Many people assume that only older people are affected by age discrimination. It’s true that in a youth-obsessed society like the United States, most prejudice flows in that direction. That’s why people spend millions on “anti-aging” potions and treatments. They’re desperate be on the “right” side of a young/old divide — between young and no-longer-young, really — even though that divide does not exist. Even though it means thinking of two thirds of life as decline, which is absurd. That’s why so many Americans think that aging well means looking and acting like younger people.
But no one escapes age-based prejudices and stereotypes. Think about how early they kick in, especially for women. It’s easy to find birthday cards that “joke” about being over-the-hill — at 30. When she turned 25, a friend of mine was told, “That’s your last good birthday.” Seriously?
There’s plenty of prejudice against young people too. Ageism, which means treating people differently because of how old you think they are, cuts both ways. That’s what’s going on when you hear “Kids are like that” or “Millennials are spoiled.” All generalizations on the basis of age are wrong. They’re wrong-headed too, because pitting the generations against each other distracts from the real issue: discrimination based on appearance.
Ageism affects everyone. Age is a spectrum; we’re all older than some people and younger than others. And except for the unlucky, everyone is going to grow old.