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Strike These Words and Eye Rolls!

How Language and Body Language is Reinforcing Ageism

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“I had to teach my parents how to use [brand name tech device],” the 30-something executive said as she presented to 200-people from the stage, inserting an eye roll and disgusted sigh for effect.

Those of us in the audience who were her parents’ age did not chuckle.

Just as millennial-bashing has become a sport among many Boomers, young people now believe that making fun of people who were born well before the Internet area is fair game.

It all needs to stop and we need to start treating other generations with empathy and respect. 

When I started writing the Silver Hair Playbook™ my goal was to change the game of aging. Our words and body language are a first step. Be aware, express yourself, and let’s change the conversation together.

A start-up founder referred to my peers as “the elderly.” Yikes! It inspired me to put together this short list of words and actions that, like sticks and stones can hurt our (not-brittle) bones.

Elderly: Implies we are somehow disabled. 

Active adults: As opposed to what? Inactive adults? We are all active. Some of us jump out of planes. Others simply like to read. Aging does not mean that we fall into comas.

Senior Citizens: Does that mean that everyone under 50 is a Junior Citizen?

Cougars and Glammas: Not all older women are preying on young men. The only interest I have in 20-something guys is as potential interns. And yes, I have grandchildren. But I was always glamorous in my own mind. I didn’t suddenly have an urge to wear false eyelashes and bright pink lipstick when the babies were born.

We also hear these nasty phrases

“Older candidates will want too much money.” How do you know if you never invite them in for a job interview.

“Older people are set in their ways.” That’s true of some, but I’ve also worked with lots of 20- and 30-somethings who had strong opinions and were unwilling to change.

“You don’t look your age.” Although intended as a compliment, the implication is that as we age we get wrinkled and frail. Not so, especially with healthy eating, exercise, and high-energy/low-stress lives. 

And, of course, the sigh and eye roll

Subtle, but equally offensive. We often see it when a younger person is explaining technology or a business leader is sharing wisdom based on years of experience. I was probably guilty of it in my youth too, but it has become more obvious and more acceptable. Mark Zuckerberg even pronounced publicly in 2007, “Young people are just smarter.” No wonder that young woman felt comfortable dissing the audience.

We certainly don’t need to prove ourselves at our age. But just as women have stood up against sexism, we need to stop pretending we’re hard of hearing and speak up when we feel marginalized or objectified.

Is ageism the new racism? How do YOU stand up when faced with a public insult or stereotyping (however subtle)?

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