Still the Lucky Few Reflections on Life as a Senior
Ageist Language—Taking the “Sting” Out of It
Posted on February 21, 2016 by Still the Lucky Few
By now, anyone over 50 must know there is a movement afoot to end ageist attitudes. We’ve been reading and hearing about this for awhile. It’s reached a point where we recognize the term, and understand some of it’s consequences. Maybe we’re ready now to move beyond discussing and intellectualizing it, to think about the actual language that expresses it.
It’s not easy. What is it about certain statements that anger and inflame us? What’s so wrong about saying, “You look so young for your age?”
Well, lots, it appears. That simple statement carries with it the implication that it is wrong to look a certain age—or old, in other words. And being old, in our culture means being unattractive, weak and dependent. Erasing that stereotype is what the anti-ageist movement is all about.
Ageism is ingrained in our culture. We can’t change it on our own, but we can examine how we react to its language, and what we can do about it in our own lives.
Here is a start:
The statements below (in bold) are seen and heard frequently in the press, in social interaction, and online. They seem innocuous, sometimes complimentary. Most people who say them don’t mean to annoy or provoke us. But they do unsettle us. And when we see or hear them, we’d like to know how to respond.
Below each statement is a suggestion about how to re-phrase it in more acceptable language—you can say this to yourself to clarify the meaning, or to the person who said it. This is the “Emily Post” approach. Below that is a rebuttal, something you can say to make the point that you don’t like what they have just said. It’s more confrontational—a sort of “in your face” approach.
Statement: “She doesn’t look that old.”
Re-phrase it, “She looks healthy, or she looks well, or she looks beautiful, wonderful, etc.”
Rebuttal “How do you expect her to look, at her age?”
Statement: “You look so young! What’s your secret?”
Re-phrase it: “You look great! You’re really looking well.”
Rebuttal: I don’t have a secret. This is how I look.
Statement: “I don’t feel old enough to be a senior.”
Re-phrase it: “I’m not ready to be considered a Senior”
or “I’m not comfortable with being a Senior.”
Rebuttal: “How should a senior feel?”
Statement: Sixty is the new forty!
This is a silly statement. There is no way to re-phrase it.
Rebuttal: “Science would dispute that. No one who is 60 looks, or feels like they did at 40.”
Statement: You’re not getting older, you’re getting better!
Another silly statement with no way to re-phrase it.
Rebuttal: I am getting better, but I’m also getting older, and that’s fine with me.
Statement: This (skin cream, appliance, etc.) will make you look younger!
Re-phrase it: “This will make you look healthier, more vital, more beautiful.”
Rebuttal: As opposed to the way I look now?
Statement: He is a good (speaker, cyclist, swimmer, etc.) for his age
Re-phrase: He is good at what he does.
Rebuttal: “Do you mean that he shouldn’t be good at that age?”
Statement: “She’s 65, but she can easily pass for 39”.
Another silly statement, impossible to say in a different way.
Rebuttal: “She’s had some good plastic surgery done.”
Statement: “She is 95 years young”.
Re-phrase: She is 95 years old.
Rebuttal: “Do you mean to say you admire her vitality?”
Statement: “She is a woman of a “certain age”
Re-phrase it: “You mean she is 50? or 60? or 70?”
Rebuttal: Can you be more specific?”
Statement: “She is such a little old dear” or “She is such a sweet old lady”
Re-phrase it: “She is such a fine, nice, or kind person.”
Rebuttal: “You mean she is such a fine person?”
You get the idea. This is not an exact science. But by taking every ageist statement and switching it around to state the obvious fact, you might be taking the “sting” out of it. Whether or not people clue in to what you are trying to do is not important. You are not trying to change the world—you are just trying to make your own little corner a bit more palatable.