Ageism is raging unquestioned. It’s time to applaud all those Ageless persons who find time for life and passion.
Age, they say, is just a number. But as the numbers progress, does the societal attitude towards experienced citizens remain the same? A few weeks ago, pop icon Madonna, at the world premiere of her latest single Medellín from the album MadamX, was seen sporting a cowboy hat, corseted bridal gown, veil and red lipstick putting on a saucy display with Columbian singer Maluma in the video. The 60-year-old singer’s raunchy video song, though comes as a delight to her fans, courted a controversy when BBC Radio 1, which failed to play the track on its playlist, was accused of being ‘ageist’ by Madonna’s admirers. What ensued was a rant spree on Twitter where people unleashed their ire on BBC for disrespecting the biggest selling female artist in history, excluding seasoned artists, calling for change by stopping ageism in the music industry.
Ageism, according to the World Health Organisation, is the stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination towards people on the basis of age. Unlike sexism and racism, however, ageism is socially accepted and unusually challenged because of its implicit and subconscious nature. Constantly under the radar for their choices, people who cross a certain age are expected to follow a set of unwritten rules and those who don’t are being mocked at ruthlessly. The most ridiculous part is that this discrimination is rarely questioned. The result: a whole lot of human beings who live an ignored and invisible life!
For actor and model Dinesh Mohan, who turned 60 early this year, ageism is a very relatable war. “I have been facing this in various forms now. Why I try to look like a youngster at this age, why do I walk around sporting jeans instead of sitting at home praying… Delhiites are not that kind towards people like me. Many believe that I am faking my age; they can’t even take it that a sexagenarian can stay fit and walk the ramp,” says the silver fox, who ventured into modeling three years ago after ending a long fight with depression and obesity.
Busy with travels, shoots, ramp walks, advertisement projects, movies like Salman Khan-starrer Bharat and Anurag Kashyap’s Saand ki Aankh, Dinesh says he loves himself and would want to stay younger at heart, always. “I would never want to live a retired life. I can’t ever discuss politics, inflation, property or children. Fashion, acting, glitz and glamour look cool to me. I don’t care about negative stereotyping. I am happy the way I look – sporting silver hair and a fit physique. What matters are health and happiness; nothing else,” he says.
However, Dinesh is well aware of the plight of his peers. He adds, “I have many loners and ignored singles and couples as neighbours. Even my mom who stays with my brother faces isolation due to her age. At a time they need attention, they are being forced to sit at home and please society. What for? They have spent their whole life for their children and now, it’s time to interact with people, be financially independent, globetrot, party, go on dates, enjoy companionship and love yourself. Step out and do things you never had time to do.”
Of late, hopeful signs of change are being noticed against ageism worldwide. Popular media has started opening up to discussing the life of the elders – their choice to fall in love, get married, be sexually active, dance, look good, dress up, travel and do whatever they want without being judged. The recent times saw movies like Badhaai Ho (where a middle-aged couple gets pregnant), Once Again (where two lonely persons – a widowed restaurateur and an actor – fall in love), Lipstick under my Burkha (the gradual sexual awakening of an elderly woman and her Mills-and-Boons fantasies) and Netflix series Made in Heaven (where an episode is about a sexagenarian widow and an architect planning their wedding against the wishes of their children).
National Award-winning actor Neena Gupta, who portrayed the middle-aged housewife Priyamvada who gets pregnant and is being looked down upon by neighbours and relatives in Badhaai Ho, considers ageism a farce. “In India, a woman who turns 40 or 50 is considered good to only run the home, look after her husband, children and in-laws. She doesn’t enjoy herself, she falls ill, turns fat and is proud of it all – because she is an epitome of sacrifice aka tyagmurthy! Her dharm is to look after the family,” she observes.
Neena also notes that the situation in most of the Indian homes is similar, even if the woman is a homemaker or an employee. “Post-retirement, a woman who has been working as a teacher or an officer assumes the role of a tyagmurthy. As she grows older, she might witness her husband having an affair or her children neglecting her, but she can’t afford to bother. Without financial independence, these women can’t leave the home and those who ‘depend’ on her. The attitude too will be – why, after all these years of suffering – should I go now? And in most of the cases, there’s no question of sex. The women never take care of themselves while looking after everyone else; they would be tired and no longer attractive,” says the actress, who has been active in the industry for over three and a half decades.
The tyagmurthy avatar, Neena stresses, will not take anyone anywhere. “I have done this tyagmurthy business for some time. It makes you a doormat. You will feel proud that you sacrificed all these for your family, but they will eventually say “did I ask you to”. It’s okay to do your duties as a nurturer, but do things for yourself, too. Look pretty, wear nice clothes, learn something new, pursue your happiness even if you are 50, 60 or 70,” she adds.
She agrees that times are changing. “Yes, women have started taking care of themselves — visiting parlours, hitting the gym, getting health checkups, partying with friends, meeting people, but that’s just one per cent. Most of them are still languishing. With age, people slow down; their health deteriorates, but the mind becomes sharper. Maintain the sharpness, learn new things every day; live for yourself,” sums up Neena.
Living for oneself is the mantra that keeps Gurgaon-based actor-model Sapna Datta active at 62. She has been into the modelling business for nearly 15 years now and is aware of the ageism taboo. “While interacting with my peers, I know how difficult it is for them to make a choice, facing questions like ‘why at this age’. Age, according to me, is about experience, achievements and struggles and the years of fun, joy and sorrows one had. It is society and our mindset that limit one’s boundaries. Instead of letting age change you, change the way you age. What I feel is that I am not 60, but 16 with 44 years of experience,” laughs Sapna.
She believes to be very lucky to have a supportive family who encouraged her to take up modelling and acting. “Age shouldn’t hold you back from pursuing something you love and are very passionate about. People will rate, hate, break and shake you, but your stance helps you own your life and live it without demeaning yourself. After years of struggle and crossing several milestones, seniors deserve to enjoy life to the fullest. Just accept yourself and embrace life,” says Sapna, who is inspired by the fan following, social media messages and public responses to her career.
The key to happiness is to stop bothering about others’ expectations. She adds, “Learn to expect more from ourselves because unlike others’ hurtful expectations, our inspiring ones make life worth living. Avoid negativity. Stop looking back at the youthful days with regret, envy and complaints. Relive all the happy moments you had without fearing the opinions of society. If you want to fly, give up what weighs you down.”
Flying is what literally Rachel Thomas did to inspire the world. The Padma Shri-awardee retired teacher has completed 650 skydiving expeditions in over 11 countries since 1979. At 63, she shuttles between Dubai and the US, enjoying her time, taking part in marathons, sightseeing on her favourite four-wheel drive, exercising and keeping her spirits bright. “I recently took part in an 8K marathon in Ras al Khaima. Everyone here is very encouraging. But in India, once people turn 55 or 60, they let go of their lives. Even I was like that at the beginning. After retirement, I spent time at my daughter’s cozy living room reading and getting old. But she told me to get up and move. That’s when I realised that I had to live my life as I wished to,” she recalls.
Embracing positivity, Rachel set off on her dream journey — she travelled with her friends to Atlantis, started wearing anything she is comfortable in, not caring about what others might think. And life became easier and happier. “I still can do anything I could when I was 16. The more positive you are, the younger you are. You age faster if you think so. I stay healthy, eat less, maintain fitness and engage in every activity that keeps me contended. Whenever we have guests from India, I drive them around, show them places in the UAE. Life is in the best phase now,” she concludes.
Acceptance and awareness are bound to happen, but slowly and steadily. Though in limited instances, people have started calling out ageism, mending their ways. After years of experience in life, people yearn for dignity and happiness. Instead of forcing them to engage in a battle against ageistic prejudices, it’s better to let them live life on their own terms. And when time comes, do greet the inevitable greyness with grace!
Recently, actress Amy Poehler, who is directing and acting in Netflix comedy Wine Country, which sees a group of long-time friends go on a wine tasting trip in California to celebrate a 50th birthday, challenged Hollywood to end its alleged ageism problem. “We live in a patriarchal society where age is shamed and especially in America, we’re obsessed with youth and the beginnings of things because we’re a very juvenile country,” she said.
In 2017, lashing out against ageism, Sex and the City actor Kim Cattrall has said that she does not depend on Hollywood for jobs anymore. “I’m not ready to play someone who is grotesque. Either from being thought of as a very, very older woman, at 60-61 this year, which I’m not, and I don’t feel that way. Sixty now is different to my mother’s 60 and I’ve had really the advantage of working out and educating myself further and working on so many things that have challenged me mentally and physically and demanded me to be youthful in a way,” she had said.
In 2015, now 73-year-old actor Helen Mirren, who won an Oscar for her role in The Queen, criticised Hollywood’s ridiculous casting choices that have led to older men with younger female love interests. “We all watched James Bond as he got more and more geriatric, and his girlfriends got younger and younger. It's so annoying,” she had said.
In a 2005 interview, actor Pierce Brosnan had cited ageism as one of the contributing factors as to why he was not asked to continue his role as James Bond in Casino Royale. “I never thought of myself as being too old. It was startling to hear such things said about oneself, especially when you thought you were going down that particular avenue and then the door gets slammed in your face,” he had said.