not to long ago i had a blood test. that fact in itself is not too unusual. the phlebotomist was gentle and caring. after filling a number of vials and withdrawing the needle she apologised for the bruise that she thought would come up.
“that wouldn’t be too surprising for 72-year old skin” i replied.
“you look great for your age. i would have never put you in your 70s!”, she exclaimed.
it happened again….the “for your age.”
what does that mean? at 72 am i supposed to look a certain way? what is the image that this kind, gentle professional holds in her head about women my age? am i supposed to look un-great?
as it happens, i drew a card from the gene pool that said i have smooth, fair skin, large blue eyes and honey-coloured hair that is undyed and not yet grey. that was the luck of the draw from a pool that often produces dark-haired, brown-eyed swarthy skinned people who tend to wrinkles.
granted, i have taken care not to smoke, drink or do a lot of drugs over the course of my life. genetics plus choices have made a difference. however, this encounter pointed out, yet again, that age has a ‘look’…a look that is not valued and held in high esteem. it is my unwrinkled face and undyed blonde hair that provoked that response from the phlebotomist.
she is one of countless millions who hold this view. she surprised me when i said, “and you look great for your age too”. she told me she was in her 50s. she is on the cusp of change, on the turning point from desirable to rejected, from valued to disdained, from respected to contemptible. she too will soon hear the dismissive phrase “for your age.”
to respond to ageism in a way that opens a door to greater awareness is one of the sacred tasks of an elder, woman or man. As the proportion of people over 60 increases we have the power, both individually and collectively, to change the image of olders.
can you imagine a time when youngers will look at us and say something like, “it’s great to see you.” no matter how we look? can you imagine a time when each wrinkle is regarded as a badge of honour? can you imagine a time when each grey hair is valued as much as gold?
these are the imagining i hold in my heart…for my sisters and brothers who are over 60 and for all those youngers who are olders-in-training.