Shortly after the start of 2019, I noticed a new trend emerging on Facebook. Titled the How Hard Did Aging Hit You challenge, users were encouraged to post side-by-side photos of them now and from 10 years ago as physical evidence of how they are holding up as they age.
While I believe people on Facebook intended this to be a harmless, even a fun way to reminisce, it perpetuates a negative narrative about aging.
When users share their side-by-side pictures, they, along with their social media friends, comment about the difference of appearance. An array of responses followed. Some meant as positive, like “wow, you didn’t age a bit,” “you’re looking good,” “not too shabby,” or “still stylish.” Many meant as good-natured ribbing about receding hair lines, wrinkles, added weight, crepy skin, gray hair, or tired eyes. Either way, the problem with this trend is that it starts from a negative point, simply based on how the question itself is asked, How Hard Did Aging Hit You? Why is it assumed that aging hits someone hard?
Ageism, systematic stereotyping and discrimination based on age, is ever-present, largely automatic, and deeply rooted. It’s the one “ism” that goes unchallenged and is not recognized as an issue by the general public.
Whether browsing through magazines, noticing pop up ads on social media, watching make-over shows, or walking through cosmetic and skin care store aisles, we are inundated with anti-aging messages. In a time when more people are living longer lives and there are larger proportions of people age 65 and older, aging is something to celebrate! It is also a natural process that is unavoidable. The gift of these extra years far outweighs changes in how one looks.
Aging isn’t all rosy. Changes in appearance and abilities as we age can be hard to accept, especially living in a society that favors youth over age. With each birthday I celebrate, there are days I want to scream that aging stinks! And after I do, I remind myself that aging beats the alternative (death) and that my worth isn’t measured on what I look like (or can do) compared to a younger version of me.
Where do we go from here? Is there a description of what any age looks like, should look like? If our appearance doesn’t keep up with what society tells us is acceptable aging, do we stop having pictures taken of us or only post ones that we’ve altered to look different than our true image?
Research shows that negative attitudes about aging can damage our sense of self, diminish our opportunities and prospects, and even segregate us from others in the community. This is one of the reasons York County Community Foundation’s Embracing Aging works to improve attitudes on aging. One of the ways we are doing this is by working to change the narrative around attitudes on aging. This is important because people with positive self-perceptions of aging live, on average, 7.5 years longer than those with neutral or negative ones, which brings me back to the Facebook challenge.
I believe people on Facebook missed the mark. Instead of approaching this from a lens of aging is bad, what if the question was posed differently, such as “how are you getting better with age?” or “how are you embracing your age?” Think about the wisdom, lessons learned, and fun stories that could have been shared in the thread versus the jokes about decline in one’s appearance.
If you were one of the many Facebook users who joined in on this trend, I encourage you to do it again, however this time, frame it differently and add context. Share a story or something that has happened to you over the course of time that can be a benefit to others. Remember, your worth and value is the culmination of wisdom, perspectives, talents, and relationships you’ve experienced over time, not how you look.
Contact Cathy Bollinger, managing director of Embracing Aging at firstname.lastname@example.org or 717.848.3733 to share your thoughts on Facebook’s How Hard Did Aging Hit You challenge, to join EA’s dialogue on reframing aging, or to learn more about how you can bring an Embracing Aging presentation to your business, organization, school, club, or event.
York County Community Foundation’s Embracing Aging is a long-term initiative that focuses on improving how people experience aging in York County by disrupting negative views on aging and working towards creating an age-friendly community. York County Community Foundation creates a vibrant York County be engaging donors, proving community leadership, and investing in high-impact initiatives while building endowments for future generations. To learn more about us, visit www.yccf.org.