It's no secret that we live in a society that looks down on the elderly. Our obsession with youth (or at least the appearance of being young) leaves little room for respecting age, and ageism is frequently left out of conversations about discrimination. As a result, there are all kinds of common phrases you may not realize are ageist — the kind of throwaway comments that you use in everyday conversation when you're young, but slowly come to realize create a divide between the elderly and everyone else.
Unfortunately, aging is so stigmatized in Western culture that ageism often goes unnoticed until you experience it for yourself. Of course, part of that owes itself to the selfishness of youth, but you just have to look at the way Hollywood actresses are treated once they hit 30 to see how little we value growing older. There's the requisite comments about appearance, because ageism and sexism go hand in hand: Women like Madonna and Carrie Fisher are scrutinized for every wrinkle and gray hair, while male celebrities are often deemed silver foxes as they hit middle age. However, both men and women find themselves the focus of ageism as they grow older, whether it's in the form of encouragements to retire or assumptions that they're disabled.
We may not like to think about growing older, and, in some respects, it's understandable; after all, nobody likes to be reminded of their mortality. On the other hand, aging doesn't have to be scary prospect that our culture makes it out to be. Let's start destigmatizing growing older by removing these phrases from our vocabulary.
1. "You Still Have Time."
This phrase is often meant to be encouraging, but unfortunately, telling anyone that they "still" have time to do something implies that the end is in sight, even if they're totally healthy. It's not exactly encouraging stuff.
2. "You Look Great For Your Age."
Frequently directed at women, such a remark could be a compliment if it weren't the pesky qualifier at the end. Saying "for your age" implies lower expectations for someone simply based on their age. (It also congratulates them for looking younger, because god forbid someone have wrinkles.)
3. "Ladies Of A Certain Age"
"A certain age" is possibly one of the vaguest euphemisms out there. What's wrong with saying someone is in middle age or elderly? By talking around the specifics, we're just serving to suggest that age shouldn't be discussed.
4. "You Have A Smartphone?"
Older people are perfectly capable of learning new technology, even if they don't have the immediate fluency that comes from growing up with it. Expressing surprise at the sight of an older person using a smartphone is insulting. (Although I'll admit I was shocked the first time my father sent an emoji.)
5. "You're Still Working?"
Ageism frequently manifests in the workplace, where older employees face increasing pressure to retire as they age. Not only are they perceived to be less competent, but they're often encouraged to leave to make room for a younger generation of workers. Needless to say, being surrounded by people waiting for you to leave can create an uncomfortable work environment.
6. "Past Your Prime"
The concept of being in your "prime" only applies to two groups: Overpaid NFL stars, and Meg Ryan movies in the 1990s. Unless either of those applies, there's no reason to worry about being past your peak — it's possible to live a perfectly full life even when you're not at your physical best or the height of your career.
7. "You Can't Teach An Old Dog New Tricks."
One of the hallmarks of ageism is the idea that people grow inflexible with age, as if their brains can't cram in any new information once they hit their 60th birthday. This presumption is encapsulated by the "old dogs new tricks" cliche, which implies that you ever stop learning — and frankly, that's only true if you allow it to be.