I turned 50 this year, and when I shared the milestone on my socials and in conversations, a few people told me how “brave” I was for being happy about it, and for openly sharing my age in public.
At first, I was a bit puzzled by their comments. I thought, “Who wouldn’t be happy to say they made it one more year?” And then I read between the lines and decoded the underlying reason for their comments.
Aging has consequences.
To own your age after a certain point can put you in the crosshairs of ageism’s wrath at work, in life, and everywhere in between. It’s as if we know we’re all supposed to age, but for some reason, you should keep it on the DL. It’s as if the birthday high we used to experience as kids spiraled into the birthday blues. The blues can be triggered by different reasons, including aging, leaving some feeling sad, nervous, or even angry around their birthday.
Living one more year on this earth is a gift we all should cherish, honor, and celebrate. Another year is not a guarantee, making every year spent on this earth a privilege, regardless if you’re turning 10, 30, 50, or 75. I’ve never heard someone say, “I want to die before I turn 60.” Have you?
On the contrary, I’m constantly hearing about people’s long-term life plans, career goals, travel wish lists, new learnings, budding relationships, or family additions. Given we’re living longer, healthier, and more vibrant lives, people aren’t ready to check out. I know I’m not. Are you?
Yet, the truth is that ageism dwells in every facet of our lives constantly reminding us that old ≠ good.
What’s in a card?
Take birthday cards. I’m the type of girl who loves reading every birthday card before opening a gift. I linger on every word written, pausing to take in the well wishes and laugh at the silly pictures. Until recently, those were the types of cards I received. And then, I turned 40, and the tone of my cards started to change.
At first, I didn’t catch onto the ageist stereotypes or jokes disguised as birthday wishes because ageism remains a socially accepted ism. From the black balloons, and sagging body part drawings, to the walking assistance devices or pamper jokes, some birthday cards are outright mean.
But I, like many of you didn’t think twice about these cards. In fact, I’ll admit, I gave my fair share of ageist cards to family and friends until I came across the Celebrate Age anti-ageist birthday campaign spearheaded by Changing the Narrative in 2020.
More recently, Changing the Narrative joined forces with Age-Friendly Vibes and Canopy to create Better Birthdays. This campaign, combined with my work in the pro-aging space, sheds a massive floodlight on how matter-of-fact ageism is entwined in even the simplest of things, like birthday cards.
Death by a thousand cuts
While I’d like to believe that everyone enthusiastically celebrates their birthday at every age, many don’t. In fact, many struggle with their birthdays as they age. Based on the following statistics, it’s no wonder why.
- [HEALTH] | A Yale study finds discrimination accounts for $1 of every $7 spent on 8 chronic conditions.
- [ADVERTISING] | An AARP study showed that more than half (47%) of consumers age 50-plus concurred that “ads of people my age reinforce outdated stereotypes.”
- [WORK] | A SeniorLiving study found that approximately one in five workers over 40 and one in four workers over age 60 have personally experienced age-related discrimination on the job.
- [LIVELIHOOD] | An AARP study found that more than one in four older workers who were underemployed (for reasons besides health or family) said age discrimination was a reason for their underemployment.
- [MEDIA] | A report from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media concluded that characters 50+ were “less than a quarter of all characters in top-grossing domestic films and most-popular television shows from 2010 to 2020.”
- [POLITICS] | In a Gallup poll, nearly one in three Americans said they were unwilling to vote for even a “well-qualified” presidential candidate over the age of 70
Ageism is everywhere. This begs the question, “Do we need it in birthday cards too?”
I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “death by a thousand cuts.” If ageism is invisibly visible all around us, have you ever thought about what kind of impact giving an ageist birthday card could have on someone? What if they’re dealing with a bout of birthday blues, but just haven’t shared it with you? Do you think an ageist card would convey the “happy” in Happy Birthday?
And before you say it, it’s not about taking a joke. I can take a joke. It’s more about realizing that for many, aging is a real struggle. And, if you truly care about the person, you’re giving a card to, do you really want to be “that person” that potentially adds to their struggle?
Next time you’re shopping for a birthday card, be mindful of what message you want to convey. Be the person who gives the card that lifts them up, celebrates their age, and reminds them how truly lucky you are to have them in your life for one more year. You never know, your card could be the one that helps them through their birthday blues and/or makes their birthday truly special.
If all this pro-aging birthday buzz has you giddy, I invite you to get behind the #NotAfraidOfMyBirthday social campaign Changing the Narrative, Canopy and Age Friendly Vibes launched this month.
All you need to do is post a picture of yourself anytime in November with the #NotAfraidOfMyBirthday hashtag to help us send a loud, united, and festive message to the greeting card industry that we want more positive-aging birthday cards. Speaking of which, if you need a fab card for an upcoming birthday, check out Better Birthdays.
Here’s my 50th birthday picture in Jamaica!
Guadalupe Hirt is a four-time entrepreneur, pro-aging advocate, and middlescence life strategist.
She pens the LinkedIn blog Dear Middlescent, a pro-aging stance on the beauty, truths, and opportunities of middlescence. She’s a Next Avenue Influencer in Aging honoree, Facebook Community Accelerator Alum, and Encore Network board member.