Be bold, claim old. When I mention this phrase in my campaign to fight ageism, I am often greeted with nervous laughter, an inquisitive look or a resounding “yes!”
It’s meant to be provocative. It’s meant to be a powerful call to action. I am fed up with living in a society that is obsessed with youth and assigns little value to old age.
The dread of aging is embedded early with negative “over the hill” birthday messages for anyone over 29. Each year following, we head in the opposite direction of what our society values most – youth.
We often fixate on the biological process of aging, but aging is also culturally defined. Ever the optimist, I believe we can change the way old is valued in our society.
We all play a role in creating culture and it often takes a radical idea to shift thinking in our society. Here is mine: Be Bold, Claim Old.
As a first step, I challenge everyone, no matter what age, to claim and celebrate their age. If the idea of claiming old makes your stomach turn or you groan thinking “not me, I’m not old”, then this campaign is for you.
The idea for the campaign borrows from other social justice movements.
I believe we can learn from Malcolm X when he said “we cannot think of being acceptable to others until we have first proven acceptable to ourselves.” He posed the idea that society had influenced black people to dislike their own hair and darker skin color – as it was viewed in opposition to white.
Although a very different context, a similar premise may be useful in thinking about ageism. We have inherited a cultural value that youth is the gold standard and anything that does not appear young is less valued. This affects not only our own self-worth but how we treat others that we consider old.
I think the fight against ageism can also learn from the gay rights movement and their successful reclaiming of the word queer. Could a similar effort be used to create a positive connotation and value for “old”?
Not everyone is black or queer, but aging is a UNIVERSAL human experience. It is in our individual and collective best interest to create a society where old is as valued, meaningful and significant as young.
For myself, I have made a conscious decision to value old. For me, this means not dying my hair to cover the new gray strands that increase every day. I wear the visible sign of my aging proudly.
The idea for Be Bold, Claim Old was launched in a two-minute, TED-inspired talk at the 2015 Leading Age conference. My hope is that it will spark a new way of thinking about old. It was received positively and speakers as well as random strangers stopped me throughout the conference to share their ages.
I hope it resonates with you as well. Please enjoy and share widely!