Quarter Life Crisis? Ashton Applewhite says Aging is Okay

Image Courtesy of Ethan Prater | Flickr

Krystal Chen
Staff Writer

What might pop up when you think of the elderly? Rooted stereotypes have formed an age shame, terrifying many. However, people may not need to be embarrassed at the natural and inexorable aging process.

This Saturday, UCSB Arts & Lectures presented “Aging, The Lifelong Process that Unites Us All” in Campbell Hall. Ashton Applewhite, who has been recognized by The New York Times as an expert on ageism, offered her audience a new concept on aging by introducing “age pride.”

The talk was designed to appeal to a wide audience, including UCSB students and the general public. It offered a new vision of how we should confront a natural process of our bodies aging.

Applewhite opened up her speech by sharing her initial fears of aging, which are also the expected aging-related anxiety that young people commonly perceive: illness and dementia.

“So how come so many of us unthinkingly assume that depression, diapers, and dementia lie ahead?”, asked Applewhite. “Because of ageism — the last socially sanctioned prejudice.”

In the talk, she indicated the considerable impetus behind modern age shaming: ageism, discrimination, and prejudice on the basis of age. The established stereotypes of judging the age-appropriateness of behaviors not only devalues elders but also underestimates children’s capabilities. It even feeds ableism, which drives people to regard dependence as a flaw and feel ashamed of vulnerabilities, thus competing to stay young.

To dismantle these concerns, Applewhite presented the audience with concrete data and scientific theories. According to Applewhite, only four percent of Americans over 65 years old end up living in nursing homes, and 90 percent of Americans’ brains are still fully functioning into old age. To further mitigate aging stress, Applewhite introduced the “U curve of happiness,” saying that people generally feel increasingly anxious about their age as the years roll by, hitting a nadir around their early 50s, and then becoming more satisfied as they continue to age.

Ditching the traditional young-old binary, Applewhite further explained the cause of ingrained age schema. Since elders are forced out of the labor force, they lose support and opportunities to express themselves. Without self-defense, they are labeled with biased perception.

Additionally, Applewhite tells the audience that it is capitalists that keep reinforcing the dreadfulness of senior moments, such as a lapse of memory, and cementing the horror of diseases. They feed on the denial and reluctance generated by ageism to gain profit and self-comfort.

Ageism even impacts elders’ physical health, as it reforms their self-perception and devastates their confidence. “Attitudes towards aging affect how our minds and bodies function at the cellular level,” said Applewhite. For example, an affected speaking manner used just for elders, Applewhite argued, accelerates their aging process and drags down their movements. Ageism diminishes elders’ sense of purpose by implying that they have lost their value as human beings with age.

Longevity is a natural process that most people inevitably will experience. Yet, concealer and hair coloring are not the ultimate solutions. According to Applewhite, “a movement to end the ageism is underway.”