On this fine morning, I went to the grocery store after a run. I was wearing a NYC Marathon shirt, and the man ahead of me in line had one on as well and sparked up a conversation. He nicely offered me participation in a neighborhood running group. I asked if it had a variety of levels of runners (I am not a fast runner,) to which he said, “Oh, yeah, there’s a woman who everyone loves who is your age. Yeah, there’s lots of people your age.”
Now the thing is, I was thinking we were pretty near in age. I certainly wasn’t thinking I was in some whole other generation than him! Yikes!
Clearly, I have more work to do.
You see, I discovered two years ago that I am severely prejudiced.
It was a shock. I didn’t know that lurking within me were truly vile and discriminatory feelings and thoughts about a huge portion of the human race.
I didn’t know I was an ageist.
According to Wikipedia: Ageism (also spelled “agism”) is stereotyping and discriminating against individuals or groups on the basis of their age. This may be casual or systematic. The term was coined in 1969 by Robert Neil Butler to describe discrimination against seniors, and patterned on sexism and racism.
Lemme back up. I was having an especially terrific day.
There are days when, as an actor, you are just filled with joy because you feel so in the flow. This was one of those days.
I was on my way from a great voice lesson. I had a while to do an errand and then later was going to rehearse and then do a staged reading of a very special play that held deep personal value for me, with amazing fellow actors. What could be better than that?
I stopped at a grocery store to pick up some kale (what is it about me and the grocery store and this issue?!) I was at the register when it happened. The woman checking me out said the following words:
“Do you qualify for the 55+ discount?”
I was shocked. Then outraged. Then mortified. And ashamed. In that order. Appalled and dripping with disgust, I looked at her.
“What?! Do I look like I’m 55?!! Oh. My. God. Kill me now.”
(Yes, I actually said “Kill me now.”)
Poor thing tried to backpedal it.
“Oh, I just thought…you eat so healthy…so maybe…”
Which made it worse, because she was inadvertently inferring that I’m actually older looking than 55 but eating so well that it doesn’t show?!
I left the store, kale in hand, attempting not to spin out on this.
I wanted to enjoy the rest of my day, but knowing myself and how my brain works around such things, I knew I had a triage situation in regard to my frail ego.
First, I tried different paths of logic. Oh, she didn’t really take me in before she said that. She probably says that to every one, right? I don’t look my age. Everyone says so. And my real age is not 55, so she obviously didn’t even take me in.
I’d slip into anger occasionally.
How irresponsible of her. They really shouldn’t let those cashiers offer that discount willy-nilly. They are just asking for it!
By the time I got home, there was a new voice inside making itself known. A voice that said, “Hey, you. What’s so bad about being associated with being 55?”
I mean, truthfully, the level of disgust I felt at the mere suggestion that I could ever be 55!
I began to examine this, go deeply into it. I discovered that being over 65 felt OK. I mean, I know I’m going to be a rocking 65-year-old.
And 70? Look out! I want to be one of those cool Septuagenarians who astounds people with their vitality and continued accomplishments.
But 51-64? I want no part of THAT club. No way.
Where did this come from? This abhorrence of people those ages? I wasn’t born rejecting a whole segment of the population. How did this hidden inner belief system come to be so strong in me?
And better yet, what can I do about it now that I know about it?
I don’t want to feel such a distaste for any of the years I am lucky enough to have ahead. I thought I had embraced ageing when it first started appearing in my mid 40’s…I looked at how I felt about it then and really thought I had decided I was gonna forge a new pathway for generations of women to come by embracing my later ages. By celebrating the changes as they came. By being a vibrant, sexy woman at EVERY age.
I thought I had decided that I was gonna be a one-woman revolution and reject societal, cultural pressure to look young no matter what the cost for as long as possible. To be on TV and in films at my age and not be ashamed or embarrassed because I am not young anymore. To blaze trails. To be a part of a change that embraces beauty at every age instead of the age-shaming we are bombarded with from infancy through all forms of media.
I thought I had chosen this path.
Little did I know that sure, I was great with aging as long as I still looked 38-48. That was cool.
Little did I know that when I looked in the mirror, reviewing the changes I could see, there was this part of my brain that must have decided “Sure, this is acceptable. I can live with THIS.” But that all the while that seeming acceptance actually held a hidden silent caveat: “As long as it doesn’t get worse than THIS.”
How insane it seems now. But that must have been the invisible internal logic.
I can’t stay frozen in time. I cannot choose the face I will keep for the remainder of my life in this body.
My face and body WILL continue to change as time progresses. I am like every other human who has ever lived and aged.
But. I can choose all of the things I thought I chose before. I CAN embrace. I CAN blaze a trail. I can be a one-woman revolution.
I can choose to reject what advertisers and media cram into my psyche on a practically moment-by-moment basis. Anti-aging, this, anti-aging that. (“Anti-” opposed to, against!)
I do not have to believe/embrace or live from the beliefs that:
After 40 it is all downhill. Middle age is something to dread and fear. Women become invalid and invisible once they hit menopause. Life is meant for the young. Old people have no relevance. Old people cannot remember things. Old people are “out of it” when it comes to modern technologies or cultural references. Blah, blah, blah.
Bullshit. It is all designed to make me fear getting old and to buy skin creams and such as if my life depends on it.
When I shared my grocery store story with a friend, she said she could relate to my outrage. She said she wasn’t going to age “without a fight.”
But I don’t want feel like there’s anything TO fight, you know?
Or rather, I am gonna fight. But not aging.
I’m gonna fight Ageism.
Look out, world. Here I come! Who is with me?!
To find out more about ageism: www.legacyproject.org