The cultural thing of 'you don’t look your age' – it’s complete rubbish!


It’s part of the problem and we don’t even see it

We have yet to acknowledge ageism. People say to me in the street, “oh come on young lady”. They mean it kindly but I always tell them, “no, I am an old woman, I’m 71”.

I challenge it because of what it means underneath. What it’s saying is that being old is something detrimental. It’s as if being old is a condition to be ashamed of. Like being mixed race or disabled – these are just part of the whole, neither good nor bad.

You wouldn’t say to someone, “You don’t look as if you’re gay”. You wouldn’t dream of it! That would be offensive. You wouldn’t say, “You don’t look mixed race, you could pass!” You wouldn’t say to someone in a wheelchair, “I’m sure you don’t really need that – you look too well!”

All those things are offensive, we know that now even if we didn’t a decade ago. I find it offensive that people think they are complimenting me by saying I do not look or sound like an old person.

People say I don't sound disabled

I have a fairly invisible disability, I have M.E. This means my balance is impaired and I get tired very quickly. On the phone I tell people, “I have a disability, which means my concentration is limited and my memory is impaired, so can you please be patient with me.” I’ve been told on the phone that I don’t sound as if I’ve got M.E. – as if I should sound like a ‘proper’ disabled person.

As if I would sound a particular way, I don’t know what that way is. It’s not a visible disability so it’s hard for people to see it as a disability. Most people are absolutely fine about it, but for me getting to that point of owning it and saying it was hard.


As an older woman there’s also the invisibility thing; you’re just not seen or heard. You get that from about age 50 but it does get worse with age.

I avoid walking on pavements at weekends or during holidays because people don’t see me, they just walk through. So I tend to avoid busy times – that’s self-secluding in a way.


Older men struggle with intimacy

I think older men seem a bit adrift when they have lost work, while women have always had family. Men of my generation didn’t necessarily have that so they are a bit more adrift. Older men of my generation and above haven’t had the experience of being intimate with people other than sexually. So when they are lonely, they reach out for sex because they don’t know how to be intimate. That doesn’t always work.

Don't put me in a box!

I wouldn’t want to put everything in a box of ‘women’ or ‘disabled’. It’s about seeing the person in front of you, hearing the person in front of you – not just thinking what box they fit in. It’s about looking at the individual as they choose to be seen.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of Independent Age.