When it comes to discussing issues regarding negative stereotypes and discrimination, ageism seems to occupy one of the lowest positions on the totem pole of importance.
Despite the lack of public outcry that this form of prejudice receives, there are millions of elderly people around the globe who can attest to feeling undervalued due to their date of birth.
Older people are overlooked for employment opportunities, stereotyped in the media, and perceived as less capable than other age groups regardless of their individual skill sets and personal accomplishments.
Anti-ageism advocates from around the globe have taken aim at a number of commonly used phrases due to their insensitivity, and the newest terminology in their crosshairs is ‘you look good for your age.’
Although some may think that this may be an issue that is solely reserved for older people, American aged care advocate, Katie Young, made headlines regarding her stance on the use of this phrase, despite being only 41-years-old.
Young, who has a master’s degree in gerontology and is currently working as a planning manager for the Philadelphia Corp. for Ageing (PCA), is looking to stamp out ageist terminology, and does not regard being told you look young/great for your age is a positive thing.
“That is my age,” Katie told the Philadelphia Tribune. “Therefore, I look exactly my age.”
While some may be quick to dismiss these concerns as yet another instance of hypersensitive political correctness, the fact of the matter is, words are powerful.
The terminology that we deem ‘normal’ is a reflection of the attitudes we share as a society, and phrases that have negative connotations perpetuate negative perceptions.
One of the real issues with changing attitudes towards ageing from a language standpoint is that it almost feels hypocritical given that so many of our day-to-day actions and product purchases are made to counteract the effects of ageing.
Make-up, anti-ageing serums, photo filters, and plastic surgery are a testament to the fact that we as a society widely accept the notion that having a younger appearance is a good thing, which is why instilling the idea that looking older is okay can be difficult on all fronts – including language.
What is the verdict?
Like most of the unwritten-laws of language, there are a lot of nuances involved with positive communication that are dependant on your specific relationship and situation, as well as the tones and actions being used upon vocal delivery.
Telling someone that they look better or younger than their age suggests is likely to be viewed as a positive thing by a lot of people at this current point in time, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that change is a bad thing.
There have been countless phrases and words that were deemed socially acceptable over the years that are no longer used due to their negative undertones, some of which now feel abhorrent and utterly unacceptable.
The Benevolent Society is Australia’s first and oldest charity and has spent over a century fighting to improve the lives of older Australians and people living with disabilities.
Senior Policy Manager of the Benevolent Society, Sue McGrath, shared her thoughts on the matter with HelloCare.
“People mean well when they say something like that. But, yes, it is ageist, and overall negative for older people,” said Sue.
“That’s because it’s based on a negative view of older age and a narrow stereotype that ‘old equals decrepit and unattractive’. So if you are told you don’t look like that, it is meant to be an individual compliment.”
“We challenge people to do a stocktake on their values and their attitudes about what ‘attractive’ and ‘healthy’ mean, and to understand that there is a huge range of appearances and health status at all ages.”
As the writer of this article, I must admit that I have used this phrase on numerous occasions over the years and have never had a negative reaction from it, nor would I be offended by hearing someone telling me that I look young or good for my age.
But then again, I’m not an older person yet, so my personal opinion doesn’t really mean too much.
Dishing out compliments based on the relativity of someone’s appearance to their age will never be the worst thing in the world, but the idea of handing out compliments without any comparisons or disclaimers is actually more uplifting when you really think about it.
Ageism is very real, and even though everyday language may seem like a small and insignificant part of that problem, I think that telling someone they look “beautiful” might be more beneficial for the elderly than saying “you look young” or “great for an 85-year-old.”
And personally, I just think that it sounds nicer – so I will be taking this advice on board.