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, lifelong, powerful 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 have a Q & A blog called 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

Buy 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

Hope I Get Old Before I Die

Who remembers the Who song "Hope I Die Before I Get Old?" Brian Bergstein does, and came up with that witty title for the piece he commissioned for Neo.life, a new publication aimed at "making sense of the neobiological revolution": how emerging technologies like mapping the brain, gene editing, and decoding the microbiome are changing medicine, society, and maybe even what it means to be human. Life extension is a big piece of this new landscape, and it's typically framed in anti-aging terms. Here's my take on why longevity science should embrace aging instead.

An excerpt: "Perhaps, not too long from now, we’ll be able to make the body of an octogenarian function as well as of that of a 30-year-old. That’ll be fantastic, especially if the advances become accessible to all. But 85 won’t be the new 30. It’ll be the new 85. And even the fittest octogenarians will be second-class citizens until we challenge the last socially sanctioned prejudice. Making the most of the new longevity means ending ageism."

We’re all in this together—olders and youngers alike.

Today I joined the ten thousand baby boomers who turn 65 every day. Unlike far too many of them, I’m happy about it, partly because now I qualify for Medicare so I can quit my day job and become a full-time activist. That ought to be cause for some kind of celebration, but I’m too disgusted by the proposed evisceration of the Affordable Care Act.

Much of the media coverage focuses on the fact that people on Medicaid would be the largest group to lose health insurance coverage. That group is disproportionately made up of olders with lower incomes and people with disabilities, who receive nearly two thirds of Medicaid spending. Medicaid pays for most of the 1.4 million people in nursing homes, many of whom entered old age solidly middle class, and ended up on Medicaid after exhausting their savings. That probably won’t happen to me, but only Medicaid covers services like home care that allow many olders to remain in their communities. And I’ll definitely need Medicare, which is also under threat.

This evil bill would really hit in ten years, by which time the rest of the baby boom will have rounded 65—and when the old vs. young rhetoric would really heat up. We can’t let that happen. Make no mistake: this legislation wouldn’t just harm the old, the poor, and the disabled. It is an attack on everyone anyone who might get old, might fall ill, might start a family—or who loves someone who might. It would shred the social fabric that supports all but those who can afford their own private safety nets. We’re all in this together.

 

If aging is so awful, how come no one wants to be younger?

You hear people say, “I wish I were young again,” all the time. Yet I’ve never met anyone who would actually choose to move their game piece back on the board unless they could transport their present-day consciousness along with it. No one actually wants to be younger, despite a lifetime of being bombarded by messages that old = awful and it’s all going to suck. Even the most frightened and unenlightened know otherwise: that despite the inevitable loss of cartilage and comrades, aging is different—and way better—than the way it’s portrayed in the culture. That is powerful fodder for a movement to end ageism.

Imagine less fear: have the things you dreaded come to pass? Imagine more awareness: understanding that appeals to look or act “younger” are bigotry. Imagine learning these things earlier in life, so the generations that follow are liberated from needless dread. Imagine coming together at all ages to make it happen.

There’s more

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, 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. My book, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, was published in March, 2016. Later that year, I joined the PBS site Next Avenue’s annual list of 50 Influencers in Aging as their Influencer of the Year.  In 2017 I was invited to speak at TED2017, the mainstage event in Vancouver—a perfect fit with the theme, The Future You.

Yo, Is This Ageist?

(Go ahead, ask me.)

There’s more.

Appearances

Part monologue and part consciousness-raiser, This Chair Rocks: How Ageism Warps Our View of Long Life is a 40-minute talk that uses stories and statistics to dispel myth after myth about late life. It’s fierce and funny, and it changes the way people envision their futures. Let’s Rock This Chair: Say No to Ageism is a shorter and more activism-oriented talk that shows how ageism makes aging in America so much harder than it has to be. I also speak about the medicalization of old age, ageism and elder abuse, and the effects of ageism on women’s 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

keynote, Pioneer Network Annual Conference

Where:

When: August 2, 2017 12:00 pm

More info: Hyatt Regency Hotel, O'Hare Airport, Chicago, IL. Register here.

Organized Acts of Kindness - OAKS event

Where: Colonial Theatre, Bethlehem, NH

When: August 18, 2017 06:00 pm

More info:

Monadnock Summer Lyceum

Where: Peterborough Unitarian Universalist Church, Peterborough, NH

When: August 20, 2017 11:00 am

More info: Monadnock Summer Lyceum "presents world class speakers on social, political, educational, cultural, scientific, economic, environmental and artistic topics." Presentations are free ~ donations accepted. Wheelchair accessible. Parking is available next to the church courtesy of People's United Bank. Reception following the presentations in the Parish Hall.

plenary, Florida Council on Aging Annual Conference

Where: Caribe Royale Hotel, 8101 World Center Drive, Orlando, FL

When: August 28, 2017 12:30 pm

More info: Register here.

keynote, National Investment Center fall conference

Where: Loews Hotel, 455 North Park Drive, Chicago, IL

When: September 26, 2017 11:15 am

More info:

Global Meeting of the Women’s Forum for Economy and Society

Where: the Louvre, Paris, France

When: October 6, 2017 02:15 pm

More info: Link here.

Ithaca College Gerontology Institute’s Distinguished Speaker lecture

Where: Ithaca, New York.

When: October 23, 2017 07:00 pm

More info:

VII Futures Congress

Where: Santiago, Chile

When: January 15, 2018 12:00 am

More info:

"A global flagship science engagement event;" link here

Past Appearances

Media

Interview in Hello Gorgeous, a Dutch magazine about people living with HIV

Interview in Hello Gorgeous, a Dutch magazine about people living with HIV

May 29, 2017

Link here (page 42-45).

Interview on The Solution podcast

Interview on The Solution podcast

May 24, 2017

Link here.

“Claim Your Age”: Ashton Applewhite Gets Fired Up About Aging & The Workplace

“Claim Your Age”: Ashton Applewhite Gets Fired Up About Aging & The Workplace

May 17, 2017

Link here. (Appeared in the Glassdoor blog)

Interview with Margaret Manning for Sixty and Me, Part 3

Interview with Margaret Manning for Sixty and Me, Part 3

May 9, 2017

Link here.

Interview with Margaret Manning for Sixty and Me, Part 2

Interview with Margaret Manning for Sixty and Me, Part 2

May 9, 2017

Link here.

Interview with Margaret Manning for Sixty and Me, Part 1

Interview with Margaret Manning for Sixty and Me, Part 1

May 9, 2017

Link here.

Ashton Applewhite—3rd Act: Saying “No” to Ageism, Vital Presence podcast

Ashton Applewhite—3rd Act: Saying “No” to Ageism, Vital Presence podcast

April 5, 2017

Link here.

Chronologically Gifted: Ashton Applewhite on How Aging Is Different for Women, Part 2

Chronologically Gifted: Ashton Applewhite on How Aging Is Different for Women, Part 2

March 24, 2017

Link here.

Chronologically Gifted: Ashton Applewhite on How Aging Is Different for Women, Part 1

Chronologically Gifted: Ashton Applewhite on How Aging Is Different for Women, Part 1

March 16, 2017

Link here.

Ashton Applewhite Deconstructs Assumptions on Aging — BRIC

Ashton Applewhite Deconstructs Assumptions on Aging — BRIC

February 17, 2017

Link here.

There’s more

Resources

Tools

 

HelpAge makes two worksheets available:

 

LeadingAge offers a guide to starting a community dialogue about ageism and a short slideshow to raise awareness:

 

I Need You, You Need Me: The Young, The Old, and What We Can Achieve Together: a guide to reuniting the generations, with examples of intergenerational programs and initiatives, from Generations United and the Eisner Foundation.

 

Books

  • Ageism: Stereotyping and Prejudice against Older Persons by Todd D. Nelson (Boston: MIT Press, 2002)
  • Agewise: Fighting the New Ageism in America by Margaret Morganroth Gullette. (University of Chicago Press, 2011)
  • Aging Our Way: Lessons for Living from 85 and Beyond by Meika Loe. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011)
  • The Denial of Aging: Perpetual Youth, Eternal Life, and Other Dangerous Fantasies by Muriel R. Gillick (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006)
  • The Fountain of Age by Betty Friedan. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993)
  • How We Age: A Doctor’s Journey into the Heart of Growing Old by Marc E. Agronin (New York: Da Capo Press, 2011)
  • How to Age by Anne Karpf (Macmillan, 2014)
  • A Long Bright Future by Laura Carstensen (New York: Broadway Books, 2009)
  • Learning to Be Old: Gender, Culture, and Aging by Margaret Cruikshank (Rowman & Littlefield, 2009)
  • Look Me In the Eye: Old Women, Aging, and Ageism by Barbara Macdonald with Cynthia Rich (San Francisco: Spinsters Book Company, 1991)
  • Life Gets Better: The Unexpected Pleasures of Growing Older by Wendy Lustbader (New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2011)
  • The Longevity Revolution by Robert N. Butler (New York: PublicAffairs, 2008)
  • Naked At Our Age: Talking Out Loud About Senior Sex by Joan Price (Berkeley: Seal Press, 2011)
  • Overcoming Age Discrimination in Employment by Patricia Barnes (2016)
  • Second Wind: Navigating the Passage to a Slower, Deeper, and More Connected Life by Bill Thomas (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014)
  • Treat Me, Not My Age: A Doctor’s Guide to Getting the Best Care as You or a Loved One Gets Older by Mark Lachs (New York: Penguin Books, 2011)
  • Women in Late Life: Critical Perspectives on Gender and Age by Martha Holstein (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015)

These books helped me understand ageism. You can find a list of the best books on aging compiled by Changing Aging here and another good list compiled by Ronnie Bennett here.

Reports

Links

Video

Talk at the Library of Congress
25 October 2016:

Keynote address at the United Nations
6 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.

Contact

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