Ageism without within—poem

Cartoon. Shocked old person points at sexist billboard but two creatures spring from her own head. One says "You will never be old! You are perfect!" The other says "It's all over! What's the point!"

I found ageism rampaging
in my neighbourhood
in job descriptions and prescriptions
in jokes and compliments and ads
on every screen, in tips and fads
on videos and TV shows
in greeting cards, in camouflage
and tiny acts of sabotage.
I found it looming over me
on billboards big and bald.

(The assumptions, the assumptions
dooming youth to aspirations
dooming age to loss and pain.)

But the very shockingest of shocks
was to meet the advocates of ageism
within—
Glumia of the sorrows and Smugilla
that nasty bitch —
using my mouth to speak their nonsense
sniping and sneering and whining
and lobbying and mocking
the old for being old
from a stadium under my skin.


Once you’re conscious of ageism you see it everywhere. Sexism and racism will always exist but today are recognised as such. Ageism, not so much: old people are still unthinkingly stereotyped and mocked and rejected for their age alone. For me, the first, worst, and toughest call was when I recognised in myself the very same contempt for old people. That puzzled me, and I still find it both weird and unacceptable. Doing my best to change my own attitude and other people’s!

If you like the poem please share!

CC BY 2.0 Rachel McAlpine

17 thoughts on “Ageism without within—poem

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Because I so loved my grandparents and my great aunts and uncles, I always had positive images of age. I am a little startled to know why my skin is described as “crepey” since it does definitely resemble crepe. I am mostly curious as I observe the changes, though I am not too crazy about my hair loss. I am so much happier in my 70’s than when I was younger and have no illusions that youth is the answer to anything.

    1. …and that (your last point) is our little secret.

  2. colonialist says:

    At approaching 80 I, on the other hand, find it difficult to resist all the awful sins of youthism. What a silly, ineffectual and laughable bunch the young are, to be sure.

    1. Aha, the revenge of the curmudgeon! Enjoy.

  3. rhinophile says:

    Another little secret we have is noticing the way such thoughts pop into one’s head! Imagine if they came, and we didn’t notice!

    1. They used to, all the time. I needed an epiphany to wake me up.

  4. autismduniya says:

    Aaaaah, you are so witty and insightful. I love your stuff!

    1. Thank you so much. I would love you to share 🙂

  5. anne leueen says:

    I have found ageism to be especially prevalent in the medical profession. Being written off as a “old” person is something that I fight against by reminding the medics that I am NOT just and old person and expounding on the things I do in my life like riding a horse and competing at a level that is one level below what they do in the Olympics. Sometimes it works and sometimes they still see me as ‘old’. But I will not take it sitting down. I like your poem very much.

    1. Good work, to call it when you see it. Otherwise we would fail to fix the fixable. Yesterday I told the periodontist that these teeth need to last another 23 years, and he was very positive about that.

  6. Fabulous post

  7. JT Twissel says:

    It is true, when you get older you start to disappear to many younger people. I am in awe of people who work with the very elderly and manage to keep their cool. It’s not easy when you start to forget things and get easily confused.

    1. It’s a tough job even for those with a gift or a vocation to work with the very old.

  8. I’m sharing your poem and clapping hard. Yes, ageism is prevalent and ignored. Most people don’t realize they have a ‘thing’ against old age, as if any of us can avoid it (unless by an early death). I’ve always enjoyed friendships with people much older than I was, starting when I was 12 and one of my best friends, really the only one who understood me, was my mom’s ‘kinda’ older friend who was a psychic and wise one. She taught me so much, and my respect for her was huge. She was probably in her 50s when our friendship began (back then I thought that was old – haha). One of my good friends now is many decades older than me – she just celebrated her 98th birthday. If we “see” a person beyond her/his years, we add so much wit and wisdom and kindness to our lives. I pray that I’ll be a friend to many younger than me – (and I’ll be kind and not look down on them for their youth). 🙂

    1. Aha, not only do you recognize the syndrome but you had that early experience of friendship with a much older friend. You put the solution so clearly: just to “see” the person, not the years. That approach opens up a world of new grindstone and learnings.

      1. I shared your post on Twitter – hope lots of people read it and change their perspective. Old age rules! 🙂

      2. Thank you so much Pamela. And constant dripping weareth away the stone.

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