This Chair Rocks

People are happiest at the beginnings and the ends of their lives. The vast majority of Americans over 65 live independently. The older people get, the less afraid they are of dying. Aging is a natural, powerful, lifelong process. So how come so many of us unthinkingly assume that depression, diapers, and dementia lie ahead? That the 20th century’s astonishing leap in life expectancy is a disaster-in-the making? Underlying all the hand-wringing is ageism: discrimination that sidelines and silences older people. So I’ve written a book. I blog about it. I led the team that developed Old School, a clearinghouse of anti-ageism resources. I am the voice of Yo, Is This Ageist? (Go ahead, ask me.) I’ve written a consciousness-raising booklet. And I speak widely. All tools to help catalyze a movement to make discrimination on the basis of age as unacceptable as any other kind.

About the Book

Order it here.

From childhood on, we’re barraged by messages that it’s sad to be old. That wrinkles are embarrassing, and old people useless. Author and activist Ashton Applewhite believed them too—until she realized where this prejudice comes from and the damage it does. Lively, funny, and deeply researched, This Chair Rocks traces Applewhite’s journey from apprehensive boomer to pro-aging radical, and in the process debunks myth after myth about late life. The book explains the roots of ageism—in history and in our own age denial—and how it divides and debases, examines how ageist myths and stereotypes cripple the way our brains and bodies function, looks at ageism in the workplace and the bedroom, exposes the cost of the all-American myth of independence, critiques the portrayal of olders as burdens to society, describes what an all-age-friendly world would look like, and concludes with a rousing call to action. Whether you’re older or hoping to get there, this book will shake you by the shoulders, cheer you up, make you mad, and change the way you see the rest of your life. Age pride!

Wow. This book totally rocks. It arrived on a day when I was in deep confusion and sadness about my age—62. Everything about it, from my invisibility to my neck. Within four or five wise, passionate pages, I had found insight, illumination and inspiration. I never use the word empower, but this book has empowered me.

ANNE LAMOTT, New York Times best-selling author

Along comes Ashton Applewhite with a book we have been waiting for. Anti-ageism now boasts a popular champion, activist, and epigrammatist in the lineage of Martial and Dorothy Parker. Until This Chair Rocks we haven’t had a single compact book that blows up myths seven to a page like fireworks.

LOS ANGELES REVIEW OF BOOKS

Vibrant, energetic, fact-filled and funny, This Chair Rocks is a call to arms not just for older people but for our whole society.

KATHA POLLITT, poet, essayist, and Nation columnist

Sometimes a writer does us all a great favor and switches on a light. Snap! The darkness vanishes and, in its place we find an electric vision of new ways of living. I want to live in a world where ageism is just a memory, and This Chair Rocks illuminates the path.

DR. BILL THOMAS, founder of Changing Aging

This Chair Rocks is radical, exuberant, and full of all sorts of facts that erase many of the myths and beliefs about late life. As Applewhite defines and describes ageism, new ways of seeing and being in the world emerge, empowering everyone to see things as they really are.

LAURIE ANDERSON, artist

A knowledgeable, straight-talking, and witty book that briskly explains to anyone how-wrong-we-are-about-aging. There’s radical news here to enlighten the most “done” starlet, and
tart turns of phrase to captivate the most expert age critic: ‘All aging is “successful”—not just the sporty version—otherwise you’re dead.’ This pithy primer ought ideally to be given to every American adolescent—to inoculate them against the lies and stereotypes that can spoil the long life course they will all want.

Margaret Morganroth Gullette, author of Aged by Culture and the prize-winning Agewise and Declining to Decline

Ashton Applewhite is a visionary whose time has come, tackling one of the most persistent biases of our day with originality, verve, and humor. Her magic formula of naming and shaming may just shake all of us out of complacency and it into action. Whether you relate through being older now or recognize that aging is in your future, this is one of the most important books you’ll ever read.

Marc Freedman, CEO of Encore.org and author of The Big Shift: Navigating the New Life Stage Before Midlife

A smart and stirring call to add ageism to the list of ‘isms’ that divide us, and to mobilize against it. Applewhite shows how ageism distorts our view of old age, and urges us to challenge age- based prejudices in ourselves and in society. An important wake-up call for any baby boomer who’s apprehensive about growing old.

Pepper Schwartz, Professor of Sociology, University of Washington and AARP’s Official Love & Relationship Ambassador

This Chair Rocks is a
2016 Foreword INDIES Winner
in Adult Nonfiction!

Smart, sassy and oh so wise.

AARP

Finally, a take-down of the last acceptable prejudice. Applewhite eloquently and expertly exposes the structural discrimination that makes growing older so much harder than it should be—not just for the white, affluent, healthy, and able-bodied, but for women, people of color, people with disabilities, and poor people. Full of treasures, This Chair Rocks should be required reading for everyone in aging services, to help us confront ageism in our personal and professional lives and join forces against it. As Applewhite writes, ‘It’s time for Age Pride.’ 

Donna Corrado, Commissioner, NYC Department for the Aging

An eloquent and well-researched exposé of the prejudice that feeds age bias, and a passionate argument to mobilize against it. This must-read book is also a fun-read for every age.

Stephanie Coontz, author, The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap

To live agefully – what a wonderful word! With warmth, wit and clarity, Ashton Applewhite explains what it means, while never falling into age-denial or age-shame. This is a book packed with provocative and liberating ideas, to make you leap into the air with pleasure – even if your knees, like mine, are a little dodgy.

Anne Karpf, author of How to Age


Blog

Readers are encouraged to distribute, remix, and tweak this material! Please credit This Chair Rocks/
Ashton Applewhite

Screw you Ashton Applewhite: How I Learned to Stop Looking Good “For My Age”

This guest post is by Danielle Hughes, who runs a branding, marketing, and copywriting agency for businesses and solopreneurs that counts many major American corporations as its clients. She earned her BFA in Advertising and Graphic Communication from Washington University in St. Louis, but realized she was a much better writer than a designer. Danielle lives in Forest Hills, NY, with her 13-year old son. This post first appeared on the Amazing Community blog.

I’m not a vain person. Yes, I take care of myself and I like to look good, but I’m pretty low maintenance as a “typical” (stereotypical) woman. I go out most days with unwashed hair and no makeup. I can often be seen donning one of many baseball caps. My go-to outfit is workout clothes or joggers and sneakers. That said, I do like to wear makeup. I do get dressed up and I can accessorize like no one’s business.

As someone who once weighed 235 lbs, I’ve had a long struggle with acceptance and appearance. Now, much fitter (I’m a 5-year CrossFitter), weight isn’t much of an issue for me, but at 46 years old, other things are. Grey hair. Wrinkles. Loose skin. Sun spots. I’m fairly “young at heart,” again another stereotype, but compared to most other women, or men, at my age, I’m pretty fit and healthy. And this is where the issue rears its ugly head — "compared to."

At Amazing Community's Inclusion by Design conference  on October 24, the dynamicanti-ageism activist Ashton Applewhite gave a talk entitled, “Aging While Female.”And frankly I hate her now. Ok, not really, but I have always prided myself on the above. On these comparisons. I loved telling people my age and have their jaw drop. I thrived knowing that I was not your typical 46-year old, whatever that means. And Ashton has taken that away from me…but with good reason.

Because her impassioned keynote demonstrated to me, that by boosting myself up, I had to also be tearing others down. That this myth of beauty and youthfulness was perpetuated by society and mostly, let’s be honest, by white men, to keep women fearful. To keep women in line and desperate for attention and validation. Because if you are so focused on looking good, you can’t possibly notice that opportunities are being denied to you, that you are being held back and that you and other minority groups are being persecuted.

Heavy stuff, but it was like a gut-punch. The glory hound in me wanted to say “screw you, Ashton,” let me have my youthful looks and energetic spirit. Let me revel in being told I look 35. Let me gloat in how good I look for my age. But that’s just it. What do people my age look like? They look like, well, whatever they look like. There’s no barometer or benchmark. You can’t look good or bad for your age, because you are simply you. That is how you look.

It’s not a competition, though society certainly wants us to think it is. Without competition, the beauty industry wouldn’t be a $445 billion industry that preys on insecurity. All that money spent to look good, to look young to preserve youth. And, for what? Would we do this if we weren’t told to from a young age? If we grew up without media, would we be buying countless creams, lotions and products to keep our skin supple and wrinkle-free? Would the idea of dying our hair even cross our minds? Would the idea of injecting a disease into our face to smooth out lines?!

I’m not saying you shouldn’t want to look good. I still plan to work out (for my health and my physical ability as I age), wear makeup and color my hair, but we need to redefine what “looking good” means. And more importantly, we need to be ok with the fact that what one person does, shouldn’t affect what another does and there is no wrong or right way to age. No judgment. If you want to color your hair, great. If you don’t, great. So long as you are doing it for you, and not for validation and not because society makes you think you have to. We, as women, need to stop defining ourselves by our appearance. We are so much more than that. We are smart and industrious and talented and creative and passionate and strong and just simply amazing.

As we recognize this and support each other more, while belittling each other less, we can even the playing field and recognize the true beauty in every woman at every age.

great graphics for our campaign to transform "Dress Like a 100-Year-Old Day"

The 100th day of school used to be an opportunity to teach kindergarteners about the number 100. Somehow it morphed into kids dressing up like imaginary centenarians with mini-walkers and tiny canes—an event that reinforces ageist stereotypes. We'd like to turn it into one that educates little kids about late life, and nips ageism in the bud.  Whether you're a parent, grandparent, teacher, or advocate, this post explains how to join the movement against ageism's first nationwide direction action.

You'll find some great suggestions in the comments on this Changing Aging post. Feel free to use and disseminate this image, the work of artist Celeste Fichter. (For a high-res version, contact her at thischairrocksassistant@gmail.com.) And here's a link to a GIF that shows a jar of pennies filling up--great for sharing on social media.

There’s more

Other Writing by
Ashton Applewhite

A Stigma Rooted in Denial: On Ageism and “Aging Thoughtfully”

A Stigma Rooted in Denial: On Ageism and “Aging Thoughtfully”

November 2, 2017

Link here.

Working to Disarm Women’s Anti-Aging Demon

Working to Disarm Women’s Anti-Aging Demon

October 12, 2017

Article in the New York Times

I Hope I Get Old Before I Die

I Hope I Get Old Before I Die

July 13, 2017

Article in Neo.life

Cutting Loose: Why Women Who End Their Marriages Do So Well

Cutting Loose: Why Women Who End Their Marriages Do So Well

June 15, 2017

Book published by HarperCollins, 1997. Reissued in 2017 with new preface by the author.

You’re How Old? We’ll Be in Touch

You’re How Old? We’ll Be in Touch

September 3, 2016

Article in the New York Times

There’s more

Yo, Is This Ageist?

(Go ahead, ask me.)

There’s more

Appearances

My We Are All Aging talk explains the roots of ageism – in society and in our own age denial – how it divides and diminishes us, and ends with a rousing call to mobilize against it. This Chair Rocks: How Ageism Warps Our View of Long Life charts my journey from apprehensive boomer to pro-aging radical and proposes an alternative to all the hand-wringing: wake up, cheer up, and push back. Aging While Female, Reimagined describes how the double whammy of ageism and sexism makes aging different for women, and what we can do about it. I also speak about the medicalization of old age, ageism and elder abuse, and how to reframe the new longevity in order to make the most of longer lives. To book me for your event, please contact the Lavin Agency.

What People Are Saying:

I was encouraged by the statistics you quoted, forced to acknowledge my own ageist thoughts, and ultimately fired up to fight them in myself and others. You are on to something big!

Sarah Meredith, painter

Why can’t we stop ageism? Good question. For some answers, start looking in the mirror and look around you. For a good dialogue on the subject, visit Ashton Applewhite’s website, This Chair Rocks.

Harry R. Moody, Director of Academic Affairs, AARP

Consciousness-raising at its sharpest and most useful.

David Watts Barton, journalist and playwright

This Chair Rocks confirms our knowledge that emotional well being is abundant in later life, challenges us to face our own internalized ageism, and inspires us to envision a future in which our society is released from age-related prejudice and discrimination. And it’s fun, too!

Geriatric Mental Health Alliance of New York

Holistic, deep, urgent, and also fun.

Lenelle Moise, playwright and performer

All practitioners working with older adults need to be informed about the pernicious influences of ageism. Nobody does this better than Ashton Applewhite. Her thinking is deep, her passion infectious, and her cogent message is spot on: we urgently need to have a national conversation about ageism to raise awareness about it and to stop it.

Risa Breckman, LCSW, Executive Director, NYC Elder Abuse Center

You have found a fantastic mission: raising consciousness that older is far better than the stereotype that enslaves us all.

Jennifer Siebens, producer, CBS News

Ashton Applewhite’s plenary address at the 2013 New York State Adult Abuse Training Institute was compelling and original, and really resonated with our 400 participants. She is an articulate and committed voice for an important cause: challenging the demoralizing shadow that ageism casts across society.

Jean Callahan, Director, Brookdale Center for Healthy Aging

Octogenarians are the fastest-growing segment of our population, yet most Americans are scared stiff at the prospect of growing old. [Applewhite’s work] is a welcome and important tonic.

Dr. Robert Butler, founding director of the National Institute on Aging, coiner of the term “ageism”

We need an anti-ageist movement, for sure. Ashton is already in it.

Margaret Morganroth Gullette, author of Agewise and Aged by Culture

A beautifully delivered, provocative description of how ageism clouds our vision of what life holds in store.

Sabrina Hamilton, director, Ko Festival for the Arts

Ashton Applewhite is on a crusade. A journalist and author, her mission is to raise awareness of ageism in America and get people young and old to join her in speaking out against it.

Senior Planet

Thank you again for your terrific keynote yesterday. I heard from so many attendees that it affected them deeply. You are wise, funny, and provocative – a great combination!

Teresa Bonner, Program Director, Aroha Philanthropies

Upcoming Appearances

Presentation at i3: ideas that inform & inspire

Where: San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

When: January 7, 2019 05:00 pm

More info: Details here

Interactive discussion with John Leland, author of Happiness is a Choice You Make

Where: Lenox Hill Neighborhood House, 331 E70th St., NYC

When: February 9, 2019 02:00 pm

More info: Free and open to the public with RSVP; link to come

keynote at Avenidas Grand Reopening Gala

Where: 450 Bryant St. Palo Alto, CA

When: February 23, 2019 12:00 am

More info: Details here

keynote, We Are All Aging: Taking Action to End Ageism at Ecumen conference

Where: St. Cloud River’s Edge Convention Center, St. Cloud, MN

When: May 7, 2019 12:00 am

More info: Details here

keynote, Seasons Retirement 2019 Conference

Where: Whistler, British Columbia

When: November 26, 2019 12:00 am

More info: Details here

 

Past Appearances

Media

Bossed Up podcast “When Ageism and Sexism Combine”

Bossed Up podcast “When Ageism and Sexism Combine”

December 11, 2018

Link here.

interview in German magazine Perspective Daily, “Even if capitalism wants to make us believe something else – we have every reason to look forward to being old.”

interview in German magazine Perspective Daily, “Even if capitalism wants to make us believe something else – we have every reason to look forward to being old.”

November 8, 2018

Link here.

The Big Middle podcast

The Big Middle podcast

November 8, 2018

Link here.

Loving Without Boundaries podcast

Loving Without Boundaries podcast

November 2, 2018

Link here.

article on ageism in publishing in Stria News

article on ageism in publishing in Stria News

October 15, 2018

Link here.

There’s more

Resources



You’ll find many more resources on Old School, a clearinghouse of free and carefully vetted blogs, books, articles, videos, speakers, and other tools (workshops, handouts, curricula etc.) to educate people about ageism and help dismantle it.

Video

Keynote address at the United Nations
6 October 2016

Talk at Future Trends Forum in Madrid
1 December 2017

Talk at the Library of Congress
25 October 2016

On Vimeo

What Is Ageism?

Ageism is stereotyping and discrimination on the basis of a person’s age. We experience it any time someone assumes that we’re “too old” for something—a task, a haircut, a relationship—instead of finding out who we are and what we’re capable of. Or “too young;” ageism cuts both ways, although in a youth-obsessed society olders bear the brunt of it.

Like racism and sexism, ageism serves a social and economic purpose: to legitimize and sustain inequalities between groups. It’s not about how we look. It’s about how people in power assign meaning to how we look.

Stereotyping—the assumption that all members of a group are the same—underlies ageism (as it does all “isms”). Stereotyping is always a mistake, but especially when it comes to age, because the older we get, the more different from one another we become.

Attitudes about age—as well as race and gender—start to form in early childhood. Over a lifetime they harden into a set of truths: “just the way it is.” Unless we challenge ageist stereotypes—Old people are incompetent. Wrinkles are ugly. It’s sad to be old—we feel shame and embarrassment instead of taking pride in the accomplishment of aging. That’s internalized ageism.

By blinding us to the benefits of aging and heightening our fears, ageism makes growing older far harder than it has to be. It damages our sense of self, segregates us, diminishes our prospects, and actually shortens lives.

What are the antidotes?

  •    Awareness: the critical starting point is to acknowledge our own prejudices about age and aging. (Download a copy of Who me, Ageist? How to Start a Consciousness Raising Group.) Then we can start to see that “personal problems”—such as not being able to get a job or being belittled or feeling patronized—are actually widely shared social problems that require collective action.
  •    Integration: connect with people of all ages. An equitable society for all ages requires intergenerational collaboration.
  •    Activism: watch for ageist behaviors and attitudes in and around us, challenge them, and create language and models that support every stage of life.

Bio

I didn’t set out to become a writer. I went into publishing because I loved to read and didn’t have any better ideas. I had a weakness for the kind of jokes that make you cringe and guffaw at the same time, my boss kept telling me to write them down, and the collection turned into the best-selling paperback of 1982. I was a clue on “Jeopardy” (“Who is the author of Truly Tasteless Jokes?” Answer: “Blanche Knott.”), and as Blanche made publishing history by occupying four of the fifteen spots on the New York Times bestseller list.

My first serious book, Cutting Loose: Why Women Who End Their Marriages Do So Well, was published by HarperCollins in 1997. Ms. magazine called it “rocket fuel for launching new lives,” and it landed me on Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum enemies list. It also got me invited to join the board of the nascent Council on Contemporary Families, a group of distinguished family scholars. I belonged to the Artist’s Network of Refuse & Resist group that originated the anti-Iraq-invasion slogan and performance pieces titled “Our Grief is Not a Cry for War.” As a contributing editor of IEEE Spectrum magazine, I went to Laos to cover a village getting internet access via a bicycle-powered computer. Since 2000 I’ve been on staff at the American Museum of Natural History, where I write about everything under the Sun.

The catalyst for Cutting Loose was puzzlement: why was our notion of women’s lives after divorce (visualize depressed dame on barstool) so different from the happy and energized reality? A similar question gave rise to This Chair Rocks: why is our view of late life so unrelievedly grim when the lived reality is so different? I began blogging about aging and ageism in 2007 and started speaking on the subject in July, 2012, which is also when I started the Yo, Is This Ageist? blog. During that time I’ve been recognized by the New York Times, National Public Radio, the New Yorker, and the American Society on Aging as an expert on ageism and named as a Fellow by the Knight Foundation, the New York Times, Yale Law School, and the Royal Society for the Arts; I’ve written for Harper’s, Playboy, and the New York Times, and I speak widely, at venues that have ranged from universities and community centers to the Library of Congress and the United Nations. In 2017 I received a standing ovation for my talk at TED 2017, their mainstage event in Vancouver.

My book, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, was self-published in March, 2016 and will be published on the inaugural list of Celadon Books, a new division of Macmillan, Inc. in March, 2019.

 

HONORS & RECOGNITION

  • Member of the 2018 Yerba Buena Center for the Arts 100
  • 2018 Game Changer Award, Lifetime Arts
  • Fifth Annual Forbes list of Forty Women to Watch over 40 (2017)
  • PBS site Next Avenue’s annual list of 50 Influencers in Aging — Influencer of the Year (2016)
  • Salt magazine’s list of The World’s 100 Most Inspiring Women (2015)
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