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Ageism

  • Date Submitted: 10/21/2013 07:54 AM
  • Flesch-Kincaid Score: 60.4 
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Ageism
Our society is used to stereotypes of elderly people. The image of your grannies and granddads is closely connected with orthopedic boots, walking-frames and Horlicks. But the image of ageing became rejuvenated. Increasingly, old people are depicted not as dentured cronies but as leotarded achievers. But ageism hasn't gone away; it's had a face lift.
If old people are now less likely to be invariably portrayed as passive victims, the new stereotype has stepped in smartly to take its place. Now the increasingly popular visual images of the old are on safari or climbing mountains; they effortlessly lap Olympic-sized pools, run marathons, complete Open University degrees, master Swahili. At first, the new images seemed refreshing and liberating. It was a relief to know that you didn't have to swap denim for crimplene when the free bus pass arrived. But something wasn't right. The new way of valuing older people was to highlight their youthfulness. These older people were being celebrated for looking and acting young. Ageing had become a social crime. In some ways this new stereotype of the "young old" is even more oppressive than the "old old" one was. Celebrities with their Hormone Replacement Therapy smiles and marathon running pensioners may inspire some, but to others they represent an unattainable aspiration. And like the previous stereotypes, the new ones still lump old people together as a category rather than acknowledging their differences.
There's a seemingly charming story about the American feminist Gloria Steinem. On her 50th birthday an admirer came up and told her that she didn't look 50. "This is what 50 looks like," she retorted. I used to like that story until it struck me that she was wrong: no, this is what some 50 year-olds look like. Those who've had materially or emotionally harder lives, who were widowed young or brought up kids alone, those whose genetic inheritance didn't include infinitely elastic skin or unshrinking bones, whose...

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