This Chair Rocks

Aging isn’t a problem to be solved. Or a disease to be cured. Or something icky that old people do. It’s how we move through life, and more of us are doing more of it than ever before in human history. What stands between us and making the most of these longer lives? Ageism: judging, stereotyping, and discriminating against people on the basis of how old we think they are. Solve for ageism and we also address sexism (aging is gendered), ableism (disability is stigmatized), and racism (which denies multitudes the chance to age at all). 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 speak widely. All efforts to help catalyze a grassroots movement to raise awareness of ageism and how to dismantle it.

About the Book

Buy the book

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

 

“Ashton Applewhite is the Malcolm Gladwell of ageism.”
-JAMES BECKFORD SAUNDERS, CEO, Australian Association of Gerontology

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 Winnerin 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

When author, activist, and presenter Ashton Applewhite entered the scene with the book “This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism” in 2016, things began to change. The book crystallized decades of careful research on causes, effects, and ways to prevent ageism for a much wider audience, acting as a catalyst to raise the consciousness of people around the world on what ageism is and what we can do to dismantle it.

The Decade of Healthy Aging (a UN + WHO collaboration)


Blog

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

“Too old to be president,” Take Umpteen

Wondering how to respond when people equate a political candidate's age with their fitness for office? You’ll find plenty of answers in “Biden is now America's first octogenarian president. Here's what that means,” which appeared in Salon today. The writer reached out to experts like physician Louise Aronson and demographer Jay Olshansky, who warned against ageism. I called out ableism: "It's appalling to mock Biden for a stutter he has worked to overcome his entire life. And it's disgusting to make fun of him for falling off a bike. It's commendable that he rides a bike and stays physically fit."

Ageism and ableism rear their ugly heads every electoral cycle. The lead-up to the 2022 mid-term elections featured an outbreak of major media stories that blamed “gerontocracy” for our broken democratic system. The “Take Umpteen” in the title of this post refers to “Here we go again with ‘too old to be president,” written when “old guy” Bernie Sanders was on the campaign trail. I said it then, I said it to Salon, and I’ll say it again:

Generalizations about the capacities of older people are no more acceptable than racial or gender stereotypes. Period.

The country’s first octogenarian president is considering running against someone only slightly younger. It’s bringing the haters out. To challenge their ageism and ableism, we need expert evidence. I’m grateful to Salon article for marshalling so much of it for today’s article. “Does age matter?” from the International Council on Active Aging is another good resource. So is this blog.

No matter what candidate is under scrutiny, the issue is a political system that prioritizes corporate interests—not the age of the wealthy men who benefit most. The issue is a culture that stigmatizes disability (see this post about Senator Diane Feinstein)—not the age at which we encounter it. The issue is capacity—not age.

Do it like Nashua!

Holly Klump, Assistant Librarian at the Nashua, NH, Public Library, put together a nifty event last week. Most of the 42 attendees were from RISE (Rivier Institute of Senior Education), an educational program run by a local university, as was the facilitator who led a discussion after the group watched my TED talk. Holly loved the audience reaction: “laughter/stunned silence/murmurs of agreement, etc.” Next the group watched a couple of my short Yo Is this Ageist? video clips. By the time I showed up—virtually—45 minutes into the program, the group had prepared some tough questions for me.  Heidi had also made sure the library and university had copies of my book.

“We heard lots of great feedback about the program,” Holly reported back, “and hopefully it will create more discussion and action. You certainly gave me lots to think about as well, especially how to address everyday ageism that I hear all around me. I also really appreciate and respect that you don’t shy away from talking about the other ‘isms.’”

Thinking of putting together an event about ageism that’s free and open to the public?  I work hard to make my ideas available via my This Chair Rocks blog (which is searchable by topic), my Yo, Is This Ageist? blog, videos, and extensive interviews—all available via my website. You can find hundreds more free resources of all types in the Old School Anti-Ageism Clearinghouse.

If you do your part—gather a decent-sized audience and ask them to engage in advance with some of these ideas—I’ll do mine: show up for a virtual Q&A. I’ll also ask for an honorarium payable to Old School, which is a nonprofit, and if you can’t manage one, I’ll show up for free.

 “Ravages of age,” really? That phrase has got to go.

This week’s New York Times Magazine opened with an essay by Elizabeth Nelson about whether we’re missing out on when elite athletes—Roger Federer and Serena Williams in this case—retire from their sports.     

Photo illustration by Mark Weaver

This sentence in the first paragraph made me groan:  "The ravages of age, culminating with a recent knee surgery, finally persuaded [Federer] to retire.”

This sentence in the second paragraph—“Sportswriters are required to use phrases like ‘ravages of age’ when discussing an athlete in decline”—made me howl. The hell they are! It’s a lazy habit journalists need to break. It’s also bigoted and misleading.

The following sentence did nothing to calm me down: “Truth be told, it’s a bit of a reach when describing Federer’s goodbye. Trim and suave . . . he scarcely gave the appearance of a man facing down senescence—just a man acknowledging the fact he can’t go five sets deep with Novak Djokovic.” Indeed.

Humans lose speed and strength as we move into midlife. This loss is more acute for athletes, whose careers are built on physical capacity. Federer is making this transition with grace and skill, not “facing down senescence.”

We age well by adapting to the way our bodies change over time, not by pretending it'll never happen to us or by experiencing these changes as betrayal. It’s ageist and ableist to describe them as “ravaging.” Synonyms for “ravaged” include "destroyed,“ “devastated,” and “ruined.” Federer likely has decades of active, meaningful life ahead of him, not to mention countless lucrative opportunities.

Disease ravages. Grief ravages. Fear ravages. These experiences are part of being human, from childhood on. To blame them on aging is to blame them on living.

Language matters. Journalists need to stop relying on offensive, misleading phrases like “ravages of age,” and we need to keep calling them out until they do.

There’s more

Other Writing by
Ashton Applewhite

Let’s Climb Out of The Generation Trap

Let’s Climb Out of The Generation Trap

June 29, 2021

Link here.

Reflections on the Plague Year From an Anti-Ageism Activist

Reflections on the Plague Year From an Anti-Ageism Activist

March 15, 2021

Link here.

Defeating the Pandemic Means Confronting Ageism and Ableism

Defeating the Pandemic Means Confronting Ageism and Ableism

March 26, 2020

Link here.

Beating age discrimination

Beating age discrimination

May 1, 2019

Article in The Big Issue

An Essay by Ashton Applewhite

An Essay by Ashton Applewhite

March 14, 2019

Article on Books Inc.

There’s more

Yo, Is This Ageist?

(Go ahead, ask me.)

There’s more

Appearances

My We Are All Aging-Let’s End Ageism talk describes the roots of ageism in society and in our own age denial, how age bias divides and diminishes us, and how to mobilize against it. Age Against the Machine-Ending Ageism in the Workplace explores the false narratives that pit workers at both ends of the spectrum against each other, the costs to both organizations and employees, and how to detect and prevent it. strong>Still Kicking-Confronting Ageism and Ableism in the Pandemic’s Wake looks at how much apprehension about growing older is actually about how our minds and bodies may change (that’s ableism, not ageism), why we have to understand what we’re up against, and how to dismantle these intertwined biases. Aging While Female, Reimagined urges women of all ages to look more generously at each other, and ourselves, and mobilize against the double whammy of ageism and sexism. The Ugly Dance explores how ageism and ableism sanction elder abuse, the “ugly dance” of ageism and ableism, which stand between everyone – especially the most vulnerable among us – and the safe and comfortable old age we all deserve.

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

Ashton Applewhite shows us that a world for all ages is indeed possible if we recognise the potential within each of us, speak truth to power, and stand together as one.

UN Decade of Healthy Ageing

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

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

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”

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

"Fireside chat" with Noom Employee Resource Group

Where: virtual

When: December 9, 2022 02:00 pm

More info:

webinar for Lifespan + NYS E-MDT (Enhanced Multidisciplinary Team Initiative)

Where: virtual

When: January 18, 2023 10:00 am

More info: I'll be discussing how ageism and ableism enable elder abuse.

speaker, RiverWoods Exeter

Where: virtual

When: January 24, 2023 01:00 pm

More info: Register here.

wrap-up keynote, Women Over 50: Making the Rest of Your Life the Best of Your Life!

Where: virtual

When: February 8, 2023 12:00 am

More info: I'll be speaking about "Aging While Female." More info here.

ASA Aging in America Conference 2023

Where: Atlanta Hyatt Regency, Atlanta, Georgia

When: March 27, 2023 12:00 am

More info:

ASA Expert Panel and Book Signing with Tracey Gendron.  Details to come.

keynote, The Forum on Workplace Inclusion

Where: 2211 Riverside Ave, CB 54 Minneapolis, MN

When: March 29, 2023 12:00 am

More info:

 

Past Appearances

Media

Pushing Limits, a weekly program by and about people with disabilities on KPFA

Pushing Limits, a weekly program by and about people with disabilities on KPFA

November 25, 2022

Link here.

article, La Repubblica

article, La Repubblica

November 23, 2022

Link here.

podcast, NPR TED Radio

podcast, NPR TED Radio

November 18, 2022

Link here.

interview, NewsNation with Ashleigh Banfield

interview, NewsNation with Ashleigh Banfield

November 17, 2022

Link here.

interview, CBS News Sunday Morning

interview, CBS News Sunday Morning

November 13, 2022

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

On YouTube

 

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

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. I regret having written the books, but I wrote them.

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. I was on staff at the American Museum of Natural History for 17 years, where I wrote about everything under the Sun, quitting in 2017 to become a full-time activist.

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 this 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, the Guardian, 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. I’ve received numerous awards for my work. The most head-spinning was being named one of “fifty leaders working to transform the world to be a better place to grow older” by the UN’s Decade of Healthy Aging platform (a collaboration between the WHO) in 2022.

The UN credits my book, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, with “acting as a catalyst to raise the consciousness of people around the world on what ageism is and what we can do to dismantle it.” I self-published the manifesto in 2016 because no mainstream publisher recognized the importance of the issue. I subsequently sold the right to Celadon Books, a new division of Macmillan, Inc., which published the book on their inaugural list in 2019.

I co-founded the Old School Anti-Ageism Clearinghouse. which launched in 2018. We curate, create, and commission free resources to educate people about ageism and how to end it, host meet-ups; and collaborate with other pro-aging organizations around the world. Our goal is to help create a world where everyone has the opportunity to live long and to live well.

 

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