Saturday, January 22, 2011

Ageism Rears it Ugly Head

Yesterday I read an article about Calvin Klein. As I like to do, I read the comments that people left. Many said that Mr. Klein looks very good for his age. It brought to mind a joke my Dad used to tell. It seems that this was this 12-year old who was going to his first school dance. He told his father that he didn’t want to go because he was afraid to talk to girls. His Dad advised to ask a young lady to dance and then when they start to dance, say something nice about her. So Saturday evening comes and the young man has been standing alone for about 20 minutes. He screws up his courage and asks a young lady to dance, who had been sitting by herself. They get out on the dance floor and his palms were sweating, but he remembered his Father’s advice. So he says to the young lady “Gee, for a fat girl, you don’t stink much!”

To me this joke is funny because the father’s advice, well intentioned as it was, did not impart good manners, and the boy’s comments reveal his feeling about heavy girls.

To me, comments about a person that include the phrase “for his age (or other similar constructions) informs me about how a person thinks about others in the same category. If someone said, “She’s not loud, for a black woman,” or “He’s nice looking, for an Asian man,” or “She is thin, for a Latina”, we would be shocked and probably appalled. It’s no different when referring to someone’s age.

To me, Helen Mirren is beautiful- not for her age. The same is true for Jacqueline Bisset and Candice Bergin and millions of other mature women. The same is true for mature men. So the lesson is, next time you see me, you can say I look good, but forget about adding “for my age.”  Ageism isn’t pretty at any age.

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