My close friends and family know better than to use the following words with me:
- senior citizen
It’s not that those words are inherently bad, or are necessarily misused (the dictionary definition of “elderly” is Being past middle age and approaching old age; rather old AND Of, relating to, or characteristic of older persons or life in later years) but it’s that most of the time, they’re thrown around without any thought for how much those stereotypical phrases hurt the way we all look at people over 40, 50 and beyond.
A perfect example: I help run our Growing Bolder Facebook page (check it out! http://facebook.com/growingbolder) and recently, I was struck by an incredible story of a couple in their 60s who completed a marathon — 26.2 miles — every day in 2013. That’s an athletic feat I would not be able to accomplish, at half their age. Obviously, they are Growing Bolder.
But the headline that ABC News used?
Elderly Couple Ran a Marathon Every Day of 2013
Ugh. Dagger to the heart. I shared the post with a caveat that we hated the headline and that alone sparked some really fascinating debate:
- Right on! Since when are people in their 60s considered elderly???! –Libby
- They should watch their mouths and hold their tongues! Elderly means decrepit, slow, over the hill. The only hill these guys are over is the one(s) they conquered in this project! –Susan
- With 4 in 10 of us projected to live to 120, being in our 60’s is about being in MID-LIFE. Obviously, some of our news reporters aren’t keeping up with the news of ACTIVE LONGEVITY. PS Old and elderly are STATES OF MIND. Yes, we get older, however, old and elderly usually refer to a state of being – one in which some generations see as the final stage in life, where you can not do for yourself as in sick or feeble. As you, Growing Bolder, and others continue to shine the light on many who walk this earth today at 80- 90 – 100 – 110 and are active and vibrant, maybe, our “traditional” newscasters will get the message. –Karen
The thing is — there are a lot of old people in their 20s and bold people in their 90s. It’s not about age; it’s about attitude. So the more that we allow words to be applied inappropriately, without calling the users out, the more we let this type of stereotype fester.
I lovingly but firmly put my foot down when people around me make the mistake. I remind them that in most cases, the stories that they’re talking about are from inspirational, active and engaged people who happen to be over a certain age. I tell them about Growing Bolder. I share with them the statistics about how we can all live to 100 and beyond if we make smart choices NOW — and I ask them to consider the stories we work hard to produce and share those with their friends and families, too, so we can all start changing the vernacular.