Who Are You Calling an Old Biddy? How to Describe Modern Aging
Let’s face it. After the “Over the Hill” birthday cards, banners and party favors begin at age 50, the onslaught of terms used to describe the universal process of getting older – well, really suck.
Words used to describe any age after 50 are nearly always less than flattering, encouraging or inspiring. Check out a few plum examples below; and notice your reaction when reading them out loud.
Yuck! Who likes being called a senior? Only those who are in the last year of high school in the USA, or those in upper management positions use it with pride. Sadly, the implications of being a senior are associated with little old ladies bent over a cane or pushing a walker.
Not me! Many of us wince at the thought. While many tribal nations still retain the true meaning of the word elder, modern society has lost any of the original reverence and respect.
Forget it! Who wants to be “mature” anymore? Only 18-25 year olds want to be mature.
Here are a few more gems. Remember to read them out loud and see if any even remotely sound appealing or accurate:
Over the Hill
Bitty (or Biddy)
No wonder so many women after age 60 run for the Botox, expensive hair coloring and personal trainers. According to society, aging must be avoided at all costs!
The unappealing minefield of aging adjectives implies a lack of vigor, vitality or fun – and there is nothing compelling or aspirational about it.
We Need New Ways of Talking About Aging
“If it is no longer ok to be sexist or racist, how come it is ok to be ageist?” asks Ashton Applewhite, author of the new book, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism.
Applewhite explains the term ageism – any form of discrimination towards aging – was coined by Pulitzer Prize winning geriatrician Robert Butler in the 1960’s – and sadly never caught on. She’d like to change that.
“People are hungry for a narrative that rings true to our experience of growing older,” she says. “While much of society now considers it unacceptable to be openly sexist, racist or homophobic, old people are still fair game.”
Scores of women in their 60 report feeling happier, sexier and more in-tune with themselves than ever before.
Would anyone in his or her right mind describe Helen Mirren (age 71), Jane Fonda (age 77) or Gloria Steinem (age 81) as anything other than “hotter-than-ever?” What words come to mind when imagining these pioneers? Those are the words we need to foster.
As a recent guest on the Stephen Colbert cable show, Jane Fonda recalled writing a book about aging – in her 40’s. When asked if she wanted to go back to that age, she said, “Honey, I wouldn’t go back TEN years. I was so old in my 20’s. I was ancient in my 30’s. I’m so much younger now. When people say, ‘When were you your happiest?’ I’d have to say now.”
Gloria Steinem has also been frequently speaking about loving her age. Last year she was interviewed on Oprah, who introduced her as 81, and she gleefully exclaimed, “I’m so glad you said that I am eighty-one. I keep telling people on the street how old I am, because I am still trying to convince myself!”
Oprah commented that turning 60 was hard for her, and Steinem replied, “For me, turning fifty was hard, as it was the end of the central years of life. Sixty was great – because it was beyond the feminine prison – you could be your own self. Seventy was like that too – but eighty is about mortality. I plan to live to one hundred, and that gives me nineteen more years. There’s so much I want to do, and I love it here.”
How about you, Sixty and Me readers? What words and phrases do you like and dislike when it comes to aging? Let’s get a conversation going.
Kari Henley is the Director of Community Relations for SilverNest, a unique roommate-matching service for Boomers and Empty Nesters with space to share, and is working on a documentary about positive aging stories from around the world.