Age Bias and Eyeglasses

A woman in a white collared shirt smiling and holding her glasses and a book sitting at a table

When I faced the fact that I couldn’t read or see my computer screen clearly, I had my vision checked by my optometrist. Not surprisingly, it was time for new glasses. The retro, cool pink pair I’d been wearing were to be replaced by slightly more conservative frames, ones that I believed would be reflective of my age.

A lot goes into what boomers consider “reflective of age.” A part of me –a rather substantial part I must admit– still sees myself as a young looking forty-year-old with a swanky job, fashionable clothes and a busy social calendar. A small part of myself will always be a rebellious student, demonstrating on Parliament Hill in Ottawa against nuclear testing.

But there is also a more recent and more realistic me, the woman who turned 68 in February and feels comfortable in her own skin. It’s this most recent me that ordered a pair of extremely conservative, serious, and might I add, old fashioned looking glasses for my new non-reflective bi-focals.

The issue is that everyone (except my dear husband who swears they look fine) now treats me differently than when I wore the pink fashionable frames.

On Valentine’s Day, my husband and I booked a table at our favorite Toronto restaurant where we’ve celebrated many birthdays and anniversaries. We always get a good table, private, with a clear view of the room. This time was different. We arrived early, only to be seated in a dark, little corner, the view blocked by the serving counter.

This could have just been chance, but it’s happened again at various other restaurants since the change in my vision. My glasses identify me as someone not worth placing at a good table or being assigned a great room in a hotel. On a recent trip to Detroit, my husband and I were assigned to a tiny third floor room with a light rail train running every three minutes, a few meters outside our dark, little space.

If a pair of eyeglasses can have this effect, I can only shrink with fear anticipating more grey hair and more wrinkles. Of course, age bias happens all the time. My gut says it’s time to resist.

In fact now, compelling new research from HomeEquity Bank, providers of the CHIP Reverse Mortgage® in partnership with neuroscience research firm, Brainsights, proves that Boomers’ unconscious brains show significantly greater levels of attention, emotional resonance and memorability in response to advertising that avoids labels and portrays the demographic in a positive way. And a recent IPSOS survey (November 2018) confirmed stereotypical labels to describe older adults are equally out of line with how Boomers see themselves, with nearly 80 per cent of Canadians 55+ reporting they don’t want to be called ‘seniors’. In fact, like me, nearly 30 per cent preferred no label at all!

Not one person surveyed welcomed the term elderly, and I suspect not one wishes to be treated in a way that is condescending. Today there are 11-million Canadians who are 55 or older. A full 42 per cent are homeowners who have accumulated more than 1-trillion in home equity wealth. This is a significant group of people who should be treated with the respect they deserve.

What can be deduced from the facts is that it’s high time to expose the unconscious bias in the media, one that spills over into the day to day lives of Canadians 55 years plus. Here is the number one solution suggested by HomeEquity Bank’s research into the preferences of my generation:

Ditch the old age stereotypes. My generation (one that I am proud to be part of) prefers to be seen as fit, cheeky and wise rather than meek and helpless.

From experience, I can assert that we’re not ready to be shunted aside. In a recent newsletter by New York Times columnist Frank Bruni, he hit the nail on the head when he said, “Age really does bring wisdom, which is the fruit of experience. The longer you’ve lived, the more you’ve succeeded and failed, loved and lost, learned how to move on and when to sit still until the fear subsides, sadness ebbs and courage returns. Age hones resilience, at least in the luckiest of us.”

As we age, most of us will have a great deal to surmount. Courage and resilience are mandatory. My 90-year old aunt used to claim that aging isn’t for sissies. Lately, I’ve been experiencing some of what she warned me about. There are health, financial and relationship issues that don’t disappear when you turn 55. Some become more serious; some are managed. Either way, I’m thinking of keeping my glasses, wearing them proudly and concentrating on what really matters.

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