Have you ever been in a situation where you wanted to call out ageism, but didn’t know how to do it? Like any prejudice, you’d be surprised at the places it appears in your everyday life and sometimes it’s self-inflicted, too.
As friends and family get older, you may notice them make comments about their age. They’ll say things like, “I’m getting too old for that” meaning they can’t wear certain clothes, go places, or do activities because of their age.
I hear ageist comments a lot–especially on the tennis court. Many of my midlife fellow women players are the first ones to fuel these biases blaming their injuries on getting older and getting harsh on themselves, letting their age determine what they do and how they live.
Age may be a factor, but some of us love the game so much that we often don’t realise that we simply overdo it, and I’m pretty sure that none of us stretch properly before we play.
Fortunately, it turns out that there are some alliances, organisations, multigenerational projects, punchy campaigns and other good ways to call out ageism that use creativity or even humour to get the point across.
Art against ageism
Throughout modern history, art in its many forms has sought to address social issues, counter the harmful impact of mass media, and change our perspectives of the world.
With the same spirit, journalist Meg LaPorte, the co-founder of Art Against Ageism, created an alliance of creatives, artists, and activists committed to identifying, amplifying, and creating artistic endeavours that confront and address damaging stereotypes about age and ageing.
Partnering with organizations and other entities to create and implement strategic communications plans, they utilize traditional, non-traditional, and other tactics to ensure the initiative’s effectiveness and impact.
And it seems to be more effective than lecturing people about the negative effects of this bias. Creativity doesn’t have a best-before date, after all.
Age-friendly birthday cards
We’ve all seen the “over the hill” birthday decorations and cards, including the black balloons and tombstones. Some may say “it’s only a joke”, but these jokes have consequences, even if unconsciously.
Wouldn’t it be more positive and encouraging to replace these messages with pro-ageing themes?
That’s what inspired Jan Golden to start a stationery business that tackles ageism. Age-Friendly Vibes was born after she participated in a greeting card contest during the pandemic.
She used her graphic design and tech skills, as well as her creativity, to create a line of age-friendly greeting cards. Instead of those usual ones with jokes about getting older or being old and frail, her cards celebrate age and make positive statements about getting older and birthdays.
“The best part is seeing the reaction to the age-positive sentiments I put out there in the world,” says Golden. “Knowing that I may have a small part in celebrating, instead of dreading, a birthday is heart-warming.”
The power of multigenerational projects is becoming more and more clear. Young and old learn from each other, and understand one another’s experiences better, which helps to dismantle prejudice. This is especially true in the workplace.
Changing the Narrative is a strategic communications and awareness platform to increase understanding of ageism and to change how people think, talk, and act about ageing and ageism.
A core strategy of the initiative is the use of Change AGEnts—trained volunteers of all ages who will “call in” ageism, educate their networks in reframing ageing, and recognize individuals and organizations that are advancing a positive view of ageing and eliminating ageist practices.
Amongst their campaigns, is also a multigenerational poetry contest – Every Age Counts– created to raise awareness about ageism and how it negatively affects everyone in the community, spreading the idea that everyone has something to contribute, no matter their age with the power of words.
What a clever way to address ageism without being preachy.
It’s no secret that we are barraged by anti-ageing product ads promising to return our skin to its younger state. One famous influencer quipped that she would eat poop every day if it made her look younger. Can you believe that?
What if that well-worn message was turned on its head? Check out the “Aging Cream” campaign by The City Of Toronto, for instance.
It intended to challenge citizens to be more aware of the stereotypes they may hold against older adults by promoting a fictitious ageing cream, a play on the beauty industry that highlights the benefits of being older and experienced in the workplace.
“Introducing the world’s first aging cream,” reads the campaign posters, placed throughout the city. “Restore up to 5x the confidence on the job; minimize concerns over your reliability and skillset; increase respect – practically overnight.”
A great way to make a point. Who doesn’t love a little humour and irreverence when tackling a tough problem like ageism?
Tees and merchandising
A new line of merchandise -from t-shirts to tote bags– emblazoned with an all-capitals #AGEISMSUCKS has also dropped the refreshingly frank hashtag into the conversation about age discrimination championed by celebrities like Paulina Porizkova, Sarah Jessica-Parker and Madonna.
Liberated from the confines of social media, the attention-getting hashtag has hit the streets, eliciting thumbs-ups, positive comments and, yes, actual conversations about ageism with people of all ages. The goal is to raise awareness of ageism, to convey the pain and frustration it inflicts, and to cue others to be mindful of their own attitudes towards people of different ages.
On the other hand, even artist Tracy V is making waves with Eff Their Aging Standards™, a dispensary of pro-ageing art and adornments, made with uplifting purposes for the 50 and over crowd to disrupt the abundant anti-ageing noise. Expect quirky and funny designs on mugs and t-shirts “to inspire 50+ women, one daily drawing at a time.”
Getting back to tennis, nowadays, when I’m playing with my friends and someone says, “I’m too old to get that shot” I tend to say something funny that makes my point without sounding harsh. It’s a work in progress.