Why there’s nothing funny about aging greeting cards – Daily News
This week’s column continues our conversation on ageism, noting that where you live matters. Of all the states in the United States, Colorado ranked at the bottom of what’s called implicit age bias, which means its residents scored low on prejudice against older people.
Ageism has been addressed through educational programs, toolkits, research projects, conferences, media events and books. Author and activist Ashton Applewhite is a good example with her book “This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism”. We need all of these approaches to raise awareness and fight ageism, because it is subtle and pervasive.
Birthday cards are one area where ageism is relevant. The tone of children’s birthday cards is optimistic. We celebrate birthdays in our younger years. At some point, the narrative changes, sometimes as early as 30 years.
Age-stereotypical birthday cards often”exaggerating the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease, emphasizing dramatic age-related physical changes, portraying older people as unattractive and grumpy, and suggesting that they lack or have sexual interest inappropriate,” writes Sheri Levy in “Psychology Today.” There is a refusal of such images and messages: birthday cards that celebrate aging.
In 2018, Janine Vanderburg, who defines herself as a community activist, launched the initiative “Changing the Narrative Colorado”, a strategic communications and awareness campaign designed to increase understanding of ageism and change the way Coloradans think about aging. The organization trains advocates, policy makers and other influencers of all ages in the use of cutting-edge, evidence-based communication tools and messages developed by FrameWorks Institute and adapted for Colorado public. “Our goal is to educate, activate and advocate,” Vanderburg said. She adds, “To do this, we complete workshops that reframe aging, end ageism and the business case for older workers, highlighting the negative effects of ageism to show people concrete things that we can do in our own lives to fight against ageism.
Enter the story of the greeting card. We know that ageism is acceptable and embedded in our culture. Birthday cards seem to affirm this acceptability and Vanderburg wanted to do something about it.
She commissioned 22 artists ages 16 to 82 from across Colorado to design cards that celebrated aging instead of denigrating it. More than 60 artists applied. They were selected based on the types of artwork submitted as well as their responses to the entry which asked for their opinions and experiences on aging and ageism.
So what constitutes ageist messages? Here are some examples.
- “Don’t worry about getting old, just roll with the ‘guts.’ “
- “You know you’re getting old when it takes twice as long to look half as good.”
- “Your secrets are safe with your friends because they can’t remember them either.”
- “You know you’re getting older when your back sticks out more than you do.”
Here are some positives that are usually less numerous.
- “Girlfriend – when we’re older we’ll be SOB’s – spectacular older girls.
- You are “a truly special person…may your birthday be as wonderful as you are.”
- “100 years and you are simply a wonderful woman, a loyal friend, a generous spirit, a charming soul, a loyal confidante…and a fun personality.”
We see birthday cards for those whose birthdays end in zeros, like the 90s, 80s, and 70s. That leaves out a lot of older birthdays.
Here are some examples of winning messages from the Changing the Narrative birthday card project.
- “Celebrate your seasons. Happy birthday to you majestic, wise and venerable.
- “Walking in the garden of life brings wisdom. Happy birthday wisely.
- “How lucky we are to celebrate another year. Happy Birthday!”
- “She woke up, put on her birthday hat and said, ‘this takes champagne and shenanigans! Great plan girlfriend, count on me.
The goal is not to sell cards, but rather to start conversations about ageism. Proceeds are used to hire artists to produce original designs and to support people’s education about ageism and workplace discrimination against older workers. You can see the beautiful graphics as well as shopping cards at https://changingthenarrativeco.org/anti-ageist-birthday-cards/
I asked Vanderburg about ageist maps as a vehicle for humor, allowing us to laugh at ourselves while being careful not to take ourselves too seriously. His response: “My message is clear; do not send outdated birthday cards.
Ageism continues to receive heightened attention during the pandemic, as it is linked to higher susceptibility, vaccine priorities, and triage decisions when resources are scarce.
So dear readers, get vaccinated, stay safe, and carry on with CDC guidelines. We will get there!
Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on aging, employment, and new retirement issues with academic, corporate, and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Helendenn@gmail.com. Visit Helen at HelenMdennis.com and follow her at facebook.com/SuccessfulagingCommunity