A friend of mine recently announced he was thinking of having his remaining hair – just a fringe really – removed with laser treatments. While it will save him the time and trouble of shaving, that is not the primary reason. Rather, being completely bald and shiny will make him look younger than having a short fringe of greying hair will. A highly successful novelist, he is making the transition to film and TV and looking younger is a definite plus in Hollywood – where ageism is notoriously rampant. There, it not only impacts the limited roles women of a certain age can get but also diminishes your chances of being taken seriously.
Ageism is a factor that most people face as the years pile on. Sharon Pollock, who has won the Governor General’s award twice for playwriting and continues to work creatively well into her seventies, reacted this way when the Canada Council announced they were shifting a significant part of their funding to support writers under forty: What are old writers supposed to do? Die?
I see it all the time in the public service. When you reach fifty, you may be respected as an experienced manager and a useful policy analyst. By sixty, everyone expects you to leave. And, of course, you no longer know anything current. It’s even assumed you can’t use modern technology – even though you may have been programming computers before the whiz kids were even born.
Here’s a hint – it’s not that we can’t master our smart phones; it’s just that we have more important things to do. Like work.
Another friend of mine, now in her 70s, told me how shocking it was to her when men simply stopped noticing she was in the room. “It was like I became invisible,” she said. Still a sexy woman – if you care to look – she found her sudden dismissal hurtful. Fortunately she had the maturity to get over it.
Of course, ageism cuts both ways. Who hasn’t heard the dismissive ‘kids these days’ remark, usually immediately followed by: Hey, get off my lawn! One of the great things about going to the North when I was 27 was that I got to do work that I was fully capable of but considered too young to take on while I was living in Nova Scotia.
Despite the occasional dismissal of youth that still occurs (I frequently refer to the young punks in the PMO as kids in short pants), we do live in a society obsessed with youth. People are always telling me that that fifty is the new forty and that you are only as young as you feel. I certainly hope not – some days I feel over a hundred.
I’d say more but it’s time for my Metamucil and my cane needs oiling.
Besides, that’s ten minutes.