Hardly a week goes by that someone doesn’t remark, after learning how old she is, “Wow, you look great for your age!”
That statement says a lot about the person making it. I wonder what they would say if I asked them, “ What should an 80-year-old look like?”
Would they answer that an 80-year-old should have lots of wrinkles? They should have gray hair? They should be stooped over, using a cane or wearing a hearing aid?
The statement “Wow, you look great for your age” may be considered by some a compliment, but it is really a microaggression.
The term microaggression refers to brief and commonplace slights and insults, intentional or unintentional, which can be expressed through words or behavior.
Here are some other seemingly innocent statements that can be considered microaggressions when addressed to an older person:
“You have an iPhone?”
“You’re going to run the marathon?”
“You’re listening to Pink?”
“You’re in college?”
“You’re still working?”
“You have a girlfriend?”
These microaggressions imply that older people aren’t up on technology, can’t compete physically, are stuck in the past, are beyond the stage for learning, are no longer able to contribute to society, and their time for romance has long passed.
Each of these seemingly innocent questions may have, as an undercurrent, a negative view of older adults.
A few years ago I heard Mary Catherine Bateson, author of “Composing a Further Life: The Age of Active Wisdom,” speak at a positive aging conference.
She told us that looking great, running a marathon or going back to college at 80 are becoming the new norms for older adults. We should no longer be surprised by them.
And if we are, then maybe we need to look at our own views and beliefs about old age.
Her comments made me think about how we, as a society, keep perpetuating our outdated views of aging. It occurred to me that, just as other groups have made their voices heard in order to confront prejudice and misconceptions, we need to do the same when it comes to the stereotypes of aging.
Why? Because if we don’t, those prejudices and biases will be passed down to our children and grandchildren, and those same prejudices and biases could affect our actions toward others.
How do we initiate a new view of older people? We can begin by examining our own beliefs.
We can keep our eyes and mind open to the new norms that are emerging. We can bring microaggressions to the speaker’s attention when we hear them. And we can educate others on the connectedness of all things and the power of the human spirit at any age.