89.1 WEMU

Modern Aging: Remaining Visible And Relevant In An Ageist Society

Nov 12, 2019

On the next edition of “Modern Aging,” WEMU’s Lisa Barry and Dr. Theresa Reid talk about how to remain visible and relevant in an ageist society.

Dr. Theresa Reid
Credit Lisa Barry / 89.1 WEMU

On this edition of "Modern Aging," WEMU's Lisa Barry talks with Dr. Theresa Reid of Agingforlife.org, who says, "Our purpose changes as our life circumstances change."

She adds, in our 20s, our life purpose might be establishing an independent life and beginning to forge a professional identity.  In our 30s, life purpose might shift to family and community-building: finding a partner and building the kind of family you want, and the community you need to support you, because it always takes a village.

In our 40s, we often continue to build on that platform, are very busy with all the activities related to it, and might find ourselves starting to think about the fact that we’re about halfway through life.  What does that mean for our purpose?  And so on – you get the picture.  As we age, our life purpose evolves.  That continues into our older years – 50s and beyond.

Lisa and Theresa discuss visibility and relevance as we age are a bigger issue for women than for men (and for poor people than rich people, and for LGBTQ than for straight people).

Dr. Reid says she believes ageism is a feminist issue, adding we all know this – we don’t need data beyond what we see onscreen: old men with young women, practically no old women at all on screen, at least not taken seriously as positive characters, old women as witches, as physically horrifying, as supremely unsexy, while old guys – until they’re really old, then they’re categorized effectively as women – are silver foxes, authorities, sages, etc. 

Women, who have endured lower pay for their entire lives than men and who have disproportionately taken time off of work to care for children and parents, are also far more likely to be impoverished in old age than men.  So, the loss of visibility and relevance is different for men and women. 

In our current media culture, it’s extremely hard to feel visible and relevant to more than a handful of people at any age!  Andy Warhol famously said, back in the ancient days before the Internet (1968), that in the future, everyone would be famous for 15 minutes.  Well guess what?  Not anymore.

The cacophony is so great, the bids for attention so constant and noisy, it’s amazing if your friends read your blog posts.  And we have a lot of data showing how toxic it is to spend a lot of time on social media because you end up feeling invisible and inferior to everyone else.

Two Great Resources:

  1. ProBoomer.com – rocket fuel for boomers who are raring to go: advice for overcoming ageism in the workplace, tools for re-casting oneself for the current work world, tools for entrepreneurship – just a ton of resources.
  2. Growing Bolder – inspirational radio and podcast about thriving elders in all walks of life, by Marc Middleton out of Florida.

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— Lisa Barry is the host of All Things Considered on WEMU. You can contact Lisa at 734.487.3363, on Twitter @LisaWEMU, or email her at lbarryma@emich.edu