Sunday, July 31, 2016

On Internalized Ageism and Turning 50

"In fact, looking back, it seems to me that I was clueless until I was about 50-years-old." -- Nora Ephron

Hello, it's been a very long time since my last post. This year has been difficult as I have been going through painful personal challenges and trying to resolve deep-seated conflicts with my aging mother. Even so, I've had some incredibly wonderful experiences, including reconnecting with old friends and being asked to be on the board for the Legacy Film Festival on Aging (LFFoA) in San Francisco. 

Adding to the positive, I celebrated my 50th birthday last week in Norway, which is an amazingly beautiful country. Reaching this milestone makes me hopeful towards new possibilities. Ironically, even with a master's degree in gerontology, trying to accept aging had not been easy as I agonized over age-related changes in midlife. I often wondered whether I had ageist attitudes towards myself, and if so, where did this come from?

Celebrating my birthday in Oslo. Right: Bergen waterfront (Photos: P. Trang / K. Kawasaki 2016)

Thoughts about ageism resurfaced as I began promoting LFFoA to friends and colleagues. Some people thought the word "aging" should be removed from the festival title as it might turn people off. I asked for clarification, and one person said that aging represents loss, decrepitude, and going downhill. Witnessing ageist attitudes made it clear, however, that including "aging" in the title is important as there is nothing wrong with aging. Furthermore, omitting the word does not change the fact that aging happens. Dr. Becca Levy, a Yale researcher on aging, states that while we think of ageism as "...attitudes and actions directed toward older individuals by younger individuals..," we are exposed to culture's ageist attitudes throughout our lives and in turn, direct such attitudes towards ourselves in old age. (From Dr. Levy's article: Eradication of Ageism Requires Addressing the Enemy Within.)

Suffice to say, being part of LFFoA gives me a sense of mission in helping to confront ageist attitudes (mine included) which are commonplace. LFFoA executive director Sheila Malkind, age 78, stated that she began the film festival on aging to ...motivate younger people to see the potential of their later years.”  In Your Call, a show on KALW public radio, Sheila and a few filmmakers from LFFoA discussed the topic, "What does it mean to be an elder today?" In growing older, Sheila stated that she was surprised when her body began to manifest aging-related changes (i.e., cataracts, hearing loss). Nevertheless, she emphasized the importance of making life meaningful amidst the various challenges that are part of growing older. (Listen to the full discussion HERE.)

While aging may invariably bring challenges, Sheila believes there are many positives to growing older and that we should be proud of our age. She says she is more excited about life today than when she was a teenager! Likewise, Dr. Laura Carstensen, director for the Stanford Center on Longevity, states that contrary to negative assumptions, older people are generally happier than younger people. As people age, they are better able to manage emotions and become compassionate towards others. Listening to Sheila and Dr. Carstensen's favorable views makes me look forward to my next 50 years! 

Save the Date: The 6th Annual Legacy Film Festival on Aging is coming to San Francisco in September. 

Legacy Film Festival on Aging
September 16-18, 2016
New People Cinema, Japantown
1746 Post Street, San Francisco

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