This is a question my coach asked me when I was making excuses about being way too old to do whatever it was I was avoiding at the time. I was in my 30’s and it sure made me think. I was acting about 60 back then, and today, at 55, I’m younger in my head than I was at 35. I finished my Masters Degree in my 40’s, started a new life in Germany at 47 and ran my first half marathon at 50. I just needed to understand that running is in the head, not the feet. And so is age.
I’ve experienced ageism from different directions. In my teens and early twenties I often wasn’t taken seriously because I was ‘too young’ to understand the world. These days I make damn sure to be taken seriously, I just have to deal with people telling me I’m great ‘for my age’. It’s as if being older is a bad thing, and that it’s far better to be younger. I have the impression that everyone wants to live a long life, but nobody wants to be old.
When people say ‘you don’t look your age’, or ‘you’re so young at heart’. I know they mean well, but frankly, I don’t really care what age I look like. Even if I get plastic surgery to make me look 20 years younger, or paralyse my face with Botox, I’m still the age I am, living the life I live and experiencing this phase of my life. To answer that question I was asked, if I didn’t know how old I was, I’d have to guess a variety of ages for different aspects of who I am.
We’ve done well over the past few decades tackling homophobia, sexism and racism, but ageism still has a long way to go. Ageism differs from the other issues though, because it is directed to people who were not always this ‘group’ so to speak, and being ageist is dangerous, as everyone who is young, will most likely also be old at some stage if they are lucky enough to get there.
How do we define Ageism?
Ageism is defined as prejudice or discrimination on the grounds of a person’s age. Ultimately, whether we label people for being young or old, it is nothing more than stereotyping, and it is damaging.
Probably what affected me most in the past though, was my own internalised ageism. Do you think you’re too old for new adventures? Or maybe you think you’re too young to be listened to? Being ageist can be a huge block to becoming the best version of who you want to be. It can affect our attitude not just to others, but to ourselves, and that has a huge impact on our decisions.
So, rather than going by the stereotype ideas of what might be age appropriate for your age on paper, why not think in terms of what you would still like to achieve? As David Bowie wrote: ‘Ageing is an extraordinary process where you become the person you always should have been.’