When A Compliment Is Not A Compliment.

I’ve written many posts about ageism. What I’ve not addressed is how older persons could react to the “compliment” that we look or act so “young,” as if youth is the gold standard and “aging” is undesirable. (Notice I did not say SHOULD since I’m not giving advice but laying out my thoughts on ageism) 

Until aging is recognized as the normal trajectory of life and not as a state to be ignored or disparaged, an older person will continue to be thought of as persona non grata. Accepting the “compliment,” the older person might also accept that youth is desirable and internalize feelings of negative self-worth. 

Old is not a dirty word.

How can we oldsters redirect the “compliment” by acknowledging the fact that we are indeed old, and our old status is just part of life?

One of the best responses I have come across is Samantha White’s. Her comment is in response to Katherine Esty’s post: Ageism: The tragic spoiler of old age.


Samantha White

Jul 17

Katharine, I cling to my position that it is up to us, the elderly, to stand up and be proud of our age. I HATE it when people tell me I’m not old (I’m 84), and so I reply with, “I AM old, and proud of it! Don’t take my years away from me, I worked long and hard to GET old.” People are usually confused by my position because they thought that “not old” was a compliment.

When people tell us we’re not old, or don’t look old, we need to respond with a positive take on being old. It’s possible to do it nicely, and with pride. The real compliment is when I tell people that I have a host of age-related medical issues, and they say, “One would never suspect it!” THAT’S the compliment! I’m active and productive and upbeat. I use an upright walker that people tend to not notice, because I stand up straight and walk rapidly, rather than shuffle. I wear compression hosiery to keep the swelling in my legs and feet down, and I wear clothes that fit my body. I give life my best shot.

My productivity is no more than half what it used to be, because of my medical issues, and I feel myself to be on the decline physically. Even mentally, I’ve noticed that I’ve lost the ability to do math in my head (algebra, specifically). But I’ve learned to use a computer and a smartphone, which compensate for my declining mental agility, which I don’t deny. I can’t do a lot of things I used to do well (dance, ski, kayak, hike, memorize, travel, to name a few), but I do new things, such as art printmaking, and consulting. I went back to school in my 50’s and changed careers to one in which life experience is an advantage.

We need to support each other in admitting to our age and being proud of it. Thanks (to Katherine Esty) for raising our awareness and giving us this forum.


What do you think of Samantha White’s response?

An Unethical Question

You May Be Only as Old as You Feel was a thought-provoking read in the New York Times on Tuesday October 22nd by Emily Laber-Warren.

Warren noted that studies show “(W)hen scientists ask, ‘How old do you feel, most of the time?’ the answer tends to reflect the state of people’s physical and mental health.”

Therefore, folks who feel younger are usually healthier than those who feel their age or older. Not surprising. On a lark, I asked Helen, whom I wrote about in my last blog, how old she feels. She just turned 80 and looks much younger, is exercising, and now doesn’t need her blood pressure medication anymore. She said she feels 50! Again, not surprising.

Then I felt guilty asking Helen that question because Tracey Gendron, a gerontologist, questions subjective age research. She thinks that asking the question is perpetuating our cultural bias that aging is fundamentally negative.

The essay stated that in some “cultures where elders are respected for their wisdom and experience, people don’t even understand the concept of subjective age.”

Furthermore, Dr. Gendron suggests that “the study of subjective age may be inherently unethical.”  She goes on to say, “I think we have to ask ourselves the question, are we feeding the larger narrative of aging as decline by asking that question? Older age is a time that we can actually look forward to. People really just enjoy who they are. I would love for everyone to say their age at every year and  celebrate it”

I agree with Dr. Gendron. There are so many subtle “beliefs” in our society that undermine positive aging. I revisited a past post of mine Rethinking How to Handle this Age Issue. I wrote that post not only to promote being proud of our age—at whatever age we are, and as a reminder not to support the premise that old age means decline.

I listed on the Rethinking post a wonderful resource that I will again cite: Old School: An Anti-Aging Clearing House that educates about ageism so we know ageism when we see it.

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