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Anti-ageist Birthday Card Project

In 2020, Changing the Narrative launched an anti-ageist birthday card campaign, calling for artists to design cards that countered the usual, depressing narrative about getting older. The resulting designs defy negative views and celebrate the joys of aging.

The campaign has been more successful than we hoped, with coverage in many popular podcasts and media outlets including The Denver Post and CNN. The Greeting Card Association also invited us to deliver the keynote address at the 2021 Noted Expo.

In January 2023, we released a new round of cards, each from a professional greeting card designer.


Why an anti-ageist birthday card campaign?

In response to our anti-ageist birthday cards, people said that we need more messages that are clever and fun without all the age-bashing about sagging body parts and increasing irrelevance. So, our focus for this campaign is on messages that make us smile or even laugh in celebration. 

Some background about ageism in greeting cards

If you follow our blog, you know that we share lots of stories of older people who are doing interesting things, giving back, taking care of others, starting businesses, working on the front lines, etc. These stories represent the diversity and reality of today’s older adults, who are living longer and play vital roles in society.

If you buy a birthday card for an older person, however, this is often not what you see. Instead, you’ll be inundated with negative stereotypes of older people as sleepy, crabby, and weak. You’ll see lots of ableism. According to these cards, we should feel bad about aging. 

We know that ageism is both prevalent and harmful. Studies show that ageism has negative effects on our health and financial security – even on how long we live. We even inflict these ideas on ourselves because we’ve internalized the ageism surrounding us.

Humor doesn’t have to be mean

Our 2020 cards showcased beautiful, warm themes that celebrated age. They resonate with many people, as we hoped they would. Many of us also love funny cards and cards that are silly or clever. People have defended the worst of the ageist cards as “just a joke” or a little humor just between the sender and receiver. But, we have a few thoughts about that:

  • We can only make acceptable jokes about ideas that we believe. Would you make a joke about someone’s race or disability? Absolutely not. We don’t believe older adults are irrelevant or ugly or useless, no joke about it.
  • We may joke about things just between us – and that’s our own business – but birthday cards are not just private messages. They are on store shelves and online everywhere, for prospective bosses, hiring managers and others to see. The messages that surround us, whether we believe in them or not, influence how we think.

There are plenty of cards out there that make fun of age. It’s time to start to balance the scales – and crowd out the negative messages in the market. 

We need alternatives—birthday cards that CELEBRATE age.

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