At the Emmy Awards 2022, amid thundering claps and the Hollywood razzmatazz, a joke was heard loud and clear. Host Kenan Thompson called out 26-year-old Zendaya for now being too old to date a 47-year-old Leonardo DiCaprio! Clearly, it was quite a statement to make about a recent meme-fest on ageism.
When the Titanic star and his 25-year-old girlfriend Camila Morrone broke up recently, fans made viral jokes around DiCaprio’s dating history, which includes girls younger than 25!
At the Emmy’s, when Thompson announced Zendaya’s name among the nominees, he quipped, “Zendaya just turned 26 last week. 26 is a weird age in Hollywood. I mean, you’re young enough to play a high school student, but you’re too old to date Leonardo DiCaprio.”
The joke may have elicited laughter, but underlined how women tend to get caught in an ‘ageism trap’ – inside or outside dating world – way more than men do. And it’s no laughing matter, really.
The ageism trap
A friend tells me, “I was told by a 44-year-old that I wouldn’t find anyone because I’m 40 now. And all this while he continues to date much younger women!”
The man and anyone who indulges in either subtle put-downs or outright discrimination, perhaps needs to hear what 72-year-old fashion designer Vera Wang famously said about ageism. “I find ageism so old-fashion.” It truly is!
According to the World Health Organization, ageism is defined as the stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination towards others or oneself based on age. That a health organization recognizes this deep-rooted concept, is a testimony of really how problematic it can be to perpetuate discrimination and equality.
The Emmy joke may just be looking at the funny side of things, but ageism is a global challenge and needs to be called out. It is as deep as the society’s other ‘isms’ – sexism and racism, but not equally acknowledged.
“Ageism can manifest itself in the form of jokes, offensive comments, or negative stereotypes. Unfortunately, ageism is all too common, and it can have a serious impact on mental health,” life coach Dr Chandni Tugnait, tells Health Shots.
Ageism can build perceptions around what older women, or men, can and cannot do; look or not look how they want to. Or perhaps even limit a younger people’s right to be taken seriously at work.
Here, I’m reminded of two instances. One is of the recent dismissal of a veteran Canadian news anchor after she devoted 35 years to the job. The alleged reason? She let her hair go grey!
On the other hand, there’s path-breaking Indian film producer Guneet Monga, who who once confessed to colouring some hair strands white when she was younger. In her own words, she did it to be “taken seriously” in a male-dominated industry and domain!
Women breaking the age bias
When it comes to Indian women, we’re increasingly seeing women break the age bias – and how! At 83, veteran actress Waheeda Rehman went snorkelling. There’s ‘Dancing Dadi’ Ravi Bala Sharma, who began reliving her passion for dance after turning 60. Just a few months ago, there was news about 105-year-old Rambai, who created a record in the 100-metre race in Gujarat.
Even younger women are making their mark in all fields – be it in sports, fashion, business or social entrepreneurship (. These are just a few bright examples of women for whom age really is just a number.
“Society has different expectations for men and women as they age. For example, it is not uncommon for a man in his 50s to date a woman in her 20s. But if a woman in her 40s did the same, she would likely be labelled as a ‘cougar’,” asserts Dr Tugnait.
How does ageism impact mental health?
Citing a 2022 study, the expert that older adults who experienced age discrimination were more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety. Published in the Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine, the study also found that age discrimination was linked to a decrease in self-esteem and self-worth.
Ageism can also lead to social isolation and loneliness, as well as feelings of hopelessness and despair. At the same time, ageism isn’t just something that older adults have to deal with; it’s also something that younger people experience.
In fact, a study published in the Journal of Adolescence found that youth who perceived more ageism were more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression.
“Ageism can impact mental health in several ways. It can lead to feeling devalued, invisible and unimportant. It can cause anxiety, depression, and a loss of self-confidence. And it can exacerbate pre-existing mental health conditions,” says Dr Tugnait.
6 tips to deal with ageism or age discrimination
Check out this listicle of suggestions by Dr Chugnait on ways to overcome ageism:
1. Don’t internalize the stereotypes
First and foremost, it’s important not to internalize the stereotypes that come along with ageism. Just because someone stereotypes you based on your age, does not make it true. If you start believing the negative things people say about you, it will only spiral into poor self-esteem and low self-worth, both of which deeply impact mental health.
2. Speak up for yourself
If you feel that you’re being treated unfairly because of your age or sex, it’s important to speak up for yourself. This can be difficult, especially if you’re afraid of losing your job, relation or being labelled as a troublemaker. However, it’s important to remember that you have rights, and you deserve to be treated with respect. Sometimes, all it takes is a simple conversation to resolve the issue.
3. Seek supportive relationships
Surround yourself with people who make you feel good about yourself, people who boost your confidence and make you feel appreciated. These supportive relationships could be friends, family members or even co-workers. When you know there are people in your corner, it will be easier to face the challenges that come with experiencing ageism.
Educating is always a good idea, whether you’re an individual or part of society at large! This applies to not just discrimination but also to any other topic where there may still be some people who hold onto dated beliefs that prevent them from fully embracing change.
5. Be confident
Ageism often manifests itself as a result of low self-confidence. If you don’t believe in yourself, chances are others won’t either. It’s important to project confidence, even if you don’t feel it inside. This means speaking up in meetings, offering new ideas, and generally not acting like you’re afraid of making mistakes. Once you start exuding confidence, others will start seeing you in a new light— as an asset, someone who isn’t afraid to take risks and innovate.
6. Seek out mentors
A mentor is someone who can offer guidance, advice, and support – someone who has been there before and knows what it takes to succeed. A mentor can be an invaluable resource when it comes to overcoming ageism in different aspects of life, so, don’t be afraid to seek them out!
How to stop ageism at work
Ageism is a real and pressing problem that affects people of all ages. “Some ways to encourage inter-generational contact include volunteering with organizations that pair younger and older adults together, participating in mentorship programs, simply spending time with family members or friends who are different ages than you,” says Dr Tugnait.
She believes that When we take the time to connect with people from different generations, we help break down the barriers that fuel ageism.