With a recent issue of AARP The Magazine featuring Diane Keaton over the headline "How She Stays Forever Young," the message surrounding aging is emblazoned on our consciousness: Young is good, old is bad.
When it comes to ageism, do baby boomers really need a new consciousness movement? Haven't we already "been there, done that" with women's liberation and gay rights?
You bet we do, and we need it pronto. Not only is the adoption of anti-aging messages pervasive in our society destructive to our psyches, it bears dangerous ramifications for us economically, socially and politically.
Just as our older sisters had placidly accepted mainstream and disempowering notions of what it meant to be a woman in the 1950s, so are boomers allowing stereotypes of aging to infiltrate our thinking about who we are as we age. As a result, we aging boomers are disorganized, isolated and stuck somewhere on the spectrum between in serious denial and impotent agitation.
Where to begin? Start or join a Fierce with Age Consciousness Group. Reach out to between two and 10 of your peers and set a time to meet regularly. Talk about whatever's on your mind -- with one big caveat: Whenever any of the following five flags come up in the course of the conversation, catch yourself, catch others. Be gentle, but be willing to call it as you see it.
The Five Flags:
1. Comments, satire or jokes, including asides, that revile, infantilize or marginalize aging and old people.
We are not "off our rockers" (listen up Betty White), nor are we a worthless drain on society. And don't allow age-based self-deprecation to masquerade beneath the thin disguise of false humility or humor. For example, flag the ubiquitous: "I'm having a senior moment." Young people forget things, too.
If, on the other hand, you do have genuine cognitive impairment or physical disability, don't be embarrassed or ashamed. Be honest and stop apologizing about the facts of your life over which you have no control, whatever they may be.
2. Youth-centric language, as in "young at heart," or "youthful." Replace it with age-neutral words such as "vital," and "passionate."
The moment you call an older person "youthful," you are saying that life-affirming characteristics are only to be naturally associated with being young and that a person who is older who demonstrates these qualities is the exception rather than the rule.
3. Separating one out from peers, as in: "Can you believe I'm 60 years old?"
Do this, and you are actually saying that your expectation of 60 is that 60 normally looks decrepit and that all others who are 60 look worse than you.
4. Definitions of successful aging that are based solely or primarily on your having attributes normally associated with individuals younger than your own age.
It's great if you are able to and enjoy running marathons. But beware of equating physical strength, exceptional health or mental acuity with successful aging. While it is true that some people are genuinely excited about doing whatever it takes to maintain or advance levels of attainment they have enjoyed in the past, many others are driven to self-destructive extremes by their fear of aging rather than by innate desires and evolving passions.
5. Romanticizing or sanitizing images of aging
Watch for formulations that whitewash the shadow side of aging. Of course, aspire to the best case scenario for ourselves and others. But how can we prepare emotionally and spiritually, let alone financially, practically and politically, if we invest our energy solely in wishful projections and fantasies designed to make ourselves feel good at the expense of the broader spectrum of addressing realistic and ultimate concerns?
This blog is a call to action. Shake off the shame, the guilt and the fear about growing old. Wake up to the denigrating language and emotions regarding getting older that we have internalized. Reclaim the pride we should be taking in ourselves as we age. We need to stop being afraid of age to instead become fierce with age.
For more description of how to start or join a Fierce with Age Consciousness Group, visit FierceWithAge.