It is time to change how people think, feel and act towards age and aging, says RITU AGARWAL
“I cringe at being called Auntie or Mama by anybody other than my nieces or godchildren,” Oprah famously said in an interview.
As we age, particularly women, it’s intriguing and frustrating to see the world struggle not just with how to deal with us, but also how to address us, more so if we happen to be well preserved, smart and in sync with the times.
“Oprah has worked pretty well for me. Though sometimes strangers refer to me as Lady O, which feels friendly, yet respectful of the age difference. It feels appropriate,” Winfrey has stated. Calling someone older than you Auntie is definitely ageist. I have been an office-going person, working with teams, for a large part of my adult life. As I moved up the ladder, my team and everyone around me simply called me by my first name. It worked beautifully. I also got along very well with people half my age, as both friends and colleagues. And lately, simply teaming up with bright youngsters on projects, from whom I get to learn a lot and with whom I can share my experience. It is a win-win relationship unhampered by big words such as Ma’am and Ms. Age has never come up. So, what does being ‘age appropriate’ mean? And why do we need it?
When I turned 50, I wondered if I should be dressing in a certain way; if there was an age appropriate dress code was a question that crossed my mind. In India, showing skin is definitely a part of the “not age appropriate” dossier. While we have women such as Jennifer Lopez turning up the heat at 52, a 63-year-old Madonna and her 27-year-old boyfriend being chased by paparazzi and closer home 48-year-old Malaika Arora dating a 36-year-old Arjun Kapoor or Falguni Nayar turning a billionaire at 59 with her brand Nykaa… these are all still seen as behaviour that is breaking social norms. And not just in India but globally. The amount of trolling Priyanka Chopra received from the American press for marrying Nick Jonas, a man 10 years younger than her, was rather revealing of ageism everywhere. In general, forced retirement based on age is illegal in the US. In India, I have given many interviews where they have loved everything they see and hear, till they get to the age. “Oh, but
you don’t look your age!” I get that very often. Equally, I get “you are over-experienced for the role”.
A report released by WHO in 2021 calls for urgent action to combat ageism and better measurement and reporting to expose ageism for what it is – an insidious scourge on society. Stating that ageism leads to poorer health, social isolation, earlier deaths and costs economies billions, this report calls for swift action to implement effective anti-ageism strategies. “Ageism harms everyone – old and young. But often, it is so widespread and accepted – in our attitudes and in policies, laws and institutions – that we do not even recognise its detrimental effect on our dignity and rights,” said Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. “We need to fight ageism head-on, as a deep-rooted human rights violation.”
As global bodies like the UN and WHO urge all countries and stakeholders to use evidence-based strategies, improve data collection and research and work together to build a movement to change how we think, feel and act towards age and ageing… I am just happy if I am not called Auntie. Ritu will do. Thank you.
The writer, a lifestyle editor moved from a successful career in journalism to re-skill and explore newer contemporary content platforms. Age agnostic, she has worked well with bright & positive people of all age groups