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.


About Bernadette

I live in the small town of Haddonfield, NJ. I am at an age in my life when I seem to spend time thinking and musing about life. These musings are usually stimulated by my walks through Haddonfield, my reading of books and fellow bloggers, and my interaction with my group of fabulous family and friends.

12 Responses

  1. robjodiefilogomo

    I get the gist of this, but sometimes I think we get too caught up in the exact words instead of the overall meaning. I’ve been known to say some of these statements, but I certainly don’t mean anything bad or derogatory. In fact, there have been (too) many times lately, it’s hard to remember a certain word or phrase let alone how to say things perfectly —ha ha!!
    But I think you’re right about most of these….and if I practice, it will become easier! jodie

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As a nurse I remember we were taught not to cal patients, “Sweetie or Honey, or other words like that. I tends to put them in a dependent position and may insult their actual independence. As a senior now, I am not upset by remarks about how young I look, because I can give credit where credit is due, good genes and a positive attitude toward life.
    What does upset me is that people over 50(?) who are well qualified are not being hired, in favor of a younger person. I do understand the businesses’ point of view but disagree with it and consider it to be prejudiced against Seniors. Our qualifications of experience, wisdom, and willingness to work should count in our favor.
    I do try to “consider the source” when someone makes a comment like those you mentioned and think sometimes it might be a good thing to answer as you suggested just to start the ball rolling. But I would not want to hurt someone’s feelings for saying a compliment without thinking about it.
    This is definitely food for thought though.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I really get the point, and I detest ageism, and agree we should work to elimination stereotyping and assumptions based on age. At the same time, I have a few observations. 1) On the “looking young for ___ age” It is not only something that happens to seniors…my daughter just turned 40 and gets that kind of comment. To me the bigger bias is that we are judged by our looks at any age. Of course, I loved when Yoda (green and hundreds of years old) says, “Luminous beings are we, not this crude flesh.” Oh, if only we judged others by their spirit! 2) I think sometimes seniors should be a little more thoughtful about the complaints, i.e. this hurts and that hurts and this illness and that doctor and medication. The world is full of marvelous things, if we reduce ourselves to our aches and pains and medical conditions we will be reduced in the opinions of others. And focusing on that is a pathway to diminishing our lives. 3) Do we have hard-won wisdom? Sure. But if we decide that we have every answer, or that every old way of doing something is the best way, we close ourselves off from learning anything new. My mom is my model on aging gracefully largely because she never stopped being willing to learn or look at things in new ways. She didn’t ever aim to be patted on the head as a “sweet old lady.” In fact, in her own terms, she would have rather people thought of her as “one heck of a broad!” Me, too!

    Liked by 1 person


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