pride and the Paralympics are a clear showcase of pride in the achievements of disabled people in the face of all the discrimination that they have faced over the years.
And the relevance to older people? Well ageism is probably the last ‘socially acceptable’ discrimation 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 their presumed frailty and vulnerability.
As with other groups in society, discrimination is fed by attitudes towards their identity. If we are to do anything about tackling ageism it is therefore the perceived identity that society foists on older people that we need to start with. We need to be proud of who we are and what we are. We also need to root out our own self oppression and become aware of and challenge the way in which we ourselves internalise ageist stereotypes.
Ageism is no laughing matter. There is a significant and growing amount of research which demonstates how negative attitudes held by older people about ageing can have a very detrimental impact on their health and wellbeing. Perhaps the best well known example is the research by Becca Levy who demonstrated that people who hold negative attitudes towards their own ageing die on average 7.6yrs earlier than those with more positive attitudes! Many other research studies have validated this finding and gone further to demonstrate how ageist stereotypes can hinder and damage older people’s wellbeing in a number of other areas, from cognitive functioning thought to their ability to perform normal activities of daily living.
Perhaps now is the time to initiate a challenge to this state of affairs. But where to start? With ageism, 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 so important 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’.
What should our rallying call be? Some of these sentiments might do as a starter and others will come to mind in due course:-
- 60 is not the new 40; 60 is 60
- However we look at our age is how someone our age looks
- Older, gifted and alive
Let’s be ourselves – let’s Be Age Proud
As a first step join in the Twitter campaign using the hashtag #BeAgeProud
 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.