07 Oct She tabled fears of growing old and became an advocate against ageism
Ashton Applewhite is to the fight against ageism what Betty Friedan was to feminism: A passionate advocate for ending what she calls our last socially acceptable form of discrimination. Once you hear her speak, you’ll never hesitate to give your age, or say about anything, “I’m too old for that.”
She speaks all over the country about how we can re-calibrate our language, and our points of view, about the subject that makes so many people uncomfortable. (She admits that before she became immersed in the subject of aging, she herself thought the topic depressing.) To make her point, she likes to ask people to say how old they are before they ask a question at her talks. Many people balk.
Unabashedly 64, Applewhite’s forceful new manifesto, This Chair Rocks, calls for us to challenge assumptions about what people should wear, do, and be at a particular age. Also valuable is her online guide to starting consciousness-raising groups, comprised of people of all ages, where frank conversations can be had on such themes as How do you relate to people older or younger than you? Has getting older changed the way you feel about sex?
She writes, “Unless we challenge ageist stereotypes—Old people are incompetent. Wrinkles are ugly. It’s sad to be old— we feel shame and embarrassment instead of taking pride in the accomplishment of aging. That’s internalized ageism.”
Her quest began, as most quests do, with a personal experience at her workplace. She discovered that her curmudgeonly officemate at the Museum of Natural History, Ray, who “looked and behaved” so much older, was indeed the exact same age.
Do people think I’m as old as that, she wondered–and worried. That uncharitable thought lead her on a ten-year path of discovery to understand what it means to age in America today. She began by interviewing people in their 80s who were active in the workforce, and as she considered the coming onslaught of baby boomers reaching 65, her thinking, and therefore her project, became more radical.
Applewhite questions the media-created, consumer myth that successful aging means perpetuating your younger self as much as possible–meaning that we must mask our age with products and behavior that deny how old we are.
Her blog is called, Yo Is This Ageist? The book is available online. Her call for a movement is ongoing. She needs us all to participate.