01 Apr ANOTHER TRIP AROUND THE SUN
“If you can’t change it, change your attitude!” - Maya Angelou
As I look forward to my 53rd birthday in a few weeks, this quote comes to mind. If we take care of our health (and w/a little luck & good genes) we will ALL become OLD. And yet, AGE-ism is the most prevalent “ism” around the world – even more pervasive than racism Growing old happens to us ALL. So why are we stereotyping a group of people whom we will eventually and inevitably become? It’s crazy when you think about it!
It all begins with an attitude. We see old people and automatically think, “weak, lonely, dementia, poor, in bad health, etc.” These adjectives are used to describe older people in numerous ageism studies around the globe. And these negative stereotypes are depicted and perpetuated by the media (TV, movies, advertising, marketing, etc.) – media that obviously is not run by 70 and 80-year-olds who know better than to stereotype. Most people in that age group still exercise daily, enroll in classes to learn new things, belong to social clubs, happily mentor others, babysitting grandchildren, and volunteer their time. Our country depends on them and on the years of knowledge they have accumulated and share. No, the media is run, instead, by the younger folks who don’t have an accurate sense of what growing old really looks like. And so they fall prey to negative stereotypes, and to the ignorant dread, they have in looking at their own futures.
We form these negative attitudes about aging very early in life, and these negative attitudes, once internalized, become self-fulfilling prophecies as we age. This is evidenced in numerous longitudinal studies. You think it; you feel it; you act it; you are it. So in your 30’s, if you think all old people are depressed, there’s a great likelihood that YOU will become a depressed older person. If you think all old people walk slowly, then as you get older, you will walk slower. As I said, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. And it all begins with our attitude.
When we see older people, however, who do NOT fit into the negative stereotypes, we conveniently classify them as “exceptional” instead of the norm. If a middle-aged woman (like me) does 50 straight push-ups, people say, “Wow, that’s amazing for your age!” WTF! Why do we need to qualify it? Why not simply say, “That’s amazing” – Period And yet when we see an older person with health challenges, or who struggles to remember things, or who is isolated or seems weak, then we use that to strengthen our preconceived notions about ALL old people. It’s BULLSHIT!
So, as I embrace my upcoming 53rd trip around the sun, I vow to embody a positive view of aging. I will continue to aim for optimal health – mind, body & spirit – as I enthusiastically seek the best version of myself…. at each and every age.