The Stigma of Looking Old

I used to be an advocate for people looking younger than they are. For that reason, I thought that products that took care of bald spots and gray hair were fantastic.

While readers (especially readers who personally know me) might chuckle at the image of a younger version of me seeing the virtues of products like Bosley and Just for Men, I think that this story is a microcosm of a form of injustice.

The injustice is that looking old is stigmatized.

Everything, from the fixation on products that make you look younger, to the compliments we give our friends and family members when they look younger than they are, has the stigma of looking old attached to it.

For example, many of us are fixated on anti-skin wrinkle products because those products make us look young. I know this because so many of the positive reviews on products such as Neutrogena’s Anti-Wrinkle Cream focus on how the product makes certain reviewers look younger. For that matter, even a couple of the negative reviews say that the product does not help the reviewers look younger. If we didn’t place so much value on looking young, and so much stigma on looking old, a product like Neutrogena’s Anti-Wrinkle Cream might not be so popular in the first place!

Another way we exalt youthful looks, and stigmatize elderly looks, is that many of us often compliment people who look younger than they say but seldom (Never?) give compliments when people look older than they say. When a 60-year-old looks like he or she is 50, some of us may say a compliment like: “You don’t look a day over 50!” But when a different 60-year-old looks like he or she is 80 or 90, we don’t say anything, or maybe even secretly think about how the person looks like a great grandma or great grandpa.

These examples demonstrate how many of us value youthful outside appearance, and look down upon looking old, whether we intend that or not. It is ageist of us to place so much value on looking young, and so little value on looking old, because we are judging people on the basis of the age they look.

I hope that this can change one day, and that we can all see the beauty of looking young, looking middle-aged, and looking old. There is value and beauty in all stages of life, and yes, that includes value and beauty in accumulating gray hairs and wrinkles. So the younger version of me was wrong—products which take care of bald spots and gray hair aren’t that fantastic, after all!

Author’s note: If you want to learn more about ageism, please refer to last week’s blog post.

What is Ageism?

Many of us are familiar with racism, sexism, homophobia, and ableism, to name a few. All of these forms of injustice exist, but there is yet another form of injustice which is within and around so many of us, yet is seldom talked about. This form of injustice is so seldom talked about that even I wasn’t aware of it until a couple of years ago.

The injustice is ageism.

Before making any posts on ageism, I want to establish what ageism is and give examples of this form of discrimination, in case any of my readers aren’t aware of or knowledgeable about it.

I define ageism as a form of discrimination where people are judged based on the age they are or the age they look.

This definition of ageism is more expansive than most definitions I see on the internet (including the definitions from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary and the Oxford Dictionary), because many people define ageism as discrimination based on a person’s age. However, I’ve noticed how people who “look old” (even if their actual age isn’t that old) are discriminated against; as a result, I believe that age-based discrimination involves the age that people are and the age that people look.

Ageism can take on many forms, both blatant and subtle.

One example of blatant ageism was the forced retirement of a woman by the name of Maggie Kuhn from the Presbyterian Church in 1970. In Kuhn’s case, was required to retire after she turned 65. This is blatant ageism because she was judged on the sole basis of age. Namely, she (and anyone 65 and older) was judged to be less capable of doing her job than a younger person. Thankfully, she used her forced retirement as an opportunity to form an anti ageism organization: the Gray Panthers.

Ageism can take on many forms, ranging form comments about “entitled millennials” (a comment which make me cringe, not just because I’m a millennial but because it is a way of talking down younger people) to the societal stigma associated with looking old. In these cases, and many others, people are judged on the age they are and/or the age they look.

Hopefully, through the posts I make on ageism, I can help others confront both blatant and subtle ageism, and help us respect people in all stages of life.